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Lido Pimienta Takes Control

"I make it clear that I’m in control. You’re not in control. We’re not friends. Yeah, thank you for coming to my show, you’re not my friend.”
March 21, 2014, 4:06pm

I text Lido Pimienta that I’m outside her apartment and she texts back: “Knock! Stacey will open for you, I’m getting my son from daycare! Running lateeee.” I head upstairs and chill out, watching as groups of people slowly trickle in. I meet percussionists from Colombia, Aboriginal musicians from Montréal, and three white guys from Toronto. Stacey is also a musician. There are trays of cinnamon buns sitting on the stovetop and as we hear the door open for the last time, someone warns us that “it must be Lido.”

I feel an immediate surge of energy and as I look around I see that everyone is smiling. Lido enters with her son, Lucian, holding onto her, confused and amused by everyone in his space. Lido turns to me smiling and lets me know that all of these people aren't her band, but they’re collaborating on a project. “This is most of what I do — collaborations.”


Lido Pimienta is a Colombian musician and visual artist from Barranquilla, now living in Toronto. I watch as she works with the group and experiments with various sounds, looping Indigenous chants electronically before merging them with her vocals. Her voice works to elevate the overall musical experience, while her body elevates and conducts the room concurrently as she dances and waves her arms in unison with beats and melodies. There is a large Canadian flag cloaking the table. I am brought to a place both familiar and strange. In Lido’s own work, she subtly incorporates Indigenous and Afro-Colombian styles sounds, but brings them to us repackaged. They are packaged for the internet era: electronic, experimental, radiating with youth and uniqueness. Although an internet kid, she tells me she has issues with its tagging system. She doesn’t want to be labeled or pigeonholed. She finds herself in the category of what mainstream media refers to as "Other." With this, she wants us to rethink the traditional associations with Latin music, specifically Colombian. She says she’s expected to be “this monkey that makes people dance,” but she’s aware of her talents and the power in her voice. “I’m gonna use it as much as I can and I’m gonna experiment with it.” She’s not here to maintain already existing ideas, but to disrupt them and call attention to the ways Latinos are making new and innovative music all over the world.

We spoke of inspirations and where she looks to in her process of creating. She emphasizes her concern with originality and creating as to why she likes to keep from sampling. She’s concerned with making things from scratch and having complete ownership of her music. In order to feel inspired, she turns to music we normally don’t have access to. Lido mentions Popcaan along with music from Laos, Mali and Senegal as stuff she listens to often. “I listen to old music made in the 30s, made in the 40s, in countries where they weren’t allowed to dance or sing. A lot of music that’s been rescued from different archives because their government didn’t let them express themselves at the time. I listen to lots of obscure brown music.” Lido’s work is also highly political, and looks to address issues of social justice in Canada that also stretch worldwide. She believes in using her voice and talents for good. “It is such a scary world and it’s just weird to me when young people don’t use their voice for something that’s worth it.” Her experiences help her in owning agency in the issues she’s pushing for. Having lived in the US in addition to Colombia and Canada, having married then divorced, and being a single mother: all of there experiences help her find strength in the topics of her work. We spoke of M.I.A. and how she epitomizes Lido’s image of ultimate success. “She’s telling it like it is, and she’s making MONEY, so that’s what I want. I’m not afraid of power.”

Photo courtesy of NPR

As the issue of exotification is something surrounding M.I.A., Lido Pimienta and I discuss the risk she runs in performing for largely white audiences in downtown Toronto. “I don’t let that happen, I hope. Because I’m really vocal and aware of that. I make it very clear. Hell no, I am not your token Latin girl. You are gonna respect me because I am a good artist, period. And I always do a rant… I make it clear that I’m in control. You’re not in control. We’re not friends. Yeah, thank you for coming to my show, you’re not my friend.” However, she knows that with increased exposure, tokenism will sometimes be inevitable. “I know it’s gonna happen but you know, I got paid a lot of money, so whatever. NEXT!” She says, “some people are confused, some don’t like it, but most people love it, especially women. I find myself empowering a lot of girls … I touch my audience, I’m there with my audience, I know what the fuck is up. So when I see fishy shit, I call them out. For the most part the shows are beautiful, but when people don’t like it, I make it so clear that they can reach out to me and they do.”

Currently, Lido is working on her new album La Papessa alongside a team consisting of Kvesche Bijons-Ebacher, Blake Macfarlane and Robert Drisdelle. In English, La Papessa translates to The High Priestess. She tells me she took this idea from a tarot card that was read to her by a friend. It shows a woman sitting on a throne, wearing a headpiece, with a book on her lap. “Her headpiece is meant for her to not look outside of herself, not distract herself and focus on her book which signifies education — preparing oneself. The way I see it, she’s preparing for war. She’s getting educated to face life and that’s only gonna happen if you focus on yourself and not let others influence you.” La Papessa will start off intense and melodramatic, drawing on the harsh moments Lido was experiencing when she began recording: a separation, single motherhood, moving, family shifting, and what she laughs and refers to as #immigrantproblems. It will then move into a more fun and dance-able rhythm, because “then you figure it out.” She hopes to tour with her friends from A Tribe Called Red once the album is finished. We talked about the shows she’s done with them before, to which she says “it’s great to have peers like that. It makes sense that I open for A Tribe Called Red. There’s a lot of blood, bodies exploding everywhere, and by the end of the show everyone’s dead.”

Although Lido didn't play me any of the music she's prepared for La Papessa, but she makes it worth anticipating. The dual-experience approach is an intimate look into her life, while inviting her audience to also embrace all those emotions with her. “We can dance… but first I want you to cry, bitch!”

Maria Martinez is a writer living in Toronto who hates selfies. @martinezmria