Interview with Nidia Minaj: The multi-influenced teenage producer making noise in Lisbon’s vibrant Afro-electronic music scene
Anyone who has been paying attention to the global electronic dance music scene knows that there’s an explosion of musical creativity happening in the different Portuguese speaking ports around the Atlantic. Lisbon in particular has shown an impressive and diverse output of new Africa-influenced dance styles. The main live event celebrating that scene, Noite Principe — based at a club called The Musicbox in the center of Lisbon, and centered around an independent record label called Principe Discos — has become a mecca for international electronic music heads in recent months. As much as it’s revered globally, most impressive is the impact this party has been able to make locally — bringing together youth from disparate parts of a racially, economically, and culturally segregated city, and expose them to each other’s sounds, cultures, and selves.
Sonically, the DJs and producers are omnivorous and indiscriminate in their influences, and the resulting products reflect that. Local music style variations like tarraxo, kuduro, funana, batida, and a local house-influenced sound called afrobeat, form a stew with internationally popular flavors like trap, r&b, Brazilian Funk, house, coupe decale and yes, afrobeats. However the sounds coming out of this scene aren’t just simple copies of above named genres. Each producer I’ve come across is quite singular in their take on the Afro-portuguese dance sounds, and can mix all or none of these things in a single track.
Principe Discos artists in particular are marked by their preference for minimalistic electronic drum programming (rather than lush-layered synth melodies for example.) Like the footwork producers of Chicago, their sound is tailor made for dancers watching each other in a dark nightclub roda. I see these producers almost as painters of beats, rather than traditional song composers. And in a way, their compositions deserve more than words — one just has to listen and watch to understand.
In order to begin highlighting more of the incredible musical phenomenon here, I wanted to put up an interview I conducted with Bordeaux-based producer of Cape Verdian, and Guinea-Bissauan origin, Nidia Minaj — the latest artist to release on Principe Discos. I actually corresponded with her via another label Brother-Sister records, who released her debut project, Estudio da Mana.
Here are selections from that interview with both Brother-Sister records and Nidia, in which we explore a bit her rise as a teenage super-producer from a small French city.
Nidia, How did you learn how to make Beats?
Nidia Minaj: I learned how to make beats “alone,” I looked on youtube and asked DJ Dadifox to explain things that I didn’t understand.
From what I can tell, there aren’t many women producers in the scene in Portugal. Being outside of that scene, do you think it’s easier to enter into the scene as a woman?
NM: For me it’s not a question of being easy or difficult. I do what I love, and that’s all that matters to me.
Are there many young Africans in Bordeaux? How is life for them there, are there parties, dances, something like that?
NM: Yes, there are many Africans in Bordeaux, and their life is very exciting. The Africans in Bordeaux are always in parties, the parties in Bordeaux start on Thursday and end on Monday. On Mondays, half of my class in school is asleep for having gone to the parties!
Do you do, or want to do collaborations with artists in other countries, like Portugal, Cabo Verde, Guinea-Bissau?
NM: With vocalists, not yet. However, I already have many vocalists asking me for beats. But, I never do it because I don’t have a lot of time. For me, to make a beat for a vocalist isn’t to make a beat in two or three hours. For me it has to be an entire day to do everything right and finish mastering everything. It has to be a quality beat. I do collaborations with other DJs, but for vocalists.
Do you communicate regularly with any artists outside of your city, and if so is it only by the Internet?
NM: I communicate a lot with some artists. I communicate more with Angolan artists, some I know by the Internet, or we already have met in person.
Do you want to experiment with the music of your parent’s home countries? Have you visited either of them?
NM: I want to experiment with all the musics that I like. I’ve never been to my parent’s home countries, but I would really like to go.
Who are Kaninas Squad and what happened to them? Do they still make music?
NM: The Kaninas Squad was my group that I had with some friends in Portugal. The Kaninas Squad aren’t together anymore since I left Portugal, they didn’t make any new music, and now they only do live shows. However they changed their name. My friends are now called As Mais Potentes.
Who are Brother and Sister records?
Brother Sister Records: Brother Sister Records is an artist-run label that we started almost ten years ago as a loose collaborative collective of DIY bands and producers. It’s primarily based in Melbourne, Australia, but some of our founders/artists are currently based in New York, Windhoek, and Kuala Lumpur.
We’re proud of the fact that the label’s output shifts as our tastes do. In the beginning we were putting out different forms of guitar music (folk, post-punk, etc). Our recent releases span from music with intercultural elements to more familiar club sounds. We also run a monthly guest mix series that has been a great way to support and interact with artists we love, like Beak, Strict Face, Neana, etc.
Does Brother-Sister Records have representation and/or relationships in Portugal or France?
BSR: No. The label is pretty independent/DIY. In the beginning each of us was making music with no real “ins” in our local music scene. We, like many, had to learn everything by trial and error. That ethos has endured — BSR isn’t at all institutional. For us it’s just good to be able to share our past experiences to emerging artists and to offer support to good music, especially by artists who we think are overlooked. The label also allows us to pursue our own interests into musical collaboration and research and so its a good way to learn whats going on in, and to interact with, other places and other cultural contexts. It’s more about opening up spaces for things to occur.
Are you in touch with other producers in the Lisbon scene?
BSR: We’ve been massive fans of the latest phase of kuduro/tarraxo/fodencia coming out of Portugal and France for quite a while now, and have been in touch with some of the artists from that scene. The incredible thing is how young most of them are and how fresh and emotive so much of their music is. There are also some really interesting musical links between those artists and DJs in Lusophone countries in Africa and even in Brazil. What we’ve found is that the less established artists, who also tend to be the ones we love the most, often have never met each other and are just collaborating on tracks via the Internet.
Have you been to any of the Noite Principes, or have you been in touch with any one at Principe Discos?
BSR: It’s great that Principe Discos has emerged as a strong forum for artists like Nigga Fox, Lilocox and the Tia Maria crew, all of whom thoroughly deserve the attention. We haven’t reached out to them, partly because sites like Soundcloud allow us to communicate directly with the emerging artists whose tracks we love.
Do you have any other plans for Nidia in terms of managing her career?
BSR: We initially approached Nidia as massive fans. It seemed crazy how unknown she was, and it was especially exciting to see a very young female DJ making this sort of music. We wanted to learn more about her and to spur her on to make a formal release, which could garner a different sort of attention from the individual (amazing) tracks she had been dropping on Soundcloud. Obviously, we would love to continue working with Nidia but we also hope that a label or labels with better resources and larger listener-ships will think about working with Nidia in the future.