It was startling that Lido Pimienta’s acceptance speech at Monday night’s Polaris Music Prize — which she won for her Spanish-language album La Papessa — was capped with an unexpected, obscenity-spiked outburst about her monitors being off during her performance. This unfortunately overshadowed the more salient points of the musician’s speech, particularly Canada’s overlooked racism, which she expounded on backstage after receiving her $50,000 (CAD) prize.
Onstage at Toronto’s The Carlu with her 9-year-old son, mother, bandmates and dancers, the Colombian-born artist admitted, “I don’t have a speech prepared. I thought that my brothers, A Tribe Called Red, were going to get it and I was going to come onstage with them because we work together in We Are The Halluci Nation. So I did not expect to be here.”
Pimienta’s album was selected from a 10-title shortlist that was selected by a grand jury that was sequestered during the gala to debate and vote on the artistic merits of each album. The winner was announced at the end of the night.
“Perhaps the only thing I can say is that 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 to whistles and cheers, before thanking her mom “for being so resilient and for enduring white supremacy in Canada, when she goes to work and she gets told the same thing — to go back to her country.”
She also thanked the “protectors of the land that we’re standing on” and the indigenous Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee people, who she called “the real people of this country for allowing me to be a guest on your land.” She also added a “thank you to all the single mothers out there who inspire me, some of them performing here with me.”
Pimienta mentioned that La Papessa honors her brother who passed away in 2013 and specifically that it was not sung in either English or French, but her native language of Spanish: “This album is about breaking up; this album is about getting back on your feet by yourself, in the big city with your son and some drawings under your arm.”
That’s a lot of issues to raise in a matter of minutes and, fortunately, in a media scrum after the presentation, she got to address many of them and more. See her speech here and read below for five takeaways from her backstage Q&A.
On winning the prize:
“I don’t know what it means professionally, I don’t know what’s going to happen after this but I am very proud to be here because I worked really hard. I’ve had many beginnings and finishings and starting again through my career. Because generally this win is not just mine. It’s really just my friends and my crew just seeing them cry and seeing me my crew — mainly brown people, indigenous folks, black folks. So to feel represented in me, it’s an honor. So perhaps what this means is somebody like me gets recognized in this way. It means that you don’t have to be white. You don’t have to be skinny or blonde or sing in English or French, and you can stand by what you want to do and what you want to say. I have a very focused point of view, a very clear point of view and I won’t compromise it and I don’t compromise it. So maybe if I did songs that rhyme with baby in English, I would be like a Grammy Award whatever, but I like that I’m at this point in my career on my own terms. I’m just happy that I have the community that I have in Toronto that helped me babysit my son so I can go on tour and stuff. This is for them.”
On the jury process:
“I don’t want to sound weird or strange, but I don’t think about any of that because I’m thinking about cleaning my house and I don’t have groceries because I just got back from tour and I have to pack my son’s lunch. That’s what I’m thinking. And I’m there with my mom, so I’m thinking, ‘Oh, mom, you look cute. You should wear more make-up. Why are you such a tomboy?’ That is what’s happening, because I wasn’t really expecting it. I’m very proud of my album. I want to acknowledge my friends who helped me I don’t really think about any award or anything like that I just think about the next project and my next art thing and next art work and practice. I’ve been performing since I was 11 years old and my last show that I did in Colombia I performed in front of 20,000 people, so none of this is new to me. It just has taken me 10 years to get to this point because I am not white, skinny. That’s what it is. So I guess if after 10 years of having such a strong voice and being so professional and doing all the things that I’m supposed to do in music, brought me here. It just means that Polaris is legit and the people that were rooting for me. They know what is up.”
On what she’ll do with the prize money:
“I’m gonna do what Cardi B does: ‘I pay my momma bill. I ain’t got no time to chill.'”
On being an independent artist:
“The independent process. Hmmm. Again, I don’t know anything else about working all the time, so I guess for people who want to be a real musician or performer, the way that I do things is that I do them 1,000 percent. I take it very seriously and I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs and I don’t mess around with useless people. By useless people, I mean people with no talent and no focus and no passion in life. I don’t make music that has nothing to say. I cannot be bothered by it. So I am on a trajectory that involves being with my family, being happy with my nephew who went back to Colombia, respecting the land, that’s what I do. So, in terms of a music career, I’m not the one who knows anything about that. I’m just lucky. Like two weeks ago I got management because they thought that I already had a manager because I am so organized in what I do that it seemed like I had it all set up. When I put the album out, I literally went and put it on Tunecore and said, ‘Bye.’ Then started working on my next project which is like 70 percent done. I’m already, like, over it. I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m glad you like it, but wait till you hear Miss Colombia.'”
On being a woman of color:
“I am the program for the women of color. You just saw it on stage. That’s what I do. Any opportunity that I have, that I can employ my friends — my very talented brown friends, black friends, indigenous friends — we do it. We are an enterprise. You know I didn’t think I was gonna win and the plans that I have for this money, like I said is to give the money to my mother and to use the money for some more creation, invest in some equipment that I can continue to do my work. My work as a musician is one thing. That’s one side of me. I am a visual artist, I am an art critic and curator. I go around the country and States and South America and giving workshops about teaching women like me how to survive, in the context of the Canadian landscape and beyond. So I am the institution. I am it. You’re looking at it.”