Catalina Maria Johnson

International radio broadcaster, bilingual cultural journalist, music curator

Every one of French-Chilean singer songwriter Ana Tijoux’s tunes is powered by the incredibly vital force of her smart, poetic rhymes. Spit in forceful cadence, the words and themes of her songs evoked the “Nueva Canción” of Latin America created by her paisano Victor Jara. Jara died for his songs, and Tijoux’s parents lived in exile for their political beliefs (that’s why she was born in France), so it’s no surprise that much of her musical work has a marked political subtext. But over time, her smooth flow has become more and more melody-driven, and her latest album of four years ago, Vengo, while staying within the genre’s borders, added a full quota of live musicians and collaborations with other singer-songwriters such as Jorge Drexler. Her latest project moves organically to a new and startling level: not only straight into melody as a vehicle for meaning, but full on and head-and-heart deep into the passion and romance of the Latin American songbook. We had the first hints of this latest project about two years ago with a lovey cover of a Victor Jara song. Now, she has released “Tinta Roja”, an original composition featuring the extraordinary Lila Downs. The song sets the musical landscape of all of the Americas: It shares its title with of one of the most famous tangos ever written, and references the dramatic passion of the tango in its initial chords and the orchestral swells of cello and violins. However, along the way it adds sizzling horns and the sweet rhythmic background of the Venezuelan and Puerto Rican cuatros as well as punctuating the vocals with percussive strikes – a tango, bolero, and ballad all melded in one magnificent musical fell swoop. We had the opportunity to check in with Tijoux while she was in the studio in Chile finishing up the recording of the latest project. She characterizes this turn in her work as veering towards “profound simplicity” (she is presenting the project accompanied only by jazz musicians Raimundo Santander and Ramiro Duran). Tijoux also comments that the project allows her to create from a different space, working with the beauty of “breaking”. At the same time, she notes, being able to show fragility is empowering. And it’s just another side of her, she adds, that she had not been able to explore previously, stating emphatically, “There’s a lot of “me’s” in each one of us!” Singing these passionate, dramatic songs also permits a different kind of bond with the audience, she adds, “I want us to feel. And I want us to feel, together! —   Ana Tijoux brings her “Roja y Negro: Canciones de Amor y Desamor” project to Old Town School of Folk Music for two shows (7:30 and 9:30)  on February 19.   —   Check out Beat Latino, Catalina’s weekly podcast and radio show.

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