INTERVIEW: Lido Pimienta

“You need to know who you are, and explore that within your lane. That’s the best choice that you can make. Don’t try to adopt things when they don’t really belong to you” advises Colombian-born, Toronto-based artist Lido Pimienta. Even though our conversation is taking place via Skype, her passion, artistic knowledge and wit transcend the boundary of her screen. When asked how she’s dealing with the current lockdown situation, she replies “Oh you know, staying indoors, but being fabulous”, gesturing to her colourful make-up and the red dress she’s wearing with its matching hair accessories.

Pimienta has been working non-stop since the lockdown was put in place, as her fourth record, Miss Colombia, is due out in a matter of days when we speak (It’s since been released, read our review here). “90% of the time I’m painting a limited edition vinyl jacket series for the new album. I’m also taking care of my babies, and writing new songs for the next record, so I feel like I’m very busy. I don’t feel like time is just passing by or that I’m not being able to express myself. My brain is very fertile right now.” It’s hard to imagine anything affecting Pimienta’s productivity. Even though she is new on the Get In Her Ears radar, she’s been working as a visual artist and musician since 2002, exhibiting and performing across the world.

Pimienta’s art explores the politics of gender, race, motherhood, identity, and the construct of the Canadian landscape in the Latin American Diaspora – and this naturally extends into her music. Her latest album Miss Colombia is a vivid celebration (and criticism) of her Colombian heritage, and a canvas for her bold, instinctive talent. When asked what she’s most proud of about the record, Pimienta explains that it’s breaking down the idea of what mainstream music can be, by focusing on what you want to hear:

“My biggest pride is having put Afro-Colombian music – that we recorded in Colombia with traditional roots – right in the mix of electronic and orchestral music. That has been very rewarding for me. I find that in mainstream music, there’s this reverence to rock and roll, or specifically to the electric guitar. It’s almost as if for music to be “serious” it has to have those elements, or to make it to the mainstream you have to be a rock star. For me, I want Afro-Colombian drums to have the same reverence that an electric guitar has. I consciously don’t have guitar in my records. There’s also an obsession with naming anything that isn’t Western or Classical sounding as “world music” – so the thing I like the most about my record is that you can’t call it world music. You can’t. That’s the best.”

It’s true, Pimienta’s record eludes genre definition. She’s crafted eleven tracks that showcase her empowering vision with enviable flair and tenacity. When asked if she has a favourite track, she explains that ‘Eso Que Tu Haces’ was her “Eureka moment”. “It’s a song that pushes me vocally in an interesting way, and that’s when I realised that I could actually do a record with grass and woodwind in a coherent way, it wasn’t just a cute idea. The theme really encompasses it all, what this album is about.”

Pimienta’s album take its title from the incident at the 2015 Miss Universe beauty pageant, where MC Steve Harvey accidentally announced Miss Colombia as the winner of the competition, instead of Miss Philippines. When asked how this incident influenced the music that she created for the album, Pimienta gives a detailed response about the cultural, and personal shock it caused.

“It was a moment where my blindfold came off. I don’t know if you’ve ever left your country for more more than a month, but if you ever do, this is something that’s probably going to happen to you. You’re going to start comparing the country where you were born, to the place that you’re in, and you’re going to favour your own country. I did that for many years when I moved to Canada. I’d be like “If we were in Colombia, this party would be so lit! People would be dancing, but no-one in Canada wants to dance” stuff like that, you know? When the Steve Harvey incident happened, I had never seen my country so united over such a stupid thing.”

“For Colombians, beauty pageants are as important as football. The Colombian Diaspora was reacting like war had been declared on Colombia, and the evil behind it was this one guy, Steve Harvey.” Pimienta recalls the racist slurs that Colombian’s used when describing Harvey after the pageant took place. “That was a moment, where I was like, wait – are you trying to tell me that in Colombia, people are also horrible? I feel like if this happened in Britain, if Miss Britain was accidentally announced as the winner, the reaction would’ve been the same, right? But…you expect that of white people. You don’t expect that from Colombians! So I was like, do we think that we are white? Do we think that we are more beautiful than Asian folks? Or black people? When we are black, and we are so mixed? How can you see yourself as that? How can you say that the worst thing about Steve Harvey is that he’s black, when we are black. That was the moment where I was like “Whoa, am I even Colombian?” And the floodgates opened, my head exploded, depression started, anxiety began…and now we have the album!”

Using these reflections as a creative spring board, Pimienta dived into recording Miss Colombia. Her new sounds are steeped in defiance, but also brim with pride about who she is as an artist. When I ask her about the poetic nature of her music, she extrapolates further on how her Colombian heritage has naturally played in to this:

“I think the poetry element specifically comes from the Cantaoras Grupo Raíces de Palenque (Emelia Reyes “La Burgos” Salgado, Teresa Reyes Salgado, Doris Garcia). The Cantaoras women who traditionally sang songs on the river banks of the North coast of Colombia. Afro-Colombian tradition is oral. So the main Cantaoras tell the stories and sing the songs to their daughters, and when the main Cantaoras dies, the daughter takes their place, so the stories keep going from generation to generation. These songs are written as couplets, some are written specifically for call and response, and those are the poems. I’m not inspired by Western literature per say – I mean, I do love me some Little Women and I do love my British drama – I love the drama between the Queen, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry!”

Pimienta temporarily (and delightfully) veers off subject to talk about this drama. “One of the saddest parts about not being able to travel at the moment, is that I was excited to go back to England, because the Harry and Meghan jokes were going to be so on point. When I was in England playing live last time, they were just starting to date, so I was like “If this goes well, I might finally be able to find some hair products for myself next time I come here!” We laugh, before returning to the talk of Cantaoras and poetry.

“It’s an old tradition though, I really wanted to look at myself in terms of the things I love about being Colombian, as well as the things that I don’t like about my country. That’s where the cynicism comes from. [The songs on Miss Colombia] are poems, and poems are usually beautiful, but I’m telling you a truth in a poetic way, so that you might not even see an aggressive annotation. That’s what I did. I’m inspired by Afro-Colombian tradition, where songs are written in code, so that your slave master doesn’t know that you’re talking shit behind their back. That’s the poetry. Reading between the lines, double entendre, trying to mask your true feelings, but really, really, nailing it and putting that emotion in there.”

Pimienta has lamented that it’s hard to make electronic music sound beautiful or emotional, but her considered treatment of it on Miss Colombia transcends this concern. Her vast range of cultural influences, and experiences in everything from punk and metal bands as a teenager, to joining the Afro-Colombian group Sexteto Tabala (who feature on the new album) as a vocalist; to simplify it, she has an eclectic mix of styles to cherry pick from. Pimienta sees the amalgamation of her musical experiences differently though.

“I don’t think that I consciously take, I just am. When I started performing, I was 11 years old. You don’t really see 11 year olds slaying in punk bands anymore, especially when everyone else in the band is 25. I was a precocious child. Something that people need to understand is that, because Colombia is basically managed by USA and American enthusiasts, we have all the channels from the USA, broadcasting all the late night music shows from around the world. Colombia is like a port country, so we get all kinds of cultures and music.”

“I think because I am so mixed, and I have so many bloods running through my veins, I am sensitive to it. My mind and my brain and my heart are open to all kinds of music, so when I perform, it’s just all in there. When I write the music, it’s all in there. When you go to my show – and you will go – even a song like ‘Eso Que Tu Haces’ where it goes really high” – Pimienta demonstrates an angelic high note – “I know that there’s gonna be a point where I’m like” – she then produces a low, deep, metal-like, roar – “it just comes out. You have things that your parents gave you, that you do subconsciously, so that’s what it’s like for me with music. I have always been so entrenched in it.”

Pimienta tries to imagine her own son, who is now 12 years old, attempting to behave in the same way she did when she was his age. “Now, I see life through his eyes. I had him when I was very young, so we’ve grown up together. I remember at his age, I was playing in bands. So my son is creative, and he has his crew of friends at school and they talk online, but I can’t imagine letting my son play in a band with 25 year olds. I would go across town to all kinds of neighbourhoods by myself taking public transportation. I don’t see myself allowing my son to just take the subway for two hours like it’s fine. I think about that all right now, and I’m getting really inspired by that parallel of growth and the beauty of childhood. I don’t really know where I’m going with that…”

It’s this early earned independence and fearlessness that no doubt helped Pimienta forge her own creative pathway, and develop her own sense of style. The artwork for Miss Colombia, which features Pimienta in a flamboyant, colourful dress (more details on that ahead), is one of the many impressive examples of her flair when it comes to costume and personal style.

“The cover dress, I made here in my studio. I am a visual artist. I have a degree in art criticism and curatorial practice, so my art history game – it’s pretty good! When I draw my treatments for my videos, I understand that a garment can express so much. I always try to make sure that the stuff that I wear is saying something. I don’t care about how synched my waist is, I want people to look at those videos and remember them and think “I want to be that character!” I want to be the author, I want to be the muse, and the inspiration behind it.”

She elaborates on the connotations associated with the dress on Miss Colombia‘s album cover: “In Colombia, we are 90% Roman Catholic, that’s how we grow up. So the idea of a woman being a virgin, and the concept of virginity is super important. Your confirmation, your baptism, all of these activities are building you up to the most important occasion in a woman’s life which is…her marriage. So, I wanted to make a dress that would encompass the Virgin Mary, me getting baptised, and my Quinceañera.”

“A Quinceañera is like a telenovela version of a Barmitzvah. When you turn 15 in Colombia, you are considered a woman. You wear this ridiculous dress (well, they’re getting quite sophisticated now), and you’re introduced to society and you have a big party. It’s like a mock up of your wedding. Depending on your class, you will get a car. Or a trip to Europe, or most popularly; you get a nose job, or a boob job. It’s really normal. The rich girls will get everything. They’ll get the car, so they can drive themselves to the clinic to get that brand new nose.”

I take a moment to digest this, before Pimienta elaborates further: “The imagery on the album is so charged. In Latin America, the feedback is like “Oh yeah! My Quinceañera was so traumatic, it was horrible.” I actually never had a Quinceañera. My Qunice party was at my Mum’s apartment with a bunch of my punk and metal friends. I was wearing a short black dress and I was like “ugh, I’m not a girlie girl” and now, look how I dress.” She gestures once again to her bright red dress and hair accessories. “I ended up wearing a proper Quinceañera dress on a photo shoot while working on the album. I sent the picture to my Mum, and she was like “15 years too late, but at least I got you in a pink dress.”

Pimienta’s acceptance, and treatment of femininity on her own terms has certainly made the artwork and accompanying videos for Miss Colombia a feast for the eyes, layered with meanings that would most likely go over the heads of many Western listeners (including mine.)

“Colombia is a very interesting place”, continues Pimienta. “There’s beauty and there’s ugly, there’s no middle ground. It’s extreme violence and extreme happiness. I’m in between that. I am the grey area; but very gay, very queer, very feminist, and that’s why I can’t just wear a standard pink Quinceañera dress [for the album cover], it had to be purple, and yellow and green too. I haven’t shared all the photos of the album cover yet, but there’s one with four women who are dressed as brides, riding motorcycles and holding machetes. I have fun, and I’m lucky because I’m given the space to create, given the license to be an artist. I don’t have to pretend or hire creatives to give me good ideas. I just get to collab with my friends who happen to be geniuses.”

The natural friendships and collaborations Pimienta speaks of lead us to talk about how easy it can be to be distracted as an artist if you’re not working with the right people, or if you’re not staying true to your own vision, especially in electronic music. “I feel like everyone wants to be Arca, and use tech, but there’s only one Arca”, she explains, more specifically relating this to Grimes’ latest album, Miss Antropocene. “Grimes herself, wants to get to that level of production or aesthetic to where Arca is already beyond, but she lets the hyper-conceptual take over. The ideas don’t go as far, because she’s so concerned with being dressed as Akira sat on an Akira throne, thinking she’s really smart, and that only a few people are gonna get it. But it’s like – everyone knows who Akira is.”

“Grimes just uses Akira as a backdrop, so she’s minimizing the Akira legacy. By putting herself as a very skinny, very wealthy, baby mama of one of the most richest men in the world on that throne – you’re actually shitting on Akira right now. I love Grimes. I think she is a great artist. We’re all very different, but you have to know who you are. That’s what I’m going for. I don’t need to grow an android hand, or have an operation so I have a chip in my eyeball.” Pimienta’s criticisms are as on point as her Meghan Markle jokes.

She puts aside these thoughts, and begins talking about what’s fascinating her right now: “I’m embodying Carnival, I’m being my own personal roadie show. I’m obsessed with clowns at the moment, and my daughter really enjoys that. Dressing up is a part of my culture, Carnival is a part of my culture; I can do that and elevate it. That’s why it’s so important that you have a clear vision, that doesn’t look outside of who you are.”

Pimienta’s vision is one that has captivated, fascinated, and educated us since we recently discovered her work. Her unrivalled artistic confidence, and tenacious appetite for creating multi-layered music that defies explicit definition, is something we look forward to hearing more of in the future.

Follow Lido Pimienta on Spotify & Facebook for more updates.
Order your copy of Miss Colombia here.

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