Unlike the last time I saw her perform in California, there was no reason for Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux to apologize to her audience for her English in the La Peña Cultural Center at her pre-Thanksgiving show on Wednesday.
"Quien no habla español?" she asked the crowd. "Muy bien," she continued when no one could understand Spanish well enough to yell out that they don't understand Spanish. "El mejor publico in los Estados Unidos."La Peña was perhaps the perfect venue for Tijoux's return to the Bay Area (she's spent a lot of time around here in 2012, playing the New Parish as recently as August.) The 45-year old center is undergoing a sea change. A group of young activists calling themselves La Peña Second Generation are re-doing the famous 3-D mural facade of the building, looking to minimize the center's dependency on grant monies, and, said the Second Generation guy who jumped on the mic in-between sets by Oakland's Raw-G and Tijoux (I hear Bang Data also turned in a stellar opening set, though emcee Deuce Eclipse was already hanging out in the crowd by the time we made it to the show), open to new programming ideas.
Anyone wanna host a spoken word event? You can do it at La Peña, whose intimate space hosts science lectures, Chilean feasts, Marga Gomez's "Day of the Dead Republican" stand-up, and craft fairs celebrating the work of women of color (the 18th annual Womyn of Color craft fair, in fact, takes place this weekend).
Most of the crowd that night was there for Tijoux's political awareness -- she touched on the Palestine-Israel conflict, the possibility for connection between poor people in all countries -- which was good because it was a way more mellow set than the times I've seen her when she didn't have a baby girl growing in her belly.
I took notes during the show comparing her outfit with the M.I.A.-like patterned leggings/oversized tee combo she rocked the last time I saw her, because she's a female artist so obviously her clothes are really important. This time around she had on a flannel shirt that fit her and hella black spandex -- stay comfortable, Anita.
After closing her set with her hit single "1977," Raw-G hopped on stage for a few songs to give Tijoux a rest before coming back out with "La Rosas de los Vientos," a song from Makisa, her fierce group from before she launched her solo career.
"Me siento que estoy en un boliche de Latin America," said my date. (Earlier in the evening he made us beat a hasty retreat once we had our plastic-cupped Peruvian Cristal beers from the bar in La Pena's Cafe Valaparaiso -- his Argentinian soccer team was being beat by Brazil on the bar's TV.)
His vote of confidence was high praise for a spot in Berkeley, and it suggests that the Second Generation group is doing alright in its mission to bring continued life to the beloved La Peña. Maybe in 20 years Tijoux's babe will be taking the stage, on her own feet this time.
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