Lido Pimienta Mines Colombia's Dark Past for Her Vision of a Vibrant Future

Photo: Daniella Murillo

BY Erin MacLeodPublished Apr 15, 2020

Moving in from afar, a camera slowly focuses on Lido Pimienta in flowing blue and white robe in front of a church, in the centre of a plaza, typical of architecture meant to focus the community and shape the culture according to the desires of Spanish colonial rule. This, however, is the plaza of San Basilio de Palenque, the first free town for Africans in the Americas, founded in 1603, and a centre of resistance ever since. 

Pimienta's voice moves from floating over the rhythms to powerfully pushed right out on the chorus. The song, "Eso Que Tu Haces," can be read as a comment on relationships, but also on the lasting impact of colonialism: "That thing you do is not love." The dancers from Afro-Colombian troupe Grupo KUMBE accompany Pimienta. Lush, poetic and powerful, this video is an exemplar of Miss Colombia, Pimienta's new album, a project that questions representation and what it means to be, as well as miss, Colombia. 

After all, Pimienta has lived in Canada for ten years now. "I go to Colombia and it feels really weird." She adds, "and then the Miss Universe scandal happened," referring to when actor Steve Harvey erroneously announced Miss Colombia as the winner of Miss Universe 2015 instead of Miss Philippines.

"It just all came together. Colombians are hurting and are up in arms because of a crown. I wish we could apply this energy to all the children that are dying of the lack of clean water. I am not even a part of that narrative anymore. Maybe the Colombia that I miss is the Colombia of my nostalgic memories, you know?

"But then if I really dig deep, then the memories are really dark, so maybe I'm just going to create a new Colombia and I'm going to dress myself in cotton candy and I'm going to bring cakes and bedazzle, put bows on motorcycles and everything is going to be okay. You know, I'm just gonna pretend that everything is okay, like a good Colombian," she laughs.

And Lido Pimienta's imagined image of Colombia is expansive, experimental, and wide-ranging as all get out. There are soft, mellifluous, a cappella songs that layer voice, melody and percussion, all created vocally. Then there are enormous songs that explode with sound and instrumentation. The ethereal quality of her Polaris Prize-winning La Papessa is still there, but Pimienta has added more texture and colour. The word that comes to mind is vibrant.

Pimienta agrees: "The album has a lot of layers filled with lots of layers. I love to see a project with 58 channels. I also relate it to blood, to DNA. Somebody like me has a lot of mixed ancestry. It's evident in what I choose to listen to. The things that I'm inspired by, the things that move me and motivate me are all cultures and sounds that come from many different places where I belong to. It's my character. I can't escape it." 

Showcasing Afro-Colombian music and traditional sounds, Pimienta is also committed to presenting past and present. Not only does the legendary group Sexteto Tabalá appear on the album, but one track, essentially an interview, allows band leader Rafael Cassiani Cassiani to speak about his music and its long history. "I think there is this need or trend of 'We're going to add a grand piano to merengue. We are going to add this electric bass to this cumbia,'" explains Pimienta. "I don't need to add a synth to this Tabalá song. I don't need to do that. We just need to sing together. I can't call an album Miss Colombia and not have an element of pure Colombian performance, you know?"

The work is also influenced by Pimienta's personal experience, being composed and created at the same time as her second child entered her world. "After I gave birth it hurts to pee, to walk," she describes, "but you would still have to take care of precious life, and I would just sing to the baby." The lullaby became "Nada," a duet with Li Saumet, singer from the iconic Colombian band Bomba Estéreo. Pimienta translates the lyrics: "It is something like 'The pain lives within me, like I can't forget about these things.'" The song speaks of the sacrifices of motherhood and the realities of being a woman, but specifically the realities of Afro-Colombian and Indigenous women. Pimienta underlines this fact. All women are not treated equally. Colonialism of the past and present reminds us of this constantly.

Through the words, sounds and images associated with Miss Colombia, Pimienta's latest project presents a complex representation of specific womanhood that is associated with Afro-Colombian and Indigenous experience. The access she provides is a gift to listeners, whom she invites to hear her work and her musical wrestling with being Miss Colombia and missing Colombia, her home country. The album is a journey, and we are all lucky to be provided with a sonic invitation to come along and learn.  

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