Featuring lots of blood, bullets, and corrupt colonels, the lyrics on Ana Tijoux’s new album read something like a Gabriel Garcia Márquez novel. Except the album isn’t set in some sleepy colonial town, but urban Santiago in 2011, as massive student protests shut down the city, demanding reform to the education system.
Thanks to the success of Ana Tijxou’s US debut 1977 (Nacional, 2010), the world now knows that Latin America’s greatest rapper is a small-statured 34-year old Chilean woman (and mother). But while that album was made up of reflective, auto-biographical tone poems, La Bala has a different kind of groove entirely. It’s guns and guts, flags waving on the baricade, and downright revolución.
That rabble-rousing spirit is best captured in the album’s lead single and music video, ”Shock,” a musical middle-finger to the Chilean powers that be. Over a dramatic, martial beat, Ana sings “Veneno tus monólogos, tus discursos incoloros, no ves que no estamos solos, milliones de polo a polo.” (“Poisonous your monolouges, your colorless speeches, you don’t see that we’re not alone, millions from pole to pole”). It’s the kind of thing that could come off as over-the-top, but next to the images of hundreds of thousands of young Chileans taking to the streets to try and change their society, it’s instant goosebumps material. This is something real, and its happening now.
Once again, production credits go to the capable Andrés Celis. Except this time, he went into the studio with an entire orchestra: violins, cellos, trumpets, and tubas. As a result, several of the beats hardly register as hip-hop whatsoever. Its a daring move, and not entirely successful. At their worst, the backing tracks on “La Bala” and “Desclasificado” almost sound more like melodramatic musical theater. Starting mid-way in the album, the beats thankfully settle back into the sumptuous, jazzy vibe of Ana’s previous album. By the last track, “Volver,” the string section finally fulfills its promise, using lush pads to send us to outer space.
Additionally, there are a number of appearances from A-list special guests, from Uruguayan legend Jorege Drexler to Brazilian crooner Curumin and Cuban hip-hop crew Los Aldeanos. Overall, the album is intelligent, forward-thinking, and well-written, and Ana’s flow is spot-on as always. Plus, you have to give extra credit to an album that takes serious risks. Unfortunately, making a flawless first album is a blessing and a curse: in the end, La Bala is no match for the perfect union of beats and rhymes that was 1977.
Photos courtesy of Nacional Records