Words by Philip Sherburne
Batida is, at its heart, a music of exchange. Born out of Angolan styles like semba, kizomba, and kuduro, and encompassing a growing constellation of contemporary variants (tarraxo, tarraxinha, fodencia) along with global sounds like house and Afrobeats, it’s a little like a game of telephone. Rhythms bounce between Portugal, Angola, São Tomé e Príncipe, Cape Verde, and other points in the Afro-Lusophone diaspora, changing shape all the way; they ricochet back and forth across Lisbon’s suburbs, with crews on opposite sides of the Tagus river coming up with different takes on the ever-mutating form.
Nídia represents a widening of its global footprint. She grew up in Vale da Amoreira, a working-class Lisbon suburb, but she moved to Bordeaux, France, in 2011, when she was 14 years old. In Vale da Amoreira, she had danced to batida with a group of friends who dubbed themselves Kaninas Squad. In France, armed with FL Studio and some YouTube tutorials, she set up her own bedroom studio, Estúdio da Mana (“Sister’s Studio”), and set about developing her own take on the sound. For a time, she went under the alias Nídia Minaj, a tribute to one of her idols. But she loses the borrowed surname on Nídia é Má, Nídia é Fudida, her debut album. The record is both a contribution to the style and a fierce declaration of independence.
Its title translates loosely as “Nídia is bad, Nídia is dope.” (That’s “bad,” of course, in the “not bad meaning bad but bad meaning good” sense of the term.) The opening track is all swagger: Insistent horn fanfare, rattling percussion, the defiant cry of “Mulher Profissional!” (“Professional woman!”)—as defiant as a fighter’s ring-walk anthem, it’s a triumphant way for the 20-year-old musician to declare that she is all business. What follows this brassy intro is a succession of short, devastatingly kinetic tracks. Most of them are well under three minutes long, full of brittle percussion samples, mind-bendingly complex syncopations, and rapid-fire synth bursts, as though someone had tossed a brick of firecrackers onto a Korg factory assembly line. To listeners familiar with DJ Marfox, Nigga Fox, Firmeza, and other Príncipe musicians, Nídia’s music won’t sound completely alien. But much of the album is imbued with a tough, almost confrontational tone, a not-to-be-fucked-with vibe that is hers alone.
Her rhythms are unusually intricate. “Biotheke” rides a complicated drum groove that feels perpetually on the verge of collapse as it traces its tornado-like path through a mess of metal and wood. In “É da Banda,” the clattering drum sounds seem almost random at first; it’s only when the kick asserts its gravitational pull that all the elements fall into place. Stripped of everything but snapping drums and a high-pitched, hiccupping refrain, it makes for a dazzling display of her rhythmic skills. What’s most striking about her music, though, is her use of dissonance. A handful of sharp, key-clashing sounds lent 2015’s Danger EP an extra hint of menace, but here they definitively become her signature. The eerie, haunted-carousel melody of “Biotheke” sets into stark relief the tune’s clanging percussion and deadweight bass riffs. “Mulher Profissional” is a riot of tinny frequencies and stabbing motions; “Arme” bristles with needling tones, vocal shots pitched a half-tone apart, and a piercing melody that sounds like a tape being fast-forwarded.
The slow, grinding “Puro Tarraxo” is a good example of the mind-bending complexity of her approach. Over an almost dembow like groove, the sounds pile up: high-pitched, staccato vocal samples; video-game bleeps; a harsh, buzzing sound that splits the stereo field wide open. In between these hard, bright tones, a weird, modal melody dances in circles, all but invisible amid a collection of elements so shrill they could set your teeth on edge. It sometimes seems like the main organizing principle of her music is the lattice of crisscrossing lasers found in Hollywood bank vaults: Getting inside is tricky business, indeed.
But there’s also a softer side to her music. In one of the album’s finest tracks, “Underground,” her fondness for dissonance yields fluttering, guitar-like chords jumbled up with jagged synths, a balance of soft tone clusters and sharp angles as tactile as a fistful of dandelion tufts and broken glass. And on “I Miss My Ghetto,” brooding piano chords apply the brakes to runaway drums and breakneck syncopations—the rare moment of introspection from a young artist who clearly seems more interested in moving forward than looking back. It’s also a suggestion that, no matter how far batida travels, it’s not likely to forget its roots.