Lido Pimienta: Roots, investing in the arts and independence

Lido Pimienta is an inspirational magnet of a human being. A powerful force of independence, unyielding determination and creative energy, Lido radiates both admiration and intimidation towards anyone lucky enough to cross paths with her. Side note: Don't even try to mess with her, she will see right through your bullshit and most probably end up writing a song about it. At her studio, Lido shared the story of her life journey with us: from painting Barranquilla sunsets on childhood rooftops to ditching MTV and discovering her inner music to moving to Toronto as a single mother and never stopping creating. The multidisciplinary artist talks about her Colombian roots, stepping out of the mold and the importance of acknowledging and discontinuing a history of oppression of Indigenous culture in order to grow as a nation.

Do you remember the first time you created something?

My first memories were at our house in Barranquilla, Colombia. We lived on the 4th floor of an apartment building, which was the top one so I had access to the rooftop. Every day, I would come home from school at 3 PM and just sit and paint the landscape. The sun would set and then my mom would call me down for dinner. Really early on, I knew what I wanted to do.

Do you have artists in your family that inspired you to pursue art?

I grew up with bold textiles, patterns, helping my mother weave… so it’s ingrained in me. I know that my colour palette and the geometric shapes that I’m inclined to create are a direct result of my Indigenous background because my family is Wayúu, from the North of Colombia that borders Venezuela.  And as for music, well, everyone is musical in Colombia. Especially in the North Coast.

How has your life in Colombia  influenced your music and making?

My path has been marked by forced migration and complicated political landscapes in Colombia.  From 15 to 19 years old, I didn’t have my mom and my dad died when I was six so she was all she knew… that’s where the immigration began for me. Because my family is Indigenous, it’s traditional for your aunt to raise you and that’s what happened. Anyway, my mom worked her ass off for us to go to this bilingual school in which I was basically the only black girl and on top of that an ‘indian’. The majority of students were from upper-class families and pretty whitewashed, so I was the kid who brought weird food to school, sat in the back painting and sang in the hallways. I think that art helped me get through all of that internalized racism that was directed at me and, luckily, I was able to go to La Guajira every vacation to be exposed to the desert, to weaving and to our Indigenous roots.

[...] When my mom moved to Canada, I went from living in the big city to a super small town called Villanueva in Northern Colombia with more bikes than cars but we had the mountains on one side, the beach on the other, the river on the other and trees right inside the house. Because I had come from a whitewashed environment at school and media, I hadn’t really grown up appreciating Colombian music. But nobody spoke English in Villanueva. Nobody was watching MTV. Why would they? They could play music, they lived their life. When I discovered Afro-Colombian music, upon moving there, that was when I knew who I was and only then (I realize this now) I was ready to go to Canada.

You were very active in London’s art community before moving to Toronto. What was that experience like for you?

I lived in London for five years which is where I met my best friends, my chosen family that has helped me go through everything that happens when you’re a newcomer and an immigrant and things are difficult. I remember encountering racism for the first time when someone told me to ‘go back to my country’. One thing is internalized racism, which you can understand happens because of media control and all that… but when you come here and a settler is telling you to go back to your country? Really? Anyway, I met my son’s dad and we fell in love and got married and lived in this small apartment and it was my time to go to university… We put out our first album, it became pretty successful but all of these things came to me without me knowing how to handle them. I didn’t know how to handle "fame", I didn’t know how to handle or manage money from shows bookings. I was in this amazing position in which I had the opportunity to travel, but I was also an artist and a young mother just trying to raise her son, with new found outside attention, but I did not know how to not be vulnerable and people did take advantage of me. When we separated, I was officially a single mother and moved to Toronto without knowing anybody (apart from a couple few people in music).

How would you compare art in the context of North America with South America?

Canada is like USA’s "ugly cousin". She is so scared of getting herself out there because everyone’s telling her that she’s ugly. If that’s what we have to compete with, then education should be free, art students are leaving school in debt and quickly learning there is not much of an industry out there, in our nation, for them. We don’t have one unless we get validation from the States it seems. We don’t have real grants or scholarships for students or artists. 500 people competing for the same $4000 for an arts project is not necessarily the best way to invest in Canadian arts and culture . Who doesn’t know artists from and in Latin America? Everyone does, because they really invest in their culture and are proud of it. It’s the one thing nobody can take from us.  My contribution as an artist then, is to build opportunities with whatever power and on whatever platform I have to be able to collaborate with other artists and create a movement that is not relying solely on a grant system, at least not one that seems like a hopeful chance at luck.

You always refer to the construct of the Canadian landscape. Can you speak to that?

When you’re in South America, you see Canada as the best country in the world. I mean, Canada has got some great PR. But… first and foremost, this is Indigenous land that has been colonized, so don’t go around thinking that this is the best country in the world because what might be happening to you back home, this country is also guilty of. You speak with a First Nations person and their history has been erased. How do you come to terms with that? How do you reconcile? This is why I know that I absolutely want to go back to Colombia because I want to be where I belong. While I’m here, I am a guest to this nation and I want to make sure that me living here is not at the expense of an original whose space I’m taking up. I feel like if I didn’t know this history, my art and music wouldn’t be at the level they are… The more this truth is put on the table, the more people can have real conversations about it and the better path we can build for present and future generations.

How has motherhood influenced your creative journey?

Motherhood hasn’t really changed my artistic path. If anything, I’m just more organized. I know how to prioritize and I’m more aware of the time I have available to perform what I want to do. My son has helped me surround myself by people that are worth having around, which is very important. When you’re young, you have all of these ideals around youth and popularity and success, but in my case - and I’ve been a mother all through my twenties - my goals have always been the same: to be a successful artist and to be independent. Always. So my son helps me make sure that the people around me are 100% legit.. If you don’t surround yourself by people that have a big heart, they will bring you down. and waste your time and stop your light from shining. That’s the one thing that I’ve taken from motherhood. Just knowing when things are worth the effort and when they’re not.

Strong voices breed strong reactions. How do you prevent being pigeon-holed into a limited or negative space?

I refuse to be a token. There’s never a moment (at shows) where people meet me for the first time and dont ask me “Where are you from?”, So I vocalize it. I’m known for always doing some type of rant at my live shows, but I also make sure my show expresses emotion and Beauty. I get booked, I get paid to be on stage and for a full hour have all eyes on me... it’s crazy that I’m able to do that, so its important and fulfilling when I use my platform and empower myself and other people like me.

What is failure to you?

Failure to me would be to work for someone else, unless it’s an organization that I believe in. But right now, I’m just so beyond that. I know I have a strong voice and people are listening so I just have to keep pushing. I feel like a lot of people in our generation are really scared to step out of the mold that our parents know. Luckily for me, even though I come from latin parents, I was never stopped. I was encouraged to just do and be what I wanted to. It is scary when you choose art because it’s privileged and it’s delusional to pursue it when you’re not, but in our countries, it’s normal to make and to know how to do things, because you probably won’t be able to rely on anyone to do it for you. I worked one job almost ten years ago, quit and have been my own boss ever since. It is possible. You just have to be committed to it 100% of the time.

Follow Lido Pimienta's art journey and several side hustles on her Instagram