The title of Lido Pimienta‘s long-awaited second album was plucked from a tarot deck. La Papessa, also known as the High Priestess, was the card the Colombian singer and producer drew during a time of crisis in her life. Her husband had left her for another woman and she had just moved to Toronto from London, Ontario to start over. Her friend, the Venezuelan singer-songwriter Ulises Hadjis, offered to do a tarot reading with her over Skype. She pulled three cards. One represented her current situation, another represented where she wanted to go. La Papessa was the card that was meant to show her the way forward.
There are many layers of meaning in this powerful feminine figure; one of them is the idea of seeking knowledge, particularly by looking within. This meaning seems especially salient because the album that came to be titled La Papessa tells the story of everything she has learned and experienced since releasing her much beloved debut EP Color in 2010 at the age of 23. At 30, she says, “I’m very young, but I feel like I’ve lived 20 lives,” Pimienta says over the phone while getting her son ready for swimming practice.
“Ruleta,” the first song she wrote for La Papessa came out of the turmoil she experienced after separating from her husband, who is also a musician and with whom she made Color. “Years had to pass by and I had to find myself and understand that I don’t need this guy to validate my existence. I don’t need this guy to validate my family. My family is me and my son. We are an amazing family.” “La Capacidad,” a lucid and celebratory sounding assertion of feminist independence, is informed by her experience of surviving an abusive relationship.
“Everything that I write is because it happened to me or it happened to someone really close to me,” she explains. Even single and album opener “Agua,” which addresses the issue of water access for indigenous people, is extremely personal. Pimienta’s maternal relatives are Wayuu people, a group native to the desert region of La Guajira in northern Colombia. The largest indigenous group in Colombia, their survival has been threatened since the Cercado Dam cut off their access to the Ranchería River in 2011. Now, there is enough water for the operations of the foreign coal mining company Cerrejón, but the Wayuu are starving and dying of thirst. “We’re experiencing genocide but because we’re indigenous it’s not seen as such,” Pimienta told Remezcla.
“I don’t want to fit into these little ‘Latinx,’ ‘global bass’ ‘world music’ categories.”
Pimienta characterizes the gentle, folky Color as a document of a simple, hopeful time in her life. In comparison, La Papessa is a beautiful, forceful roar, beat-driven and unapologetically complex, overtly electronic but crafted with acoustic instrumentation: bold brass, strings, and analog drums. The percussion and her vocal style on the album are noticeably influenced by both her indigenous and Afro-Colombian roots, by cantadoras in the tradition of Totó la Momposina. Most of the album features maracas and the tambora, the double-headed drum that was the first instrument she learned to play in high school. But rather than specific references to cumbia or indigenous chanting, what we hear on the album is the music Pimienta grew up with refracted through her artistry and lived experience. Parts of it sound like the experimental soundtrack for a virtual reality video game about a chamana who has to save the world.
Having spent her adult life in Canada, Pimienta exists and creates between cultures and identities. “Sometimes I don’t feel like I am from here, or over there. Sometimes I feel like I exist more online than I exist physically in any location,” she reflects. In lieu of a terrestrial home, she makes one for herself and hopefully others in her music. “I am very infatuated with the idea of creating a sound that you can’t really tell where it comes from, but that when you hear it you know exactly that you are home.” To that end, she selected a group of collaborators, including producers and beatmakers Kvesche Bijons-Ebacher and Blake Blakely, as well as percussionist Brandon Valdivia. The end result is nothing less than the sum of her past, present, and future. “The rhythms and the melodies, they’re speaking to where I am from and where I’m going, because it is as important to me to know where I’m from, but also know where I am going. I don’t like to just be static,” she emphasizes.
Another goal she has for making music right now is to defy any expectations the world may have of her as a so-called Latin indie darling. “I love that my voice is childlike. I know that people infantilize me and exoticize me. I know that people see me as this cutesy Colombian girl from the ocean and the tropics, and I love to play with that. I have a strong voice that happens to be soft and high-pitched, but the beats are hard,” she relates with glee, adding, “I really feel like we have a responsibility to make music that is really exciting and breaks all the molds. I don’t want to fit into these little ‘Latinx,’ ‘global bass’ ‘world music’ categories.”
She completed the majority of the songs on La Papessa by 2013 and continued to play them live for another three years. The loss of her brother to suicide delayed the completion of the album, as did a friend’s illness. She knew it was time to officially release the songs because, she says, “the live show was bringing people to tears and making old white people dance.” She reached out to labels, but when some of them wanted to wait more than a year to release the album, she decided to self-release it online this month. It was time to move on.
She’s focused on a new album now, titled Miss Colombia. At the time of our interview, she had just gotten back from a trip to Santiago, Chile where she recorded most of it with Andrés Nusser of Astro. If she doesn’t find a label for it, she’ll release it herself by September 2017. In the meantime, she’s focused on the message of La Papessa, and how the songs reflect where she’s been, where she is, and where she’s headed.