From Lisbon’s projects, Nidia’s musical goal is global

The evolving sound on a trio of recent releases by this young producer is undeniable proof of her multidimensional talent – and why no one should doubt her musical ambition.

The song Tarraxo do Guetto opens with a crash of symbols. Its bubbling, forward momentum is set to an unrelenting and infectious beat. The track’s name tells a story: it speaks of the music’s roots.

The origins of the beat, named tarraxinha, lie in Angola in the mid-1990s. Described as the “sexy cousin” of the kizomba beat, it gets its name from a dance – one with someone you want to get very close to. Translated, tarraxinha means “little screw in a bolt”. It was seen as so scandalous in Angola that at one point it was banned.

In the housing projects of Portugal’s capital, Lisbon, the children of African immigrants have mutated tarraxinha into tarraxo, a boisterous, sexy new sound for the dance floor. Lisbon-based producer Nídia’s Tarraxo do Guetto is the latest example of this sound. It is just one of the many highlights on her second album, Não Fales Nela Que A Mentes, which was recently released.

The birth of Principe Discos

In September 2013, a fresh-faced Lisbon-based label released DJ Marfox’s EP Eu Sei Quem Sou (I Know Who I Am). Dance floors around the globe paid attention. The EP offered bangers such as Bit Binary and Pensamentos, examples of a fiery new sound. While drawing heavily on Angolan music, this sound also had recognisable sonic signatures from the rich and varied past of electronic music.

Familiar, yet wholly new, DJ Marfox’s first batch of tunes was vital listening.

DJ Nigga Fox’s O Meu Estilo EP dropped a month later and suddenly there wasn’t just a talented new producer – there was a scene, and the label Principe Discos was the world’s gateway.

This was the world’s first introduction to the sound of the electronic music style called batida, grown in Lisbon’s housing projects. At its heart, it is a musical exchange between Angolan styles like semba, kizomba, tarraxinha and kuduro and global dance genres like house and techno. It’s a world in which the bone-shaking snares of kuduro meet the bass squelch of mid-1980s Chicago, where the intimacy of the tarraxinha dance meets the shimmer of modern R&B.

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In a 2019 interview with Pan African Music (PAM), DJ Marfox (real name Marlon Silva) called batida the unique product of the children of the diaspora. The DJ, whose parents are from São Tomé and Príncipe, explained: “In the ghettos of Lisbon, you have people from São Tomé, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Angola, Cape Verde, Portuguese people… I am no Portuguese, I am no African. I am from Lisbon,” he said. “This music gives me this identity, and I feel love for this sound, it is our flag, this is the sound of the ex-colonised; this is the sound of the ghettos of Lisbon.”

Also featured in the PAM article is one of Principe Discos’ youngest stars – Nídia, who was discovered by DJ Marfox.

A prodigious talent

In February 2015, Principe Discos signed the young, prodigious talent Nídia Minaj (real name Nídia Borges), a then 17-year-old producer who was still at school. Nídia’s parents hail from Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, but she grew up in the housing projects of Lisbon before her family moved to Bordeaux, France. She taught herself how to produce by watching YouTube tutorials.

Her debut EP, Danger, was another landmark release for Principe Discos, with the British online pop culture magazine The Quietus heralding it as “dazzling” and “trance-inducing”. In an interview with Crack Magazine, Nídia made sure that the world was well aware of where she was heading. “My ambition is to be one of the best DJs in the world. Or even better, the best DJ in the world.”

By 2016, she was already performing at Sónar, one of the world’s premier electronic music festivals. A year later, when she was 20 years old, Nídia dropped the Minaj part of her stage name and her debut album, Nídia É Má, Nídia É Fudida (Nídia is bad, Nídia is dope), was released. Rave reviews followed.

Back with a bang

These days, Principe Discos is a well-established label with a rich catalogue of more than 35 releases. Among its recent releases, including from newer producers like DJ Firmeza and DJ Lycox, sit three new offerings from Nídia.

The first, a two-track offering called Badjuda Sukulbembe that was released on 22 May, contains the atmospheric, overdriven bass monster Tarraxoz Academy and the sexy R&B swing beat Cheirinho.

Released on the same day was Nídia’s second 2020 offering, her sophomore album Não Fales Nela Que A Mentes. Clocking in at just 29 minutes with 10 tracks, the album may be slight but it doesn’t disappoint.

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Não Fales Nela Que A Mentes is testament to Nídia’s sound evolving and maturing. Stripped back to its core elements, it is a lean dance floor machine. While 2017’s Nídia É Má, Nídia É Fudida offered tough dance floor workouts, the new album is dominated by spaciously arranged mid-tempo tracks with elements of grime and trap incorporated into Nídia’s take on batida.

Rap Complet is all skittering breakbeats and haunted synths, while Rap Tentativa feels like a mutant cousin to the grime instrumentals emerging from the streets of London. The album’s highlight, however, is Raps, an enigmatic little song whose subtle melodic hooks, pattering drumbeat and booming bass combine for three-and-a-half minutes of giddy joy.

Still more

Then Nídia pivoted. Two weeks after the album was released, she dropped the EP S/T. Almost as if in reaction to all the reviews heralding her new mid-tempo sound, S/T offers four brutal bangers that leave nobody in doubt that Nídia can still make the dance floor heave.

Opener Chef explodes into life with squelchy bass and triumphant synths before taking on a darker colouring, reminiscent of the harder-edged 1990s European gabba sound. The appropriately titled Hard, with its thumping kick drum, sharp snares and ragged synth work, sounds like a kuduro soundtrack to a militia on the march.

The EP’s highlight, however, is Nunun, a stunning song in which intricate drum patterns combine over a squelchy bassline before it explodes into dance floor euphoria about halfway through, riding to its close with uplifting, jubilous synths.

With 16 new tracks from Nídia, spread across an album and two EPs, she has again staked her claim on the dance floor. The growth and maturity that she displays on these releases leave no doubt that while Nídia may have been initially brought to the world by Principe Discos and the Lisbon sound of batida, she is well on her way to transcending those early days.

As she said in 2015, she wants to be one of the best DJs in the world. Five years after that declaration, one would be stupid to bet against her.

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