Wednesday, December 7, 2011

ANA TIJOUX-La Bala (Oveja Negra 2011/Nacional 2012)

Ana Tijoux's third official album as a solo artist is scheduled for release at late January in the US by Nacional Records. But here at The Hard Data, we are not willing to wait that long. And by we I mean I.
The album has been available for over a month in her homeland, Chile, and the first single "Shock" has been catching plenty of buzz online thanks to its video--even though the label tried hard to delay its global release by blocking it from viewers of certain countries (us). Am I supposed to sit around and wait patiently for a whole other month to listen to the new album by one of my all-time favorite artist (and good friend)? Hell no. Not in the global age when people have instant access to new stuff the moment it's released even if it's on the other side of the planet. We are not in the '80s anymore when we had no other choice but to wait six month for a European new album to reach the record stores down in our under-developed nations.
Still, I do understand Nacional's decision to kick back the release of the album a couple of months because they most probably didn't want it to compete for attention with the magnificent Ritmo Machine (two chilean hip-hop albums on the market at the same time can be too much to handle). But anyway, I already reviewed Ana's groundbreaking 1977 almost a year before it was released in the US (I'm pretty sure I was the very first one to post a review of that album on the world wide web) and I reviewed Ana's (back then still Anita) solo debut on the very first post of this blog even though it was never released in the US. And I also reviewed Ana's-former-band Makiza's releases in previous blogs and US-based magazines even though pretty much nobody else in this whole USA knew who she was back then.
So if one thing is clear, it is that The Hard Data doesn't follow the capricious territoriality and calendars of record labels. And The Hard Data has eternal love for Mademoiselle Tijoux, so do never expect an objective review of her music from here.
Anyway, La Bala (the bullet), that's the title of Ana's new album and no, she hasn't gone gangsta (don't let that collaboration with Sick Jacken deceive you). La Bala pretty much follows the same aesthetics successfully established by its predecesor with the same jazzy smoothness but with more live instrumental arrangements and less boom-bap and scratch. After experimenting for a while with different formats during most of the last decade, trying to find her voice, Ana wisely decided on 1977 to go back to her essence, to what she knew best, to what had set her apart in her beginnings with Makiza: smooth, introspective, feminine, conscious rap with a tiny bit of singing here and there. The result was surprisingly successful, and the world fell in love with Chile's best kept secret, and Ana pretty much erased from her curriculum and repertoire all that middle-age of her career where she flirted with rock, dance and pop. La Bala shows us exactly that, the same Ana from 1977 who's very proud and comfortable with her b-girl stance and doesn't need to experiment any more with other styles and markets because she had finally found her niche and her voice.
And don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that La Bala is 1977 all over again, by any means. It is indeed a deeper, more mature exploration on that same direction and it sounds a lot better, with more refined production and top-notch mixing and mastering. So if you discovered and fell in love with her with 1977 you're gonna love La Bala from beginning to end.
One thing that struck me as odd is that after the success of 1977 and the partial crossover of Ana to the Anglo hip-hop world, with all the contacts she made touring all over the US during the last couple of years, she decided to leave the whole production of the album to Chileans and limit the guest appearances to a handful of Latin American artists (Jorge Drexler from Uruguay, Los Aldeanos from Cuba, Curumin from Brazil) when she could've easily landed some major collaboration with renown US rappers and producers who would certainly grant her more exposure among the hip-hop heads who don't usually pay attention to foreign stuff. That was a conscious decision she made, and one to be respected. Maybe it's not the right time for a full crossover yet and she's saving those cards for a later game, maybe she'll never do it. I asked her about this backstage at Outside Lands and she said something like "there's so much superb talent in Chile to showcase, no need to go anywhere else."
Anyway, they say Nacional Records will release it on January 31st, at least that's what I read somewhere online (I really hope they don't delay it even more). I still have to decide if this counts as an entry for the Best of 2011 record list on the annual Hard Data Awards but I'm leaning towards a yes because I don't think there have been enough good albums this year to fill my Top-11.

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