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Q&A with Lido Pimienta

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Lido Pimienta

Photo: Matt Barnes

Lido Pimienta, who we last saw at our Hall Party: Carnival at the Great Hall in February, might well be the ultimate personification of her hometown’s Carnaval de Barranquilla, one of the world’s biggest Carnival celebrations and the inspiration for her artistic career. Through the work of the singer, producer, presenter and more flows a multitude of influences, traditions and ideas, not unlike the way a massive celebration was created out of the many cultures, peoples and beliefs that met in the Colombian port city. While the parades and the percussion certainly made an impression on the young Pimienta, it was the cantaoras (singers) that captivated her: “I saw them and knew right away that’s what I wanted to do. Their voices were the loudest, their message was the brightest.”

Indeed, message is an essential part of all of Lido’s work, on and off the stage. Empowering women is one major theme – via, for example, her new Womxn Pedalling performance, workshop and more series – and so is opening minds. “I want people to be inspired and curious. I want to open doors to new, underrepresented worlds.” Musically, she began as a “child prodigy,” joining her first band – a hardcore group that she fronted as a “full-on guttural singer” – at age 11. From there, she moved through jazz, traditional music and more. These days, she makes “electronic and pop-based, complicated” music rooted in the place she began her musical journey: “I want the singing to break through it all, like glass, and only spiritual, traditional and ancient music can really do that.”

Lido Pimienta performs as part of Lunchtime Live at Yonge-Dundas Square, helping to celebrate the tenth anniversary of non-profit, youth-powered platform Manifesto on Mon, Sept 19.


Q&A

What was the first concert you attended?

The Carnaval de Barranquilla – one of the biggest carnivals in the world. Seeing the parade, the Afro-Colombian percussion and especially the cantaoras (singers). I knew right away that’s what I wanted to do. Their voices were the loudest, their message was the brightest.

First album that you bought?

Fear Factory (heavy metal band) - Remanufacture. The first band I was in was a hardcore band. I was 11, and the others were adults – like as old as I am now. I did the whole guttural singer thing. I was kind of a child prodigy in music: Between the ages of 11 and 18, I went from metal to jazz to Afro-Colombian music, folklore, everything. And all of it simultaneously. My musical education happened live.

What artist made you want to do what you do?

There are three: Lauryn Hill (hip-hop/soul musician, former member of hip-hop group Fugees), Etelvina Maldonado (Colombian singer steeped in Caribbean traditions), Björk (Icelandic genre-crossing musician). Those are my foundation.

What are your musical influences?

It’s probably easier to say what doesn’t influence me – I’m not really into country music, and other than that, pretty much everything. I’m really into Indian music right now – anything spiritual. Like Mor lam, which is a Laotian traditional song style. Religious singing is my main inspiration. I like to have the music be electronic or pop-based and complicated, but I want the singing to break through it all, like glass. And I think that only spiritual, traditional and ancient music can really move me emotionally in that way.

What does Massey Hall mean to you?

The association for me has always been about a musical relationship. I’m a curator, and a critic, so from a curatorial point of view, I see Massey Hall as a nurturing ground for art that’s breaking barriers in terms of communicating the idea of “Canadian” music. Why I’m open to the idea of collaborating and working with Massey Hall is that I know that my voice will be heard, and I’m not restrained in any way.

What music were you listening to on the way to the shoot?

I was listening to my own music: As a producer, I need to do that – my next record is ready, and will be released in a little while, but in the meantime, I’m going to be releasing singles and other stuff, so I’m listening to a lot of my own music right now. But I’m also really into Rihanna (Ed. Note: “Work” was the soundtrack to at least a portion of this cover shoot)

What will you listen to on your way from the shoot?

There’s a mixtape that (Artistic collective/presenter) 88 Days of Fortune just put out, and I’ve been meaning to listen to that.

Tell us about a memorably amazing onstage experience you’ve had.

What strikes me deepest during shows is when women feel really empowered and make that clear when they either go onstage with me or after the show, when they tell me how they were moved emotionally. Often people come up to me after shows and say that the experience of the show helped them be ready to tell parents they were gay, or that my music helped her get through relationship issues. That really motivates me, to know that I’m making an impact. I’m just blessed that I can sing.

Tell us about a memorably ridiculous onstage experience you’ve had.

After a show in Montreal, someone spat on me. They were upset because I called out the organisers for cultural appropriation. They heard it, they weren’t ready for it and this particular woman didn’t know any other way to express the conflict. I’m never going to forget it, and I understand that when you’re vocalizing oppressed peoples’ narratives, you tend to come from a settler’s mindset and are unable to process the ideas with love.

What’s your dream gig?

An all-female lineup, with a lot of Indigenous and black women headlining, organized for women, by women – with an all-female tech crew. I guess I’m helping to make my dream come true with the Womxn Pedalling series I’m starting. It’s a new performance, workshop and gathering series showcasing women in music. Hopefully one day we can bring it to Massey Hall!

What do you hope people take away from your music?

I want people to love it, love themselves, and love the other. I want people to be open to experimental music that doesn’t fall under lazy labels. I want them to leave inspired and curious about music they don’t usually listen to and go into spaces they don’t usually go into. It’s about opening doors to new worlds, and to underrepresented worlds. And having a great time seeing what else is out there that’s not mainstream.

What’s the best thing about doing what you do?

That I’m in control. That I’m empowered by myself.

What’s the hardest thing about doing what you do?

The assumption that because I’m a woman I can’t do what I do – and that there’s a man behind me doing the work, and I’m just a face.

What do people most frequently misunderstand or under-appreciate about what you do?

I think people understand, but I do think that some people see what I do as tokenism. There are a lot of people that go to my events more because of the idea rather than what they might take away from it. These tend to be the people that tell me they’re offended. But lots of people really do get it — even though I don’t sing in English. We’re all responding to the same wavelength and I think that’s clear and comes through.

What’s ahead for you this year? What are you most looking forward to in 2016?

My new album will drop in September, and there will be a bunch of new videos, singles, mixtapes, collaborations and more in advance. So I’ve got lots of releases coming up. The series, too – Womxn Pedalling – is really important to me, and that’s going to be great.