The Colombian and Canadian musician’s second album is a symbolic reclamation of her crown. On one level, she’s recollecting intimate relationships; on another, she’s calling entire countries to task.
When Lido Pimienta recorded her first EP, Color, in 2010, her then-husband produced every track and refused to teach her how. It was, she said, “a way of keeping me dependent on him.” Nine years and one divorce later, Pimienta does things differently. She recorded the majority of Miss Colombia in her home studio, wrote and arranged each song herself, and co-produced the album with fellow Torontonian Prince Nifty. The result is a staggering exhibition of her skill as a singer, songwriter, and shit-stirrer.
Pimienta came to mainstream attention in 2017, when her debut LP La Papessa won the Polaris Prize, Canada’s highest musical honor. Self-released, funded by a $6,000 Ontario Arts Council grant, and nominated alongside albums by Leonard Cohen, Gord Downie, and Feist, La Papessa was the definition of a dark horse. Despite the global boom of reggaetón and cumbia, Latin genres remain critically underrepresented in Canadian music. Little wonder, then, that Pimienta’s Polaris victory, and her calls for “brown girls to the front,” rankled the alt-right.
Named after Steve Harvey’s gaffe at the 2015 Miss Universe contest, Miss Colombia is Pimienta’s symbolic reclamation of her crown in an industry fraught with racism and misogyny. Crafted with deep passion and careful attention to detail, the record sounds like the full realization of a long-held dream, made possible at last by a wider platform and a bigger budget. Its palette is warmer, richer, and more reliant on traditional Colombian instrumentation than the chilly “digi-cumbia” (a label she shuns) of La Papessa. Pimienta places herself within a starry constellation of guests, including Colombian icons Sexteto Tabala and Bomba Estéreo’s Li Saumet, and outshines them all. These 11 songs form a full-throated declaration of mastery, all the more impressive for Pimienta’s insistence on prioritizing Afro-Colombian rhythms and instruments in an overwhelmingly white musical landscape.
Sung almost entirely in Spanish, Miss Colombia conveys rage and solidarity more than chipper positivity. Pimienta often writes from the perspective of someone who has drunk deep from the poisonous wells of misogyny and racism. The funereal dirge “Nada” is an early, devastating exercise in this mode. Its narrator, a woman scorned, says that she does not fear death: “Soy mujer y llevo, el dolor adentro.” (“I’m a woman and carrying pain is what I do.”) On “Pelo Cucu,” a eugenics allegory à la Ham’s Redemption, a mother yearns for her “nappy-haired” daughter to marry a “niño blanco, de pelo bueno… pa mejorar la raza.” (“A white boy with that good hair… to improve our race.”) By laying hatred bare, in plain, unadorned language, Pimienta deftly exposes how people vulnerable to bigotry often absorb that bigotry, replicate it, and hurt others like themselves.
The self-loathing in these songs is made all the more poignant by Pimienta’s irrepressible confidence. She refuses to rescue any more immature partners (“Coming Thru”), relaxes after escaping an emotional vampire (“Te Queria”), and rallies her listeners to fight anyone who makes them feel small (“Resisto Y Ya”). There is a pleasant, slippery ambiguity in these songs. On one level, Pimienta is recollecting intimate relationships; on another, she’s calling entire countries to task for their failure to protect black and brown women. Both Canada and her native Colombia are on the receiving end of her blistering critiques. Still, she’s optimistic about a future where she can live in these countries free from harm. “Ya llegó la oportunidad,” she sings on “Quiero Que Me Salves,” “para arreglar nuestro pasado.” (“The chance has arrived to fix our past.”) She might be singing to a lover; she might be singing to a head of state.
In the three years since the Polaris Prize’s early vote of confidence, Pimienta has ably realized her potential and silenced those who doubted her deservingness. She has opened herself up both to collaboration and to mentorship, working with aspiring indigenous musicians and fundraising for Fuerza de Mujeres Wayuu. She is still an extreme rarity in Canadian music: an Afro-Colombian queer woman with indigenous Wayuu heritage, a single mother, a Spanish speaker. The great promise of Miss Colombia, and of her new leadership in a predominantly white scene, is that brown girls will hear it and be inspired to surge to the front.
Buy: Rough Trade
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