As a human being, expanded your horizons is vital to ones’ own well being. Sometimes you need to jump into something completely blind. Sometimes, you just need to experience music that’s outside of your comfort zone. These experiences are vital to human life. That need is what brought me to La Peña Cultural Center on this drizzly November Thanksgiving Eve. I went into this show knowing one thing: Ana Tijoux is a Chilean born rapper that had a song in an episode of Breaking Bad. And that’s all I needed to know.
The venue, in itself, was an appropriate choice. La Peña Cultural Center is a multi purpose space in Berkeley that was founded in solidarity with the people of Central America affected by the war in the mid-70’s. It opened in 1975, and it was a place of refuge for those people. Likewise, Tijoux was born to Chilean refugees living in France. The venue and the artist were both born of the same struggle, and seeing them come together in one place was pretty amazing.
I hardly speak a word of Spanish. I took it in high school, and I can read it a little, but not truly being immersed in it means that I pretty much lost all ability to comprehend it when I hear it. Early in the set, Tijoux asked the crowd if she they spoke Spanish, and completed the set entirely in her native tongue. I was pretty oblivious to the majority of the banter, although the little that I understood showed that she was definitely feeling political. She weighed in a bit on the recent insurgency along the Gaza Strip, and despite the fact that I wasn’t sure as to what she said, the crowd certainly agreed with her stance.
Nonetheless, despite this being a political performer, I did not attend the show to discuss current events. I was there for the music, and the music was amazing. Tijoux is a skilled MC and singer, rapping in some very complex rhythms, while also singing the hooks to her own songs. Her band, which consisted of simply a drummer and a bassist / guitarist, was an incredibly tight machine. If I were to make a quick comparison, it was as if Sandinista!-era Clash backed Erykah Badu at her most feisty.
The crowd ate every moment up. The audience was a mighty diverse group of people. We had baby boomer couples with NPR totebags, we had latino families, we had hippies, we had fans if hip hop. We even had a few scattered hipsters. Because they end up at everything. The only thing that united this crowd was a great love for the music. There were no moments where people stopped dancing. This was also a capacity crowd that felt the need to bring the heat on.
Since I was unfamiliar with her work, it was hard to really get a feel for what albums the audience enjoys the most. However, there were two songs tat caused everyone to go nuts: That was “Sube” and “1977,” both songs that I was able to figure out using my limited language skills. Nonetheless, these two early songs were the ones that moved the party from a 10 to an 11.
Tijoux is a the type of rapper that the entire world should be watching. If PSY proved anything to us, it’s that the USA is ready to embrace a foreign language if it’s in a great song. Tijoux is ready to be our woman.