When 32-year-old rapper Ana Tijoux speaks, it’s pretty clear that there’s nothing predictable or ordinary about her.
She’s a French-born Chilean rapper trying to make her mark in a musical genre dominated by men from the United States.
That hasn’t stopped Tijoux from ushering in a new era for hip-hop in her adopted Chile.
The right people are noticing.
When Tijoux makes her Sacramento debut, she will rap in Spanish. And the style will be old-school hip-hop.
“I want my audience to expect nothing – if they like what I do, good,” said Tijoux, in fast and heavily accented English from a phone in a New York City cafe. New York is the first of a 12-stop tour for her. Like her rapping, Tijoux speaks with a lot of dynamic energy, her sentences flowing out in staccato bursts.
“I could not sell myself,” she said. “The worst thing sometimes, for an artist, is to say too much.”
For most fans of hip-hop, Tijoux will be a breath of fresh air. For young women rappers, she may be an inspiration.
“I don’t like it when people say there should be a difference between men and women in music,” Tijoux said. “In my case, being a female singer has never been a problem. I’ve always been supported by my male friends. I’m where I am right now thanks to men who have pushed me to what I do.”
For an international artist like Tijoux to perform in Sacramento is a rare event, something that Sol Collective director and founder Estella Sanchez would like to change. The collective’s Global Hood music series is the tool Sanchez is using to change things.
“The series aims to bring international acts that have a strong cultural emphasis, still sing in their native language and show roots in traditional rhythms,” Sanchez said.
The series kicked off in April when it brought electro-Afrobeat artist Chico Mann (a.k.a. Marquitos Garcia) to perform at Sol Collective. The show drew a healthy 100 fans to the small performance space.
“We want to build a fan base for these types of artists in Sacramento,” she said. “Artists like Tijoux and Mann, they bypass the city because they think there is no fan base here.”
Sol Collective is partnering with several presenters statewide, like Berkeley’s La Peña Cultural Center, to bring international artists to California. Their effort is called You Can United California Artists Network.
“A lot of young people are only exposed to what’s on the radio … and often, there’s no positive message there or cultural roots,” Sanchez said.
The new network project wants to address that issue.
“A lot of the artists that young people look up to do not look like them. They don’t share the same things they do, especially on a personal level,” she said.
“I think it’s really important to bring in role models who come from places that someone’s grandparents or parents come from, so that they have a cultural tie to their native countries.”
Seeing international artists was never a problem for Tijoux, who grew up in France. She ended up there when her Chilean father fled the Pinochet dictatorship in the 1970s.
“In France, I had exposure to so many kinds of music – from Arabic music to African, like music from Mali,” Tijoux said. “It opened up my mind in a lot of ways … and this included all kinds of music, like AC/DC.”
As a child, Tijoux said, she was first drawn to the cello. But most of all, her passion was the spoken and written word, not music. She did not enter the world of hip-hop until her late teens after she moved back to Chile.
“At 19, I knew I wanted to be a rapper,” said Tijoux. “At the time I was influenced by rap artists like Wu Tang Clan.”
She began writing lyrics. She also began working with different artists. Tijoux joined the band Makiza, an influential hip-hop band in Santiago’s thriving music scene, as its MC.
“My time with Makiza, that was good. I grew up with that group. We worked well together, and it was my time with the band where I learned to make a song, and learned about chorus and verse.”
In 2001, Tijoux struck out on her own. Five years later she jumped into mainstream Latin pop with her collaboration with Mexican singer Julieta Venegas.
She released her first album in 2007 and was nominated by the 2007 MTV Latin America VMAs for best new artist and best urban artist.
Her second release, “1977,” named for the year of her birth, reveals Tijoux’s fondness for autobiographical lyrics. It’s music that stays true to the austerity and lyrical polemics of the ’90s as hip-hop.
As a result, “1977” sounds both old and new.
“I’m not very dogmatic,” said Tijoux, who offered the statement with a giggle.
Despite the levity, there was no doubt that Tijoux wasn’t kidding