A sonic boom of folk and hip-hop, Ana Tijoux’s Vengo has imploded our ears and ignited our consciousness. A roots-heavy combination of traditional Latin American instrumentation and old-school beat samplings create the quaking groundwork for Tijoux’s observations on freedom, revolution, motherhood, nature, and the overall restlessness that plagues our current global inter-dependent existence. I reached out to producer Andrés Celis to talk about the ingredients, condiments, and invocations that brought about one of this year’s most powerful declarations.
In particular, Andrés details the creation of the track “Somos Sur,” a complex song featuring Palestinian rapper Shadia Mansour that stands out because of its frequent tempo changes and electronic interpretations of Middle Eastern musical elements. The song’s message of equality and empowerment is present throughout the album, an invitation to people across the world to fight colonialism in all of its forms and derivatives.
Check out Andrés’ behind-the-scenes view into the creation of Vengo.
Tell us a bit about how you and Ana work. What happens before, during, and after you enter the studio?
We have different forms of working when we start to create. Generally I start with a harmonic or melodic idea, and then Ana hooks on and we begin to build the song. She does so intently with her pen and paper, and I develop the arrangements. This goes on as the creative process continues.
What was the feeling that you wanted to create for your audiences before starting to work? Do you think the album represents those original intentions?
We wanted to return to a Latin American “sonoridad” for this album in a way that adhered to the song format while mixing with Ana’s rhymes since in these last two albums she has started to rap and sing just about the same amount. I feel that we were able to present much of what we wanted to with Vengo and were able to open a small door through which there is a huge world to continue to discover and evolve with, which fills me with much enthusiasm.
Can you tell us some details regarding the production of the album? Any secrets or methods used in its creation that would help us hear it with new ears?
The album was recorded in our studio, Estudioscelis, where I work with my brother Misha Celis (engineer/producer), with whom we mixed the album. It’s a small studio, well equipped, and more than having any secret in particular, the key to working on the album was to experiment with all the sonic possibilities I had in mind. In other words, if I have a song in mind and that song sounds a certain way, what I do is try to look for the sound(s) that will most closely resemble what I’m hearing, then I work toward that place until I find it. That’s one way. Sometimes I simply have a timbre or an instrument that I’m attracted to, with some kind of melody, and I start to work from there. Truth is I don’t really have a concrete formula at the moment of creation, but I do experiment until I find something that really moves me and that feels special to me. I think that’s the most important thing.
What traditional Chilean instruments did you use and in which tracks?
Well, we used different Latin American instruments more so than Chilean specifically. For example, in “Antipatriarca,” which was produced by Cristobal Perez (guitar), we used charango, quenas and quenachos, Venezuelan cuatro, guitars, and Peruvian cajon outside of the drums, bass, and brass, which are the instruments that most people are familiar with, if we were to frame it that way. “Creo en ti,” also produced by Cristobal Perez, again has pretty much the same format as “Antipatriarca,” the difference being that at the end of the song a Tinku orchestra (a Bolivian folk intonation that evokes the combat ritual) was incorporated, led by Hector Echeveria, who also composed the “Los Diablitos” interlude. “Rio abajo” I did basically with guitar, bombo legüero, Venezuelan cuatro, Puerto Rican cuatro, quenas y quenachos, Colombian gaita, and at the same time drum, bass, and percussive accessories like uñas de cabra and cascabeles. “Oro negro” I did while conserving almost the same percussive format of the album, this time incorporating strings (violin, viola and cello).
My favorite song, and one I think is an opus, is “Somos Sur.” How did you realize that song? What was Ms. Mansour’s involvement like? There are Middle Eastern touches, how did you conceive and create them?
“Somos Sur” came to me while at the airport, and I immediately recorded it on my cell phone, just as I did with almost all the ideas for the album. [laughs] For several days I sang the melody until I got to my studio and I started to record what I had in mind. It has that Arabic touch since I was born in Algeria, and I suppose the influence comes from there. Then Ana added her incredible flow with such tremendous lyrics and the whole thing took off from there. While listening to the song we immediately thought of Shadia Mansour, who Ana had showed me a few years back. I remembered being left aghast with her tremendous voice and energy, so we sent her to track in London and she hooked on, sending us that tremendous section of singing, which, when listening to it, we were all left crazy and stunned! [laughs] Then we only needed the bridge for the song, and I wanted to do something that would break completely with the Arabic atmosphere that the song brings, so I came up with doing an arrangement inspired by baroque music. I incorporated strings and it gave the song the air that it needed. After that, we just had a good time. [laughs] The song was mixed by the producer and engineer Misha Celis and mastered by Eric Morgenson.