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Polaris 2017: 5 things you didn't know about Lido Pimienta's La Papessa

On La Papessa, Toronto-based musician Lido Pimienta tackles everything from sexuality to colonization — and combines myriad musical styles.
Lido Pimienta is a singer-songwriter based in Toronto. (Alejandro Santiago)

When Toronto musician Lido Pimienta was growing up in Colombia, she decided to start her first band. But at 11 years old, Pimienta wasn't interested in bubblegum pop or South American folk: her band was Fear Factory-inspired metal. "I was precocious," she told CBC's q.

For Pimienta, using her voice was a form of freedom, an escape from an upbringing made especially challenging by her country's political upheavals. In 2005, Pimienta's mom moved the family to the relative stability of London, Ont., where they began their life in Canada. Ever since, Pimienta has been creating a unique hybrid of musical styles from Afro-Colombian to synth-pop that's all her own.

Pimienta's second album, La Papessa, is among the finalists for this year's Polaris Music Prize. Leading up to the big gala on Sept. 18, we're offering five things about each of the nominated albums. Here are five things about La Papessa.

1. The title means 'The High Priestess'

La Papessa translates to the "High Priestess", which is a card commonly used in tarot. "It means to me what the card means to a lot of people," said Pimienta in a CBC q interview, "which is to concentrate and focus and have knowledge on your lap, and not let anything distract you from your goals."

2. She produced the album herself

In 2010, Pimienta released Color, a "collaborative love project" with her then-husband, Michael Ramey. (The couple has since split.) But for La Papessa, Pimienta oversaw all of the production herself, from the songwriting to final touches. "With La Papessa," she said, "it was nice to understand really what it was to produce, to be a producer, to have artistic control and really have my voice in every aspect, whether I collaborated or not."

3. 'La Capacidad' is about an abusive relationship

Pimienta wrote the song "La Capacidad" about an abusive relationship she survived. She said it's "a song about letting the other person know that love shouldn't be a life sentence." For many of her fans, it has also taken on an even wider meaning, and become an anthem for Indigenous women and women of colour. When Pimienta performs it live, it often puts people in tears.

"People are grateful and I am really proud of the song — not only because of the message, but because of out of all the songs in the album, it was truly a collaboration between myself and my co-producers Blake McFarlane, Kvesche Bijon-Ebacher, and percussion from Brandon Valdivia," she said.

"They're three straight men that see me as their leader, so it was another healing process of producing this song with men who know when to shut up when I'm talking, and who just let me do my thing and trust me. It started as a very painful process to put the pain into words, but when we perform it, it's a celebration because people are celebrating with us."

4. 'Al Unisono Viajan' is about colonization

The song "Al Unisono Viajan" means "They fly away in unison" and is about the similar narrative of colonization in both North and South America. "It is my love song for my brothers and sisters up here who are Indigenous," she said.

When she first moved to Canada, Pimienta, whose mother was Wayuu and father was Afro-Colombian, knew nothing of the history of Indigenous people in Canada, and was shocked to learn how similar their story was to her people's.

"You just have no idea that we have been touched by the same pain. I think about it often, too, with the refugee crisis. It is so beautiful that we are able, as a nation, to bring people in need. And I ask myself, 'OK, is this what's going to happen to them?' The shock of understanding the real history of Canada," she said. "In order for us as a country to move forward as immigrants, as settlers, as newcomers, whatever, to know what went on, and what keeps going on. It is the only way to make sure that we're going to make it right. That's what that song is about. That's what I'm about."

5. There's one thing she wants listeners to take away from the album

La Papessa tackles subjects from sexuality to colonization, but there's one central message that Pimienta would like everyone to take away from the album. "A woman's voice should never be taken for granted," she said. "That's it."

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