Lido Pimienta’s Bag of Tricks: The Colombian-Canadian Musician’s Mission to Amaze

Lido Pimienta BeLatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of pitchfork.com

For those who have only heard rumors about her, Lido Pimienta is a new Colombian singer-songwriter who hates reggaeton and had the ovaries to diss Shakira in an interview. 

She described herself at the Red Bull Music Academy in the following manner: “I am indigenous. I am black. I am Colombian. I am a mother. I am a Polaris Prize-winning artist. I am a badass bitch.” And the music world has paid close attention. 

Her sets are lush with eye candy, an explosion of layered quinceañera pastels in one background setting, and then Amazon kitsch with tigers for another. Her wardrobe blends the folkloric styles and bold colors of Afro and Indigenous garments with a penchant for Trickster-like touches.

She’ll smudge on bright-colored make-up, either like a cherub or in warrior fashion, and accessorizes with adornments like mini pom-poms or flowers. Then, sometimes she just wears a simple button-down shirt and no makeup and speaks cultivated English and cites literature and art in interviews around the world. 

You never know what you will get with her.

In mythology and folkloric tradition, a trickster is a character in a story whether a goddess, a spirit, human, or animal-like creature that exhibits a great degree of intellect or secret knowledge and uses it to play tricks or otherwise disobey standard rules and defy conventional behavior. 

In my eyes, Pimienta is a wise and playful Trickster not bowing down to record labels or the media or the patriarchy. She is all about stating publically how much she dislikes the hypocrisies in this world and calling out the powers in charge. She is a woman, she has been scorned, and we will hear her roar.

Such was the case last June when Spain’s El País newspaper quoted Pimienta as saying: “I am not the girl who records songs with J Balvin, but the one who calls him an idiot on his Instagram.” 

Then the bold 34-year-old Barranquilla-born, Canadian naturalized artist of Wayuu indigenous descent added: “I´m not proud of him, nor Maluma, nor Shakira. They´re embarrassing.”

This last statement caused the worldwide Colombian community to pounce. El País´s comments section was on fire. Many attacked Pimienta for insulting Shakira, their greatest export next to coffee and García Marquez, while many praised her fresh-aired frankness about Colombia´s commercial pop music scene.

While her music is labeled indie and alternative, it can be described as a kind of floating “transgressive electro cumbia,” with weighty Spanish-language lyrics about the dark side of womanhood sung in the high-pitched nasally style of traditional cumbia vocalists.

“Soy mujer y llevo, el dolor adentro/I´m a woman, pain is what I carry inside,” she sings on the track “Nada,” a haunting collaboration with Bomba Estereo´s Li Saumet, an equally talented indie electronic-based performer from Colombia. They both share similar alternative fashion aesthetics that don’t comply with the Reggaeton world´s uniform of tight jeans, crop tops, push up bras and blown out and dyed hair like most of its female artists adhere to.

The track is featured on Pimienta´s new and third album, “Miss Colombia,” released in April. She recorded it in her home studio in Toronto, where she wrote and arranged the songs and co-produced the album with the Canadian musician Prince Nifty.  The title is a snarky reference to Steve Harvey’s blunder of crowning the wrong contestant at the 2015 Miss Universe contest. 

Colombia and its diaspora were devastated, and Pimienta thought that the entire traditionalist sexist dog and pony show was simply ridiculous. She then decided to crown herself for an album about self-loathing in a society that makes people of color feel ugly, making it all the more powerful.

Her rebel girl beginnings

Pimienta says she felt like a weirdo growing up. In a Red Bull Academy lecture series, she said that as a child in Barranquilla, Colombia, she attended an arts program for gifted children at an American school where she says she felt out of place for not being white enough. 

She held onto that outsider feeling and channeled it into her art. At 10, she began entering talent shows, and in the years that followed, she joined hardcore metal and punk bands, and by 13, she was a practiced metal vocalist. 

All of this goth fashion in a hot and humid town where 90% of its inhabitants listened to Vallenato. Her neighbors would say she was playing Satan´s music, and in interviews, she often refers to some of her politically charged songs as “Satanic Pop” music recalling her past. Around that time, she was reading feminist Naomi Klein´s books and learning about Black Panther activist Angela Davis. 

In 2005, Colombia’s civil unrest forced Pimienta´s mother to move her family to a lily-white place like London, Ontario, where Pimienta said she and her family experienced racism. At 19, she released her debut album Color (2010) and became a baby boy’s mother. For Color, she laments that her physically and mentally abusive ex-husband produced every track, refusing to teach her how. It was, she has said, “a way of keeping me dependent on him.” 

In 2016 she released her second album La Papessa which earned her the Canadian music industry´s prestigious Polaris Music Prize. She became the first winner in a language that was neither English nor French but español. On the track “En un Momento,” she collaborates with the Patti Smith of Colombian rock, the vocalist and lead singer of Aterciopelados, Andrea Echeverri, on a sultry electronic track about easy- comes and easy-go kind of men. 

Winning the Polaris prize was a huge feat given that the album was self-released, funded by a $6,000 Ontario Arts Council grant, and nominated alongside albums by the late and legendary Canadian artist Leonard Cohen, Gord Downie, and Feist. The world suddenly opened to Pimienta, and people were listening to what she had to say.

Brown girls to the front

During live performances, the unabashed singer frequently asks her audience to welcome people of color to the front of the stage. In turn, Pimienta requests that white people move back, which is a bold move, but in the world of entertainment, the unspoken rule is that the artist is in charge of the space. 

In 2017, her message of “brown girls to the front” offended a white volunteer at the performance and some white audience members at the Halifax Music Festival who did not want to step back because it seemed like reverse racism.  

CBC Radio Canada reported that Pimienta repeated “move to the back” about ten times. When the woman refused to move, Pimienta said, “you’re cutting into my set time, and you’re disrespecting these women, and I don’t have time for this.” Event organizers said the volunteer was removed from the show and the Halifax Festival apologized for ‘overt racism’ at the Polaris winner’s concert. 

A statement on behalf of the festival’s board of directors addressed the singer directly and promised to make changes to improve “anti-oppression and anti-racism training” over the next year. 

“We are sorry that one of our volunteers interrupted your art, show, and audience by being aggressive and racist,” reads a Facebook post signed by vice-chairman Georgie Dudka. This is the Lido Pimienta trickster effect in motion. And it has just begun.

When she is not helping the world be more conscious, she works on music or spending time with her son. In an interview with El País, she spoke about how proud she was of the moment when a group of women set fire to a police station in Mexico City in August 2019 because its cops were raping women. 

“Their response: How barbaric! That someone rapes a little girl and no one cares about it, that’s barbaric,” she laments. “There is already plenty of music about love and money; let’s talk about what matters.”