On September 18, for the first time, Canada’s prestigious Polaris Music Prize was awarded to an album sung in Spanish: La Papessa, by the Colombian-Canadian singer and producer Lido Pimienta. In a powerful acceptance speech, she called out racism in Canada—“I hope that the Aryan specimen who told me to go back to my country two weeks after arriving in London, Ontario, Canada, is watching this,” she said—and as it’s circulated, it’s incited the kinds of responses that prove her point.
It has now been over a week since the award was presented, and Pimienta’s phone is still lighting up with calls, messages, and social media notifications, not only congratulating her on her win, but also attacking her for her comments. But the single mother and self-made artist has weathered enough to know how to take it all in stride. Jezebel spoke with her via phone about the life lessons behind La Papessa and what’s next in her future. This interview has been lightly condensed and edited.
You won the Polaris Prize for your album La Papessa, which I know has been a long time in the making. Can you tell me about the inspiration and process behind it?
I never thought it was going to take me so long to put it out, but also life happened. I went through a lot. I went through my brother’s passing, and that took a long time to recover from. We still haven’t fully recovered, but I have my nephew, who I live for, and he motivates me to keep going. I also had friends going through very severe illnesses, so I was in and out of hospitals and just coping with life and how hard it gets. La Papessa is a testament to all that. It’s about getting knocked down and getting back up, again and again.
In listening, you definitely get the sense that it’s very personal and also painful.
It’s hard not to talk about La Papessa in an emotional way because, when I released it, the image I had in my head was of me by a river with a bowl of letters that were burning, and letting those burning letters float out in the water. Just letting it all go.
I didn’t think anything was going to happen with that album. In 2010, when I released my first album, Color, I was everyone’s darling and best friend, I was in everyone’s timeline. But then the moment I had to take time for myself and I kind of left that timeline and that life, everyone forgot about me. I came back with La Papessa, and no one was listening, no one was watching, no one cared. And I realized that this is the music industry. It’s a business, and these people aren’t my friends. So when I released the album it was also about letting go off all that music industry fakeness.
If you didn’t expect anything to happen with the album, then you certainly didn’t expect to win the Polaris Prize. You even said so in your acceptance speech. How did it feel to hear your name called?
I didn’t think I was going to win because, for me, A Tribe Called Red had a better album. When I hear my album, I hear all of its flaws, the ways it could be better. I love it, and I love to perform it, but to me Tribe’s album encompasses all of the things that I want to do with my music, in terms of production level and collaborating with my diaspora. They did so much with that album that I thought for sure they were going to win.
For me being short-listed was like hearing, “Lido, we’re rooting for you, we see you, we can’t wait for your next album.” The plan was just to go the awards ceremony and perform a beautiful show. But then I won, and I wasn’t ready.
So you didn’t even think it was a possibility?
No, I was not ready at all. I was overwhelmed with emotion because my mother and my son were there and they were in tears. My son is nine years old and he cried like an old man, he was so proud of his mom.
If I had actually prepared a speech, I would have added something like, “Dear Drake, now that I’m here, can we sit down and talk about me curating the next OVO Sound or a showcase that actually has women producers?”
Now that La Papessa has been received so well, what do you see next for yourself? What do you want next?
Nothing too big, just, like, write a song with Solange.
Yes! Make it happen. Are you reading, Solange?
I guess I’m ready for my next level. What I see that’s going to happen is that my next album, Miss Colombia, is going to blow up and cross over. I’m telling you right now, it’s going to be the most controversial, the most beautiful album.
Controversial in what way?
Now that I’ve been away from Colombia for a decade, I’m looking at it from a completely different point of view. When I wrote my first album, those were all happy, hopeful songs. Once I moved to Canada and racism came at me from a different angle, I started analyzing how racism attacked and belittled me when I was in Colombia.
Something that really brought out those feelings was when Steve Harvey made the mistake and gave Miss Colombia the crown of Miss Universe when it was supposed to go to Miss Philippines. People in Colombia started showing their Spanish-ass blood, saying the worst things, things you think only white supremacists in the South would say. And I’d never seen my country united in this way over something other than soccer.
This is when all of the bad memories from my childhood, which I had buried very deep, started to surface and what inspired me to write about all those memories that I had tried to forget. I feel like this is the album that’s going to shake Colombia, it’s going to shake South America. I can’t wait.
Blanca Méndez is a music writer based in Texas.