Latina rapper explores U.S. on latest tour

It’s not often that you hear about good hip-hop from Latin America.

Despite the genre’s immense popularity in the United States, it hasn’t yet become mainstream in many other countries, possibly because of cultural and language barriers. But when a good hip-hop artist does emerge from an underground Latin scene it happens with a bang, as is the case with Chilean emcee and recording artist Anita Tijoux.

Tijoux was born in France to a French mother and a Chilean father living in political exile during Agusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. After the fall of Pinochet and the return of democracy in the early 1990s, Tijoux moved back to her father’s homeland, where she began her career as a rapper.

“I was born in France, but I always felt as a Chilean,” Tijoux said in a phone interview.

Growing up in France, Tijoux was exposed to many significant hip-hop acts, some more underground than others.

“Some of the artists I grew up playing with and listening to included Bubaseta, Movimiento Original and Guerrillero Oculto,” Tijoux said.

More recently, Tijoux has worked with Argentine electronic tango act Bajofondo (which features renowned producer Gustavo Santaolalla), Mexican hip-hop icons Control Machete and Chilean beat master DJ Bitman. But it was her collaboration with Mexican rock star Julieta Venegas — who came to USC in 2009 for an exclusive concert in Bovard Auditorium — on the track “Eres Para Mi” that helped expose Tijoux to a mass audience — the song became a hit.

Tijoux recently signed a deal in the United States with Latin alternative label Nacional Records to distribute her 2009 album 1977, where Tijoux worked to prove to the world that she was a true rapper.

After spending some time rapping in more pop-oriented collaborations, Anita returns to her roots with 1977. Lyrically, the album — its title derived from the year of Tijoux’s birth — is a time warp back to Tijoux’s roots in France.

Exploring themes as diverse as the death of a close friend and the anguish of creative crises, 1977 takes Tijoux back to her origins as both a musician and an individual. After years of sharing the spotlight with her original band Makiza, collaborating with other artists and trying to find her way as a solo artist, Tijoux finally consolidates herself as a mature and talented emcee with 1977.

Although Tijoux’s melodic voice might at first seem out of place in a rap, her hypnotic vocals — in addition to her rapping skills and dynamic beats — are what makes 1977 an album worth listening to.

More intriguingly, Tijoux sings and raps in both French and Spanish. The multilingual aspect of her live shows is perhaps one of the most memorable things about an Anita Tijoux performance.

After a very successful outing at this year’s South By SouthWest Music festival in Austin, Texas last week, Tijoux will have her long-awaited Los Angeles live debut tonight at Little Temple with Cypress Hill member Eric Bobo to continue with her first North American tour.

Tijoux said she is thrilled to be playing in the United States and expanding as an artist internationally.

“I’m very excited,” Tijoux said. “It’s exhilarating to make new fans and get people that want to listen to my music.”

After the disaster that struck Chile less than a month ago, Tijoux is happy to leave the country for a while, although she said her heart will stay with her family and home country.

Last year was a big year for Tijoux not only because of the Chilean release of 1977 but also because she experienced tremendous growth in other markets. She performed in Mexico’s biggest rock festival, Vive Latino, last summer and was one of the most surprising acts of the festival.

Latin hip-hop is well represented with the music of Anita Tijoux. It’s also interesting to see a female succeeding in a genre typically dominated by males. Women in Latin rock have had a fairly positive impact on music. Artists like Julieta Venegas, Ely Guerra, Ceci Bastida, Javiera Mena, Natalia Lafourcade and even Ximena Sarinana have proven that females have a strong voice in hip-hop and are as good as men.