Extended interview with Polaris Music Prize winner Lido Pimienta
I got to talk to Lido right after her Polaris Music Prize win for best Canadian album, when she was awarded $50,000 for La Papessa. I wrote about it for Metro but there was a lot more to the interview than what made it into the article. Lido talked about how she got her start singing for her neighbours during blackouts in her home country, Colombia. She also talked about what it's like to deal with racism and what her next steps are this year.
When did you start singing?
I guess my start in music, if I want to get fastidious about it, it started when I was four years old in my living room when we had blackouts in Colombia, in Barranquilla, my hometown, and we got a lot of blackouts so whenever we did have one my dad would rally up all of our neighbours and he would have me and my sisters sing ABBA songs. So performing has always been a part of me. The most comfortable you’ll see me is on stage singing.
After that, my mom who saw the talent in me, put me in music lessons, and percussion, and dance. When I was in dancing though, I always sat next to the drummer. I just drummed and sing and drummed and sing. When I was about 10, 11 I could speak English pretty well then. I was completely a 1990s kid, consuming MTV when MTV was good...Some of it I couldn’t really understand because my reality as an 11-year-old Latin American young girl who’s kinda weird — but I still kind of got some edge from that. I started attending university when I was 12, 13 years old. I got accepted in arts school. I was still going to high school but every afternoon I had to go to my art thing. It was a university. It’s a beautiful building. It’s still standing now. It’s called Museo Atlantico Bellas Artes.
What did it mean for you to win the Polaris Music Prize?
It was so special to have my mom there last night because she’s seen the whole thing, you know? She doesn’t really understand. She gets it now more... Now she’s like, “Okay cool you’re singing about women’s right. I understand that.”
What got you so heated about your performance at the awards show?
For me the performance was a piece of shit because I couldn’t hear myself. I couldn’t give a hundred thousand per cent of what I am as a performer. As an artist I felt insulted. I wanted to go home. But because my mom drove from London, Ontario that night...I needed to keep it together for her. So when they announced my name I’m like what is going on? Is this a joke? I’m waiting for Ashton Kutcher to be like, “Yep, you’re punk'd!” But then my son started crying, and then I was like you know if you don’t let go of the rage... your son is here. Your mother is here. Embrace the moment. And then everyone at my table are crying. My dancers, I felt like they probably must have knocked over people from their own chairs. They were so happy. It was beautiful to have all these women ...to be on stage with me so...I wish I would have prepared something, like “Oh girl you’re killing it! People love you!” but I didn’t because I was worried about my sound. I always just care about how I’m going to sound. That was like the last thing—I wasn’t going to write anything.
What was it like to win with your album, La Papessa, entirely in Spanish?
Society isn’t changing. What’s changing is the media. Because we have access to cameras on our phones, were able to see ourselves more and we’re able to document our stories more, and we’re able to build our own networks and we’re able to showcase ourselves the way we want to be showcased. That’s the only thing that has changed, but you know, Indigenous people, brown folks, black folks, we’ve been here. That’s why it’s such a beautiful thing.
Spanish is still a colonizer language. Colombia and South America, we’re still colonized by Spain, right? The amazing thing would be that my album would have been Indigenous Waunakee language from my community in the north coast of Colombia. That would’ve been revolutionary, and I’m kind of working toward it. I’m working towards that I still need to educate myself more on that because just like many, many, many, colonized folks, we don’t have that. We can’t — like our grandparents are to traumatized to pass on the language to us or our parents. They didn’t get to learn the language because the parents weren’t allowed to speak their language in public. It feels great because it’s not because it’s in Spanish that I’m so proud. It’s because it’s not in French and it’s not in English.
It is insulting to me as a guest in this country that signs are in English and French, but there’s not a single word in Cree. To me it’s like you can learn French in any corner of the world. But why can I go to any corner of the world in Canada — why is it not obligatory to know Cree? Why? It’s beautiful even how it’s written. It’s amazing. So it’s like hello? Please, next year we’re going to get Cree and Anishinaabe and the real deal. The music that they’re doing in the north with this raggedy ass country, you would not believe it. But because their stories are so erased and they’re so invisible we don’t get to hear it.
How do you deal with racism?
You just have to take it because ain’t nobody paying my rent but myself. Just have to deal with it. My experience is totally unique, you know? Even in my own brownness I still have so much more privilege than trans black women. And trans black women with very dark skin. It doesn’t get more complicated and devastating than that. I’m very aware of that. Whatever little platform that I have that I can offer, that I can share, I hope that it’s an example to other people. I’m still figuring it out. I don’t have all the answers. But the more that I discovered the true history of this country, the more that I want to fight against it and rebel and take action because it’s the only way, it’s the only way to real freedom and reconciliation.
So many talks about reconciliation, inquiries, and da dee da dee da, nothing gets done. Do I wait for a government that is not here for me or do I just do it with my friends? That’s what we’re doing and that’s what the album did for us and a lot of people.
What attracts you to Toronto’s music scene?
It is so diverse. I wouldn’t even call it diverse. I would just call it good. It’s just that we’re—I’m in the downtown bubble so you know, you are missing out on what’s happening at Jane and Finch, for example. It’s amazing. Producers coming out of there are taking over. We have 13-year-olds taking over but we don’t really hear that because we’re so enamored with this image of what hipster music needs to sound like. And we’re obsessed with the south by southwest look. I don’t even know what it is. Don’t believe anything I say. I don’t even leave my house! I don’t like to go out. If you want to see me better give me a call, you gotta come to me. I’m just so bored.
When you’re somebody like me who comes from a place where poverty hits you in the face but people are so incredibly happy, I cannot be bothered. I cannot be bothered with a bill that has 20 acts and 18 are men. Can’t be bothered with that. I cannot even engage. I’m so over it. Or like festivals, they’ll have the headliner in bold. And then “plus others.” And then others mean there’s probably a woman there and racialized folks there. “We did it, we got the grant, so we got this money to do it! We said we were going to have this diversity” but it still represents one per cent. So for me it’s like i knew very early on I had to do it myself if I want it done right. So here I am.
What are your plans for the future?
We’re pretty booked, pre-Polaris, let me tell you! Pre-Polaris, OK? I don’t want nobody taking credit for my work. We’re pretty until February next year. I’ve been here! I’ve been here! I’ve been trying to tell you I’ve been doing it, but you know, I’m not skinny, I’m not white, I’m not blonde. I don’t sing in English. I don’t wear like a cute dress and a guitar and cry about my boyfriend. Whatever. I don’t do that. And I understand it’s harder to digest. But hopefully people will get with the program. I feel like they will. I just need more exposure. Not the exposure that they tell you at some shows, like, “we’re not going to pay you but it’s for the exposure.” No, not that kind. I want the kind that comes with a big check. That’s the one that I want. I just need a little bit more visibility. And I’ll be ok.
I just played Montreal and people were losing their minds. I just left New York and people were losing their minds. And then the day before… I played in like Sackville. My ears are still ringing from how loud and hard people were screaming. I still get messages from that show. I still get messages from shows two years ago. I get messages from people in south america saying thank you for your music, I was able to come out to my parents. I’ve been here. I’ve been doing it. I just don’t fit the whatever formula so hopefully we can create spaces for people like me who are an odd shape. The odd shape is much more interesting than a fucking circle or a fucking square.
When I gave birth, by the time my son decided he was ready, the epidural was gone, and then his little body was not so little. I am gangster. I am punk. I’m not scared. I want what I want and I’m going to tell you what I want. I don’t care. I gave birth. I’m done. I did my duty with the world. So whatever happens after that, not my problem.