UNCHARTED: Lido Pimienta is done with your ideas of “world music”

The experimental pop star discusses the value of independence, explores her audience and defines “Enya Syndrome.”

- Jan 29, 2014
Uncharted is our weekly showcase of independent artists we think you should hear. This week, experimental poptomitrist Lido Pimienta urges the value of independence, explores her audience and defines “Enya Syndrome.”

W
hen Lido Pimienta took the stage at Toronto's Silver Dollar two Fridays ago, she was backed by two three white guys - Blake Macfarlane, Kvesche Bijons-Ebacher and Robert Drisdelle - playing her music. It felt important, like a manifestation of the barbs she'd sling at the audience between songs, urging political upheaval and self-reflection (“KKKanada” came up). It transformed our awkward dancing into a march towards a future that was right in front of us, while she wrapped herself in each colourful electronic blast.

Born Lido Maria Pimienta Paz in Barranquilla, Colombia, Lido's politics formed early, driven by oppressive circumstances. “In Colombia there are many times when people ask for their rights peacefully, and you bet some of those kids are going to disappear," she says. "It's very dangerous to be against the government in Colombia. [But] I was 11 and in a metal band. All the songs were about how we hated the president. My mom was horrified.” As soon as she could, Lido's mother brought her to Canada, where she pledged to develop her creativity as far as her new home would help her take it: “As soon as I landed I Googled all the galleries, went in and introduced myself: 'I'm an artist, give me wall space.'"

Her first album, Color (co-produced with her now ex-husband and father of her child Michael Ramey of Golden Death Music), gave her the first stirrings of a global fan base, and allowed her to tour for a year. It also clearly and unequivocally distanced itself from colonial notions of “world music” with unflinching sonic experimentation refracted through various prisms of a raw and complex personality, audible even if you don't speak the album's Spanish. The vessel for her politics is her voice, full of passion and excellent in an instantly identifiable way. It attaches to our natural instinct towards truth in beauty and leaves us receptive to her underlying messages, like how folk sages sang their socialist sympathies into heavenly truths.

It’s 2014 [and] we have so much information. And yet there’s no revolution. It’s sickening. The only thing I have against that is my voice. And I’m gonna use that.

 Her commitment to showing as many different dimensions as possible extends to her live performances; each one is different, to keep both herself and her repeat audience members entertained, with visuals that range from abstract vocalized psychedelia with Tough Guy Mountain to a hard line yet hilarious political broadcast (a Tonya Harding documentary) with most recent collaborator Blake Macfarlane. “We're working on a series of images that can go with our music more...I am a visual person. I want people to experience our music from all senses possible.”

Describing how she deals with obnoxious male music store clerks, she speaks in the voice of someone who knows she has no reason to apologize: “I have a big mouth.” The immediacy of her entire persona does away with dated terms like “outspoken.” It's exciting, and makes her ultimate plans seem totally reasonable: “My goal in life is to be huge. I'm not scared of fame because I have big plans for my community.”


How important is community to your music?

It's very important. There's this thing I call “Enya Syndrome.” It's being isolated and only inspired in your own music. Like, Enya doesn't listen to other people. It might not be true, but in every interview she's just so wrapped in this bubble, and has this royalty thing going on, like [her] blood is too blue. There's no point in that. I need feedback, I need to share ideas. I know that if I write a song it can be good [and] I'm not saying that each song should have ten collaborators. I'm still the one who's writing the music, I'm still the one who's directing the boat, but for example working with Kvesche, we really compliment each other. You need to find the right people to work with.

The music industry is a hot mess. People are pressured to be number one. It comes to the point where it’s not even about the music anymore.

The music industry is a hot mess. People are pressured to be number one. You have to have the best song, and you have to have the most followers on Twitter, and you have to be the coolest. It comes to the point where it's not even about the music anymore. There's a lot of pressure. But I don't think that will ever be me. I'm a mom, I live in reality. My music is inspired by people and political movements, revolutions, apathy towards other peoples' suffering.

When you make music like what we're doing, there's no way that you can be disconnected from life. So there's a lot of things in pop that I love, but there's also a lot of things that I can't admire. I think about it a lot. It's 2014 [and] we have so much information. And yet there's no revolution. It's sickening. The only thing I have against that is my voice. And I'm gonna use that. I just gotta be true to myself.

Your audiences can be predominantly white. Do you worry they'll exoticize your performances?

I'm not worried about that because I'm so vocal about it during my shows. I'm completely aware that that might be happening, I always make sure. I remember one of my shows, I said “You know why I have white people playing with me? Because I know that I'm going to end up getting shot by one of you, so they're my shield.” Every time I have the opportunity to say “I'm not your token girl,” I do. You are not my ally by coming to my show. There is so much that you have to do to say that you're my ally. Not all kids are like that. And I feel like if they're going to my shows, they know what's up. I do get some emails saying “You're a really good performer, but I think you're really racist.” Mainly it's white straight guys.

[Toronto is] such an international place in the world, but we are segregated. Patriarchy in Canada has it so we're next to one another but not with one another. We're not integrated. I wish I was playing North York. With my scene, sometimes I'm like “Am I a hipster? Is that what I am?” My shows in downtown Toronto [are] done. I respect everyone who comes out, but they'll be okay, because none of them are getting deported anytime soon. I want to reach to this audience that doesn't know what I'm doing, who can't afford to spend ten or fifteen dollars on beer. I want to play other venues where people don't have access to these kinds of shows.

Does music have a responsibility to enrich its audience?

I think every art form does. I'm very aware that I'm serious, but I'm always joking. You need to be in tune with the world. It's only better for us if art gets recognized. We're not going to build a nation with guns. It's been proven for generations that that does not work. How am I gonna make myself heard? I'm gonna make myself look fresh, I'm gonna look hot, and I'm gonna let you know what's up in the world. It's what I know, it's my game. I'm going to make this important information real sexy.

I look up to M.I.A. She's the perfect example of how mainstream you can be and still be very political. A lot of punk and metal bands are like that, but they're so angry all the time! I love my death metal, I'll play it when I'm baking sometimes, but not everyone has the stomach for that. Even if you make pretty guitar music, you can still be engaged.

How has your musical direction changed between Color and your upcoming LP?

[Toronto is] such an international place in the world, but we are segregated. Patriarchy in Canada has it so we’re next to one another but not with one another. We’re not integrated.

 Album number one [Color] was made with mainly real instruments, and I was working with my ex, my son's father. We were working in that domestic setting. My son was just born and some songs I was recording while I was breastfeeding. I still had this utopian view of Colombia, and I wasn't mature enough to understand what I was doing. But I still got the songs out and there's still a lot of indigenous resistance and queer awareness in those songs. It's a very humble album. It was able to turn some heads and it took me to some important places, but it definitely didn't play up or reach my full potential, mainly because of time constraints and working with someone who had way more control than me.

Since the production [of that album], something happened: I learned to record myself. When I learned how to do that, I didn't need baby daddy to be around to push the red button for me. I started being told, asked, befriended by musicians all over the world. To this day I have at least 100 songs with different people all over the universe, outside of my own album. That was my education.

 When I moved to Toronto, I started playing some of those songs and then, lucky day, Kvesche came to me and really liked what I was doing. We tried jamming and it just came naturally. The songs have been growing as we've played them. They come to my place, we set up shop, and we start jamming. There's a lot of thought that goes into writing the poems in my songs. That's why this time around, we'll have English and French [lyrics].

When you do assemble this album, what do you hope will string all the songs together?

The message that I want people to hopefully understand, embrace and receive is one of independence. Believing in yourself. Another reason that I'm so adamant about releasing this album perfectly was that baby daddy said “You'll never be able to make it.” People say terrible things when they're separating, and maybe he doesn't feel that way anymore. But those are the things that were in me when I was making it. The album is about being gangster, being special, being independent, having a voice, going to war.

So far what does Lido Pimienta going to war sound like?

It sounds like gangster pop, beautiful singing, multi-layered loops, heavy beats and bass, a hybrid of sounds that come from infinite love and a will to collaborate together.

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