Ana Tijoux performs during a concert by female artists on the eve of International Women's Day, in the Zocalo in Mexico City, March 7, 2020.

French Chilean rapper's new track criticizes politicians' apathy over coronavirus

Ana Tijoux's new song “Pa Qué?” drew inspiration from statements early into the pandemic from politicians like British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

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Ana Tijoux performs during a concert by female artists on the eve of International Women's Day in the Zocalo in Mexico City, March 7, 2020.

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Rebecca Blackwell/AP

The singer Ana Tijoux has been working for much of the pandemic. But on a recent afternoon, she was in Barcelona getting ready to take her cooped-up, 7-year-old daughter to a Catalonia beach. 

“She’s jumping like crazy right now,” Tijoux said with a laugh.

In an interview with The World, the Grammy-nominated French Chilean rapper and composer said the first six months of physical isolation have proven more taxing than anyone expected. 

It has reminded her of the collaborative nature of creating music: Even for a solo artist like her, the work is not solo, she said. 

And for her new single titled “Pa Qué?" she worked with the Puerto Rican rapper PJ Sin Suela. They were inspired by internet humor and the grim developments that have dominated the news for most of 2020.  The single — out last month — is from her forthcoming "Antifa Dance," her fifth album.

The track's title can be loosely translated into English as “So why?” It’s a nod to a phrase popularized by a viral video from Mexico in which two men carry an apparently intoxicated friend out of a party. The friend complains, “You already know how I get, so why do you invite me?” 

Tijoux says she felt similarly as an artist who likes to sing about a topic that not everyone is receptive to: politics.

Tijoux drew inspiration from watching politicians respond apathetically to the pandemic. For example, the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, in March bragged about shaking hands with people at a hospital where patients infected by COVID-19 were being treated. Meanwhile, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said that same month he wouldn’t be affected by the coronavirus because he had a background as an athlete. Both heads of state later contracted and were treated for the coronavirus. 

And then there was former Chilean Health Minister Jaime Mañalich, who said perhaps the coronavirus could mutate into “a good guy,” in a televised interview that immediately went viral. Tijoux quotes him directly in the first verse of “Pa Qué?”  

“They don’t care about people who are sick or who passed away. They don’t even have empathy, and that makes me worried when people don’t have any emotion about life.”

Ana Tijoux

“It’s surreal,” she said of the politicians’ response to the pandemic. “They don’t care about people who are sick or who passed away. They don’t even have empathy, and that makes me worried when people don’t have any emotion about life.” 

This is Tijoux's first time rhyming about the coronavirus. It is also her first time rhyming over cumbia, a music genre with Afro Indigenous roots that is massively popular across Latin America, as well as merenhouse, a popular genre with Afro Dominican roots. Some of her influences include Colombia’s Totó la Momposina, Joe Arroyo and the Dominican Republic’s Sandy y Papo, she said. 

The video for “Pa Qué?” features neon-colored cats floating in outer space, banging spoons against pots and pans, and shooting laser beams through their eyes at police officers and government buildings.

The playfulness, humor and seriousness are all connected, Tijoux said. Musicians have opinions — and this one is hers. 

“We’re not here to be pleasant,” she said. “We’re here to be honest with what we think. If you like or not or if it is good or bad, that is not the question. At least it is honest.” 

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