Born in Colombia to an indigenous family who were weavers by trade, Pimienta has lived what she describes as a ‘wild life’. She was raised in the shadow of an on-going civil war, and spent her childhood acutely aware of the injustices wrought by broken systems of power. “I started playing live shows when I was ten, eleven, in punk and metal bands, and hard-core bands. I grew up resisting a government. I grew up with a fear of being disappeared by the government because of my activism that started very, very, very young.”
Throughout her teenage years, she immersed herself in music, becoming especially obsessed with the trip hop scene. Periodically, Pimienta would travel from the city, where she lived in the vivid glare of ’90s global pop culture, back to the desert to visit her grandmother – it was during these trips that she came to understand herself as a person who would always live a hyphenated existence. “Like: to-the-city-to-the-desert, to-the-mountain-to-the-river. And then back to the city. Growing up like that, with all these different narratives. Living in a hyphen. Being a kid of the ’90s, watching MTV, but then every three months I had to be in the desert without a TV and trying to communicate with my grandmother and with the elders in their own language.”
Pimienta married young, aged just nineteen (“I don’t know what I was thinking. I don’t know what my mother was thinking – why she didn’t stop it.”), after fleeing to Canada to escape the civil war in Colombia. She gave birth to her son, now nine, when she was twenty-one, and released her debut album, ‘Color’, produced by then-husband Michael Ramey, in 2010. They separated soon afterwards and she found herself living in a house with two friends, sharing a single room with her infant son. Still, the things society might understand as barriers – early pregnancy, immigration, divorce, single motherhood – Pimienta has embraced as part of life’s rich tapestry.
She points out that her son was planned, that, in fact, she had him later than she would have liked. “I wanted to have my son when I was 20, and that was my dream. I had him when I was 21. The difficulty of it wasn’t even from my own life, it was the perception that other people had around this idea that why are you so young with a kid, this must be a mistake. But then, at the same time, that also motivated me because I just proved everyone wrong.”
Even through a faulty Internet connection, Pimienta exudes an incredible energy and sense of purpose. “I’ve always had conviction, and I’ve always had the motivation to be an artist. I feel if I’d wanted to be a doctor, be a lawyer, whatever I wanted to do I was going to do it, no matter what.”
She is grounded and articulate, speaking in precise sentences, utterly self-assured – as if she knows the answer to all your questions before you’ve even thought of them. “I don’t look at those times when I had to share a room with my son for three years as difficult. It was a big room that I turned into a little apartment. It was my music studio, my art studio – it had my desk where people would come over to write essays and stuff like that.” She breaks off for a moment and I hear the clatter of something in the background. As if she’s painting, or making dinner, opening and closing cupboard doors while we speak.
“When you want to do something you just do it. And people outside of you, they will tell you that this is impossible, and people will tell you that you’re stupid. People will tell you that you’re dumb because why would you make your life difficult. But then the joke’s on you because you know I’m entering my 30s, I’m just entering my 30s and my son is 9 years old. And the freedom that I have when I go on tour – I leave him with my best friend and I FaceTime him and then it’s over – so I’m able, because I was on that quest of being myself, doing what I wanted to do, doing what I wanted to do how I wanted to do it, I don’t ask for anyone’s favours. I don’t give account to anyone. I guess that’s a part of the message that I carry in my music. Let me show you how I’ll kill it. I’ll do great.”
The sense of injustice that drove her childhood activism is still palpable, bubbling through her work, culminating in a cultural mash-up where the personal and the political collide. At her shows, she doesn’t shy away from the power imbalances at play in the room, asking audience members who might feel uncomfortable because they are in a minority to step to the front, creating a safe space for people who might feel vulnerable. During a recent performance at the Halifax Pop Explosion music festival, several white audience members and a white volunteer photographer reacted violently when she asked for “brown girls” to step to the front of the venue. The festival organisers issued an apology, acknowledging that their volunteer had displayed “overt racism”, and promising to do better.
Although her political actions seem considered, Pimienta explains that the political inflections of her practice happen, if not by accident, then unconsciously – as an inevitable response to the cultural landscape. “I think that in 2017, people our age, or millennials or whatever you want to call it, we can’t really escape the political landscape that we’re trying to survive in. I don’t make music that is ‘this is the song that’s going to change the world’, that’s not why I write. I write music that resonates with people that are tired of being pushed around. And, I think, music that people enjoy, and that resonates with folks that are interested in a voice that is not heteronormative. So you know I make songs about polyamory, and impossible love. This is the world that I live in and its not a conscious decision, but it still consciously comes out.”
Her hybrid identity, she implies, makes her especially sensitive to the fraught global politics under which we all live. “I cannot ignore it. It’s just interesting when you live in this hyphen – like Canadian-Colombian-Indigenous-Black – all the hyphens and all the boxes that I can check off in any application or whatever. I am stuck in this hyphen so it doesn’t matter. If I wanna write a song about flowers, it ends up being political, just because of my body, just because of, you know, not singing in English. Everything that I do, whether I like it or not ends up being a political statement, even if I’m just writing about fucking, you know?”