Words by Angus Finlayson
Six years since the Lisbon label was born, describing the music on Prìncipe remains a tricky task. Numerous genre descriptors swirl around its strange and vivid records—”kuduro, batida, kizomba, funaná, tarrachinha,” reads one label biography. Formulas are broken more often than they are upheld. Perhaps Prìncipe’s one constant is flux. As the label’s Pedro Gomes said to Ryan Keeling in 2014, “This music has been brewing for centuries, through the slave trade, through immigration, and now through digital technology.” Made by Afro-Portuguese producers in Lisbon’s poor neighbourhoods, it channels flows between Portugal, its former colonies and the rest of the world, and between the city and its deprived suburbs.
This state of flux is coded into Nídia’s music. She grew up in Lisbon but moved to Bordeaux when she was 14, and her music echoes this displacement. On her debut release, 2014’s Estudio Da Mana on Brother Sister Records, was a track called “V.A.G.G.”: V.A. for Vale De Amoreira, the ghetto where she grew up and where “kuduro ruled”; G.G. for ghetto gang, “because it’s my ghetto and my gang. I was always told not to forget where I come from.” Two years later, on her debut album proper, is “I Miss My Ghetto,” whose melancholy piano chords are fractured into stark shapes over a wildly broken groove.
This emotional edge might help explain why Nídia (formerly Nídia Minaj, after a musical idol of hers) has become one of Príncipe’s more widely known artists. Though 2015’s Danger, her Príncipe debut and breakout record, packed plenty of dance floor heat, there were some surprisingly gentle moments among the neck-snapping drum loops. Nídia É Má, Nídia É Fudida, her debut album, has its tender spots too. On “Underground,” a liquid guitar lick loops morosely; right after, “House Musik Dedo” ups the melodrama with a brash lead and heat-woozy chord stabs.
But Nídia’s music isn’t just sad. More than her past releases, Nídia É Má, Nídia É Fudida demonstrates her range, twisting the unplaceable grooves of the Afro-Portuguese style into numerous intriguing shapes. There’s thunderous beat science (“É Da Banda”, where toms, snares and kicks form a dynamo of flailing limbs), shrill fanfares of digi-brass (“Mulher Profissional” and “Arme,” at opposite ends of the record, both headache-inducing), Belgian-style rave gear (“Biotheke”) and a detour into tarrachinha slow-mo (the sly “Puro Tarraxo”). As an album, it’s scrappy. Nídia’s short, anarchic tracks were never going to play nicely in the LP format. But as a document of a sound in flux, it’s as bold and fascinating as anything on the label.