Listening to Somos Sur at the Green River Festival

Had the pleasure of attending the Green River Festival in Greenfield, Massachusetts this past weekend. Now in its 28th year, the festival combines the feeling of extended family holiday,  a day at the beach and a neighborhood block party --- if a lot of great musicians happen to live in your neighborhood.  It manages to be low key with high energy and to promote things like engaged community, renewable energy and progressive political causes without asphyxiating you with its self-righteousness.

There is usually a lot of acoustic/folk and Americana at the festival as well as some headliners who mix up the sound.  There are also always musicians you haven't heard of, but should. One of the most popular "new" acts this year was the Chilean musician, innovator, songwriter Ana Tijoux.
Ana Tijoux

Tijoux was barely walking yet when her parents moved the family to Paris, exiles from the Chile of Pinochet. She is an eclectic and talented musician with a commanding stage presence. As an NPR reporter noted "Tijoux does what she pleases with the Spanish language, melting it and rearranging it to her liking." Tijoux takes back rap, too, in a couple ways --- lyrically, she challenges the machismo and misogyny so prevalent in the form.  In my favorite song, Antipatriarcha,  she belts out powerful, edgy lyrics with a musicality that takes hip hop and adds Andean strains.  

People at the Green River Festival were loving Tijoux and her band.  Area radio station The River plays her stuff a lot, and so the crowd was ready.

Tijoux ended her act with Somos Sur.   It's a fantastic, catchy, danceable, musical, magical tune.  It's also a bitch slap against imperialism -- cultural, economic, political. It's got a lot to say about the ways the northern hemisphere continues to exercise control over its southern neighbors.

Just a couple minutes earlier, Tijoux explained that her son doesn't listen to her; he rolls his eyes when she tries to speak to him about things that matter, and returns to his Ipad.  So she said, she writes songs for him, with the messages she wants to share.  "It works," she said.

As Somos Sur played, I couldn't help but thinking she was doing the same thing with her crowd of almost entirely white, economically comfortable, self-identified political progressives.  Here was a dancing, laughing mass of people, raising their arms and swinging their hips to the following lyrics:

You tell us to sit down but the ideas can't help but rise....
We dream big, shouting loud because we have no choice....
Looting, trampling, colonization, a thousand times victorious --

Get out of Latin America, Yankee
...we are getting up to say enough is enough.
...we are the south and we are bringing our hands together.....

(Disclaimer --- my Spanish is pretty lousy, so I can't say for sure I got the subtleties of her lyrics or understood the way she was playing with words --- I think the song was more complex than my Spanish allows me to understand.)

At first I thought, "do all these people realize her song is asking us to look at ourselves?"  A crowd of jubilant festival-goers rocking out to the music, enchanted by Tijoux, were we just exactly the kind of thing her song was mocking and challenging?  Yes. 

But afterwards, listening to small groups of people milling around talking, I realized that a lot of people in the crowd understood perfectly the words Tijoux was singing.  They probably got to know her and her band out of her politics and their own.  If it was armchair solidarity, at least it was informed solidarity.  Safe, with her as performer, entertainer, peripheral -- yes.  But if you wanted to be challenged, here was an opportunity.

In the end, I was glad she played, glad she pulls few punches and that her music is making its way to new made me uncomfortable in exactly the way I should be uncomfortable, it made me think and it made me listen.  And that is a step in the right direction. 

Thanks, Green River Festival.  Gracias, Ana Tijoux.