This article is adapted from AQ’s most recent print issue | See the rest of our Top 5 Latin American Storytellers | Leer en español
‘‘I come as an open book, anxious to learn the untold story of our ancestors,” Ana Tijoux raps on the title track of her 2014 album Vengo. “I come seeking the silenced story.”
It’s a declaration of intent for the album, but could also describe the ethos of the artist’s two-decade career. A pioneer of Chilean hip-hop, Tijoux, 41, told AQ that music lets her “tell the stories that were intended to be erased.” With songs like “Antipatriarca” — a battle cry for women’s rights — and her activism on behalf of indigenous communities, Tijoux has earned a reputation as a champion of the dispossessed.
Tijoux is in some ways an unlikely narrator of Latin America’s stories. Born in France, she moved to Chile only as a teenager.
“Falling in love with Chile, and feeling Chilean, didn’t happen overnight,” Tijoux told AQ.
Her parents were leftist activists who fled to France in 1976 when right-wing dictator Augusto Pinochet’s military junta expelled them from Chile. A childhood in exile gave Tijoux a unique perspective on issues like race and globalization, as well as Pinochet’s continued legacy in Chile.
She confronted the latter in her 2011 hit “Shock,” which challenged Chile’s continued use of its Pinochet-era constitution. The song, a scathing critique of neoliberal capitalism, became an anthem for the country’s student movement and gained Tijoux international recognition as a voice for Chile’s frustrated youth.
With her latest project, Roja y Negro: Canciones de Amor y Desamor, an acoustic collaboration with Chilean jazz musicians Raimundo Santander and Ramiro Durán, the Grammy-nominated and Latin Grammy-winning artist moves in a decidedly romantic direction. The collection of songs about love and heartbreak — inspired in part by Latin American folk music — sheds, at least on the surface, the activism of her previous records. The project is also a stylistic departure for Tijoux, who is more singer than rapper on the two-part album.
After a colorful career like hers, it’s fitting that Tijoux continues to defy expectations. She told AQ she hopes fans stay open to whatever the next chapter of her story contains.
“The most beautiful thing an artist can do is surprise you.”
O’Boyle is a senior editor for AQ