Polaris Music Prize winner Lido Pimienta has taken exception to a Canadian Press article relating to events associated with an October 19 concert performance at the Halifax Pop Explosion music festival.
On October 27, 2017, The National Post published a CP report by David Friend of a Lido Pimienta concert incident under the headline, "Halifax music festival apologizes for 'overt racism' after volunteer refuses to give spot near stage to women of colour."
As the deck explained, quoted verbatim: "Lido Pimienta frequently asked her audience to welcome people of colour to the front of the stage. In turn, she requested that white people move back."
Here is what CP reported: During her October 19 performance at the Halifax Pop Explosion, Polaris Music Prize winner Pimienta made the aforementioned request and a Caucasian volunteer female photographer refused to honour it, prompting music festival vice-chairman Georgie Dudka, on behalf of his board of directors, to apologize for the photographer's alleged "overt racism."
CP reports that "a statement on behalf of the festival’s board of directors addresses the singer directly and promises to make changes to improve 'anti-oppression and anti-racism training over the next year.
'We are sorry that one of our volunteers interrupted your art, your show, and your audience by being aggressive and racist,' CP quotes from the Dudka-signed Facebook post.
Online, the paper also printed an excerpt of the post, with its contents revealing that "several other white people in the audience reacted to Pimienta inviting 'brown girls to the front' of the venue with overt racism."
"This volunteer was removed by Lido herself. They have since received notification from the festival that they are no longer welcome to volunteer with us."
On the Halifax Pop Explosion Facebook post, Dudka continues: "To Lido Pimienta: we are sorry that one of our volunteers interrupted your art, your show, and your audience by being aggressive and racist.
"We have so much respect for the art and music you create and the space you make for women, people of colour, transgender, and non-binary people.
"The way you interact with the world acts and provides a thoughtful example. You are a role model to us and many people in our community. We see it. We feel it. We hope you will work with us again.
"To the POC (People of Colour) in the audience on Thursday night: we are sorry your night was interrupted, and perhaps ruined, by one of our volunteers. We are going to try our best as a festival to create ways to make our spaces safer and more accessible for you. We hope we can rebuild some trust and that you will come back to our shows."
In this thread, Dudka didn't mention the details of the alleged transgression by the photographer or whether the additional members of the audience were punished. CP had to rely on the account of another performer to fill in the blanks: Allie O'Manique, who performs under the pseudonym Trails, said the photographer refused to budge from her spot, and it seems as though Pimienta stopped the show until she was removed.
"She just kept saying, ‘Move to the back,”‘ O’Manique told CP, “Finally after saying it about 10 times — and the woman refused to move — (Pimienta) said, ‘You’re cutting into my set time, and you’re disrespecting these women, and I don’t have time for this.”‘
Another witness, Julia-Simone Rutgers, said she was surprised the photographer refused to move and lobbied an accusation of "reverse racism."
“There’s a certain understanding that if an artist asks a crowd to do something … the artist is in charge in that space,” Rutgers told CP. "The clash was emblematic of the opinion that prioritizing people of colour — particularly women — is 'reverse racist,'" she added.
When I read this account, I created my own Facebook post admitting I was troubled by the behaviour of Pimienta, based on the published article.
However, I've since been informed by Kelp Management that the photographer was being unruly, discourteous and violent and, within 20 minutes of the first note of the set, was removed by Pimienta, due to her behaviour.
Management also stated that Pimienta's request for audience relocation during a number was more gender-specific: “First we need the men to move back and the women to the front. Then we need the brown girls and trans folks to come in front of them.”
Pimienta also disputed CP's account of what transpired at the Festival and offered her own Facebook statement on Tuesday afternoon to address the situation.
Here it is, reproduced in whole:
October 31, 2017
"When I was in bands with a bunch of men and boys in my tween/teenage years, no one bothered me. I was protected by my all-straight male bandmates. Once I launched my own solo project, all of the outside noise and interest in my music (for all the wrong reasons) began to open my eyes to the not-so-great side of music, the side that sees women as “2nd class members.” Any female front-person performing in music has their stories of being groped onstage and having audience members engage them in a violent manner. It’s the norm.
"As I did more solo shows, I noticed that black and trans women who came specifically to see me at a festival often end up leaving early, because they’d been hassled by security asking for ID verification. Imagine being trans and having to “prove your identity” on top of being approached by people asking if you’re a girl or a boy.
"I also started noticing how pregnant women had their nights out cut short because at shows, no one afforded them the luxury of safety. As a mother, I’m well aware of this. And when there are children at my shows, they are not just at the front, but I put them on my stage.
"With this in mind, I made the decision to address this issue by rearranging the room to the best of my ability at the start of the show. I started asking men to step back and for the women to be in front of them, as a tool for increasing safety in spaces for women, pregnant women, women of colour and Indigenous women (who, as statistics have shown in Canada, have a higher historical incidence of falling victim to sexual assault, rape, kidnapping and murder).
"So then, how is it that an artist of African and Indigenous blood, who grew up in Colombia and gave birth in Canada, whose bandmates are two white men, is a racist? Well, because a reporter who was not at my show wrote a clickbaiting article, telling his readers that I kicked a white woman out of my show because she wanted to take photos of me. Imagine that…
"There was a dedicated media/photographer area that this photographer declined to use at this show for whatever reason. Instead, she took photos of me at the front of the crowd by the stage and caused a ruckus. The photographer elbowed and shoved her way to the front, blocking peoples’ views, swinging her arms at me and screaming “WHY DO YOU HATE ME BECAUSE I’M WHITE?” As you can see in video footage from the show, one of the band members alerted me to this, and we then stopped the performance and had security deal with her.
"It had nothing to do with her skin colour, but because she brought violence to my show, in an area surrounded by people that have to deal with this kind of violence in their everyday lives. It’s my duty to provide a safe space for my audience, and when that’s violated, I do get involved.
"When I ask men to go to the back, I am not kicking them out, I am not telling them I hate them, I am simply inviting them to be part of a generous gesture to ensure that women are safe. When I ask women to go to the front, it’s to allow them to be safer so no one will grope them, which is a fairly common occurrence at music shows. Men at the front will often be aggressive, and demand that I command their attention…this makes things worse for the women in the audience. Men to the back and women to the front means “let’s make it safer here for women, and show some solidarity, and allow everyone to be a bit more relaxed in the space.”
"When I ask white women to let women of colour through, I am not saying I hate white women. I am trying to show that white women have an easier time navigating the world than do coloured women, because their skin colour allows them to enjoy more advantages and a relatively higher level of safety. When we make space for women of colour, we are saying “we see you, we love you, we appreciate you” and allowing them to have a safe space from which to enjoy the show. This affects about 10-12 people at my shows in Canada, when it has been done in the past. This is meant as an opportunity to show them love, solidarity and compassion. What we see in the news is black women getting shot by police at red lights, Indigenous women’s bodies in rivers, and we see no interest in finding out the reasons why they ended up there…
"This gesture of giving space is an act of love, and it’s not a new tactic. I adopted it because it feels good, it makes me feel safe and it also makes other women feel safe. Making space for oppressed people is a tool to level up, or at least try to create a balance or temporary equality, if you will.
"I love my audience. I love men. I love all women, and I am inspired by everyone, but I am not blind to the unsettling effects of colonialism and white supremacy. I will not stop doing everything in my power to make oppressed people feel safe and show them the respect that they deserve at my shows.
"I don’t have all the answers, but I have a lot of love, and the courage to challenge a system that was built to put people like me down. That’s where I’m coming from."
- Lido Pimienta
It should be noted that Pimienta's statement contained at least one inaccuracy: at no point did CP suggest that the artist... "kicked a white woman out of my show because she wanted to take photos of me."
The lesson of this story: Comments about race and gender are potential powderkegs that aren't going away anytime soon in these ultra-sensitive times.