Earlier this month, Colombian-Canadian musician Lido Pimienta invited brown girls to the front of her show at the Halifax Pop Explosion music festival. She won the Polaris Music Prize this year for her album La Papessa, being the first musician who does not perform in English or French to win the honour.
A volunteer photographer working for the festival who happened to be white stood at the front and refused to move. Lido Pimienta told the photographer to move, and then singled out the photographer and said “You’re cutting into my set time and you’re disrespecting these women, and I don’t have time for this”. The photographer was eventually kicked out, and last week, the music festival announced that they will not allow the photographer to work at the festival again. After the show, she called the photographer violent and wanted the festival to release her name.
As a brown girl, I’m not okay with this for many reasons.
It wasn’t that long ago that music venues, cinemas, public transport, and government offices were segregated. I remember my grandmother saying that when she lived in a fancy hotel, an employee told her she couldn’t go in the same lift as her nanny, who was black, and she was very upset about that. This was in 1930s Chicago, not even close to the south. My dad, who is 62, told me about when he went on a road trip to Mississippi with his family sometime in the 60s (a decade after Brown v. Board of Education) and saw the signs that said things like “coloured bathroom” and “whites only” and it upset him and his family.
What Lido Pimienta said is so regressive and racist, and I’m not saying it as a buzzword. Words like that set us backwards and it upsets me that the music festival are standing behind her. Civil rights leaders would not be okay with this. Calling the photographer violent trivialises actual violence. Wanting the photographer outed is so wrong. There are a lot of wackos out there who might hurt her. Now that is violence.
Music is for all to enjoy. It brings us together. I can’t stand for Lido Pimienta’s behaviour. It doesn’t fit with my values and the values of The Diversity of Classic Rock (and diversity of music in general). Who cares if you can’t understand the language of the music? Maybe it will inspire you to learn it. You don’t have any more or less of a right to listen to music because of your culture. I don’t own Venezuelan music because I’m Venezuelan. It’s not music I created, so I don’t own it.
Another issue I have is that you never know who is or isn’t brown. Take me, for example. I’m pale, especially for a Latina. I’ve had so many people think I’m lying about my background. Does it hurt? Of course. You can’t make assumptions. That person who looks white could very well be Hispanic or Asian or Black or Native American. If Lido Pimienta saw me in the front of the audience would she single me out? Do need to I bring my birth certificate to that concert to prove I’m brown? Fine, there are white Venezuelans, albeit not many, so I guess my birth certificate isn’t enough. Do I need to carry around a picture of my Native American grandmother to prove I’m brown? I wouldn’t go to her concert anyway since her music isn’t my style, but hey, I’m just thinking out loud.
I’ve worked as a volunteer at events and I’ve photographed concerts in a journalistic way. You need to stand in the front to get a good shot. The photographer was doing her job. Any musician should have known that and respected that. A volunteer is usually wearing a shirt or carrying around a badge.
Another thing I thought of was the dangers of festival seating in concerts. Likely there were no assigned seats and it was standing room only. In the past, there have been disasters at concerts with this arrangement. The Who in 1979: 11 people died after being trampled. AC/DC in 1991, 3 teenagers died after being trampled. That’s just the number of people who died, not including those who were injured. It’s irresponsible to tell people to move to the front or back at a concert and can put people’s safety at risk.
This rhetoric is divisive and will make you lose fans. There is nothing wrong with dedicating a song to brown and black women. I think that’s great! But the better way to do it is to dedicate the song and ask the women to clap and cheer! Something like “Do we have any Latinas in the audience? This song is dedicated to you.” Not offensive at all and it will empower brown women.