In 2015, comedian Steve Harvey became the nemesis of Colombia, when he wrongly announced Miss Colombia as the winner of the Miss Universe pageant. The dude simply read the wrong name, enraging the country and its diaspora. Musician Lido Pimienta recalls this moment as the inception of her latest album Miss Colombia. “To me, it was just funny, but people were actually mad,” she remembers.
At that point, she was already living in Canada, where she’s based today, and saw from the outside how the racism and marginalization she grew up with manifested on an international stage. First, the candidate who won the 2015 Miss Universe was from the Philippines. Second, Harvey is Black.
“There was the message that Miss Colombia was the most beautiful of the two because she had European features,” Pimienta adds. “As an immigrant, you romanticize where you come from, but you are often reminded that racism in Colombia is actually horrible.”
From this international bochorno, Pimienta decided to name her album Miss Colombia, a tribute to Afro-Indigenous music and traditions that narrates a deeply painful confrontation with racism, colonization, and womanhood. In this beauty pageant fantasy, Pimienta is the queen, adorned with ethereal, vibrant tulle fabrics and a giant, embellished crown on the album’s cover.
In Miss Colombia, Pimienta also made her debut as solo producer, after co-producing her first album La Papessa, which won her Canada’s prestigious Polaris Prize, becoming the first Spanish-language artist to do so. This time, Pimienta worked alone, watching tutorials and asking friends whenever she had questions. It’s very grueling, lonely work, she admits, but it’s also a lesson in admitting one’s own limits. “It has a lot to do with choosing mentors and admitting that you don’t know everything,” she says.
Pimienta was also recently nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Latin Rock and Alternative album. She says she didn’t care much about it, adding that she never makes art wondering what people will think of it. Instead, Pimienta focused on what it meant for her– Lido Pimienta from Barranquilla, descendent of Black and Indigenous Colombians– to be nominated. “It’s a recognition that means so much more for what I represent and for my family,” Pimienta says. In fact, right after her nomination, Pimienta posted a voice note from one of her aunts on Twitter, in which her tía said, “Diga, ‘Yo soy indígena Wayuu Uriana’.”
A Grammy nomination is just one of Pimienta’s many accomplishments in 2020. Amid a pandemic, she released Miss Colombia, debuting on NPR’s Tiny Desk series and landing on The New York Times’s list of Best Songs of 2020. She also released the documentary Road To Miss Colombia, in which she gives a behind-the-scenes look at her journey back to Colombia to record the album, alongside Bomba Estéreo singer Li Saumet and the Afro Colombian band Sexteto Tabala.
Miss Colombia’s piéce de resistance comes in the album’s third song, “Nada,”featuring Li Saumet. She wrote it a few years ago, right after giving birth to her daughter, as she felt the emptiness of her womb. Giving birth, she says, it’s like having all your lifetime periods accumulate at once, resulting in an indescribable pain that made her think she was going to die. Right after, she thought, “Why are women told they are weak when they can give birth?” In “Nada” Pimienta and Saumet bare their maternal souls, confronting death right in the face: “Yo te soy sincero/ Si es que mañana muero/ No le tengo miedo/ Pues soy mujer y llevo/ El dolor adentro.”
“Miss Colombia was a very selfish album,” Pimienta says. “So now that it’s touched so many people, I wonder, ‘How do I create the next?’”
For now, she’s holding on to nine songs that she’s written for the next project, which she says will have a very señora vibe and includes a collaboration with “a very special guest” that she just fell in love with online.
“We’ll see how señora ‘Rona treats us,” she laughs.