Ana Tijoux's latest piece of writing isn't a song. It's not a lyric. And it's not a collection of musical notes. Instead, it's a bit of a rant: an essay about the ways in which women's bodies are presented in popular culture. The French Chilean rapper, known internationally for her rapid-fire rhymes and socially conscious themes, says the piece came to her in an airport.
"I see this music video on the TV, I don't remember who it was," she recalls, and then follows up with some, um, colorful Chilean-isms to describe the human posterior. "I turned and looked at the reaction of my colleagues and I realized that this is something important, so I decided to write about it."
"Every female singer must compete in an infinite game of provocation," she writes. "Now nothing is enough, and nothing is too much. The goal is to put everything on display, always setting a new challenge with a higher bar: who can show more and more, who can achieve the most extreme contortions in the most acrobatic way."
If you needed evidence that Tijoux is not your average rapper, the fact that she's penning op-eds about female objectification for the website of a major Minneapolis museum might be Exhibit A. But the fact that she found time to write the piece at all is even more remarkable: Tijoux is in the middle of a grueling month-long tour to promote her latest album "Vengo" and is bouncing between various U.S. cities and Brazil.
"Sometimes someone has to tell me what city I'm in," she says with a laugh over a static cellphone. "Today I'm in Chicago. Tomorrow I go to Rio de Janeiro."
The trip doesn't end there. Tijoux performs at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on Saturday at the Supersonico festival. (The day-long music fest, which is being billed as a Latin Coachella, has a staggeringly good lineup: from venerable Mexican rockers Café Tacvba to reggaeton stars Calle 13 to the Tijuana electronica duo Bostich and Fussible of the Nortec Collective — among various other acts.)
But she has also achieved renown for her wildly complex plays on the sounds and meanings of words in the Spanish language. Her 2010 hit, "1977" — once featured on the meth drama "Breaking Bad" — contains an array of tongue twisters that rhyme words like "architect," "effect," "correct," "incorrect" and "respect" in machine-gun succession. (Her highly poetic phrases, unfortunately, get lost in translation. But I've embedded the video in this post. It's worth a listen.)
For the show at Supersonico, Tijoux will focus on songs from the new album, "Vengo," which was released to wide acclaim in March. Where her earlier work seamlessly blended hip-hop with jazz and R&B, as well as other sampled sounds, the latest incorporates more indigenous Andean influences: wild cymbals, blaring brass, stringed charangos and pan pipes. Yes, pan pipes. And she makes them sound cool.
"That was an idea that I'd been working on for a while," she explains. "How to make a record, make something with the music we grew up with. So we started pulling together music that was always part of our culture. We have such incredible music in Latin America."
"His lyrics, they're incredible," she says. "The whole process, it got me obsessed with certain singers again, like [Peruvian folk singer] Susana Baca. Such an incredible voice! She's a goddess."
True to her trademark sound, Tijoux's "Vengo" is rich with global influences. The riotous "Somos Sur" ("We Are South," embedded at the top of this post), features a guest spot by Palestinian British rapper Shadia Mansour and reflects Middle Eastern musical inspiration.
Even though the touring schedule is hectic, Tijoux says she still snatches moments to write. "I'll write on an airplane or while I'm waiting somewhere," she says. "I'll scribble one phrase and then develop it. Think about it. Add to it. Then think about it again."
In the meantime, she wouldn't trade her live performances for anything.
"It's total emancipation," she says. "That's when the words take on a life of their own."