The importance of venue cannot be overstated. It can make or break a concert experience. If the place is too big, you lose the intimacy, and not every artist is all about the spectacle. Then again, if the place is too small, it’s possible an artist can lose the sense of grand theater that makes them special. The sound and lighting can be all wrong. The general feel of the place may not fit the type of music being played; there are so many variables, and sometimes we decide on whether or not to go to a show based on the venue. I hate arenas, for example. But the possibility is always there for an artist to transcend the venue, and on April 11th, at the North Beach Bandshell in Miami Beach, Ana Tijoux did just that.
I’d wanted to see her live for some time now, so a few months back—when I saw she was coming—I jumped on it before I even realized it was part of The Heineken Transatlantic Festival. The night before Ana’s show, I saw The Budos Band and, while they were great, the venue was strange, so while my expectations of her were high, I was prepared to get the same sense that I had the night before, which was somewhat cemented by the fact that it was minutes before she performed and the crowd was still sitting back on the benches in the patio area with the front of the stage wide open. At one point, I said to hell with it and was that guy in the front row—by myself—waiting in anticipation for a show that nobody seemed to care much about. I was the uber fan and I already had a story going through my head that she would be singing right to me the whole night, and we were going to be great friends by the time the show was done.
Of course, none of that was to be—well, not exactly that way, anyway. The point is that eventually the crowd did come forward, and they were excited fans as well. I was then surprised to see a full band emerge and start playing a pretty great instrumental intro before Ana came out to cheers and they went right into“Antipatriarca” from her 2014 album Vengo. Her mic was a little low at first, but either it was adjusted immediately or this anthem to feminism that I hope to engrain in my daughters’ brains was so important that I was able to hear and sing along to every word, regardless. One thing was apparent from the get go though: besides how great Ana was—which I already knew—the band was awesome.
Another thing was perfectly clear as well and that was that Ana is one classy, funky lady. She was wearing a long black and red dress, with colorful sneakers and her moves as they went into “Vengo” were a blend of abandon and grace I didn’t think was possible. And that word, grace, is really the word of the night. I’d never been to a Hip-Hop show, but I have always thought that Hip-Hop artists presented themselves as cocky. I don’t think that’s an accident, since the art form has a long tradition of braggadocio, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. However, perhaps because Ana’s message is so socially conscious, and must come from such a personal place, the ideas are completely internalized and authentic and what she talks about is the life she lives. She is confident and humble at the same time, able to cut loose when the beat moves her and more than capable of ripping through complex, bullet like rhymes without breaking a sweat—well, maybe not without breaking a sweat, as her long black hair was almost instantly dripping wet, but you know what I mean. Grace.
I was expecting her to close the night with the song I first heard from her that made me an almost instant fan. As you’ll see on the sticker on all her albums now, it was a song that was heard on Breaking Bad, “1977.” When it unexpectedly came up early in the set, of course, everyone got excited. And once again this was a showcase for everyone on stage. It would have been easy to go over the top with this song, but instead it was just moody and smooth, with an Ennio Morricone Western feel to it as Ana attacked us with her life story in a staccato typewriter flurry of words and images and “shhh.” It’s just a badass song about a badass lady who somehow isn’t actually interested in being badass, but just is. . . badass. Shhh.
Her sound has evolved from her more straightforward Hip-Hop that relies on samples to a style that is much harder to pin down. The festival’s focus was on World Music, which is a term I’m not crazy about, because isn’t all music world music? But if we look at the term as being about a blend of styles, present in one artist’s work, then I guess it fits here. She’s incorporated a live band more than ever before and the styles can range from hip hop, funk, R&B, jazz, traditional Latin American genres, Native American forms, Middle Eastern music, you name it. Nothing is off limits and nothing is half baked. It all authentically works.
It’s difficult to pick out elements of the show that were highlights, because the entire performance was a highlight, really. But one song that stood out was the slow jam/ballad, “Sacar La Voz” from 2012’s La Bala. It’s a balancing act of a song with a rhyme scheme that is at once fast and smooth, leading to a beautiful “ooh ooh ooh” chorus that shows off Ana’s singing voice in the purest way possible. The song plays like a cross between Lauryn Hill and Sade that somehow becomes its own thing. Seeing Ana, closed eyes, in the moment during that chorus as her voice calmly and confidently drifted in the wind, took me beyond that strange venue. I could have been anywhere at that point.
Ana’s message is often talked about in political terms, but at the end of the day, even when a song like “Shock” about Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine, comes up, the message and the music merge and it lifts the crowd beyond politics. It’s about rebellion and rising up against corporate imperialism, sure, but it’s about people, more than ideas, though the ideas are obviously important as well. And once “Somos Sur” came on, we were all South, every one of us, joined in music like a community for at least that moment, singing out “todos los callados, todos los sometidos, todos los invisibles,” together, “todos, todos, todos.” The politics won’t be resolved that easily, but maybe some minds can be opened this way–I don’t know, maybe, maybe not. The truth is, she could have been singing about anything because she’s that damned talented, charismatic and, once again, graceful, that I would probably go along with it, regardless.
We had every intention of pulling a hipster move like we did at Alien Ant Farm, and leaving before the headliner, Wild Belle, came on. But, we found out that a friend of a friend had a friend of another friend that might be able to get us in to meet Ana, so we patiently/anxiously waited around, after buying her vinyl albums at the merch table to get autographs and memories. We wound up staying through the entire Wild Belle set, which really was not my thing and confirmed in my head that they should have switched places with Ana on the bill. The whole time we waited we stressed over not having a sharpie, and tried in vain to get one, but we were literally within sight of Ana and didn’t want to risk wandering off.
But if there was any disappointment at not getting an autograph, it immediately disappeared the instant I said hello to her and she graciously apologized for keeping us waiting. Her smile and warmth was so genuine, it was moving, to be honest. I’ve met a few artists after a show and it’s always been great, but there was something special about this meeting that I can’t put my finger on, and trying to express it might make it seem like more than it was. It could just be that I’m not used to meeting actual nice people very often. Carlos told her it was the best show he’d ever been to, and left me with the thought that I now have to compare this to my experience at St. Paul and The Broken Bones earlier this year. It’s two very different things, and I hate comparing, so I may just have to call this a tie. I thanked her for keeping conscience alive in hip hop which she seemed to really appreciate. It stood out that, after we took a picture with her, she said it was an honor. For her. For her!? That’s crazy. Crazy gracious.