Entrenched into the urban landscapes of Lisbon's surrounding barrios are the Afro-Portuguese sounds of kuduro, batida and tarraxinha. Characterised by vigorous, syncopated, dance-focused beats, they've been gaining audiences beyond these more isolated suburbs via the pressings and parties of the capital's own Principe Records, and through figureheads such as DJ Marfox, DJ Firmeze, DJ Nigga Fox—and Nidia Minaj.
Nidia grew up Vale de Amoreira, another of the city's neighbouring ghettos with a rich kuduro heritage. Starting out dancing in the all-female Kaninas Squad, her drive to produce music and start a career edged her towards carving out a path for herself, mastering her craft around school hours on her laptop-turned-studio. She's been based in the French city of Bordeaux since 2011, but her productions still firmly point to her old neighbourhood. The result is an impressively dense discography and Soundcloud that seems to scroll on forever—track after resplendent track of restlessly jumping rhythms spliced with hypnotic synth swirls, knotting together an astonishing array of textures and colours and intricacies, each compacted cut as genuinely as exciting as the last.
Imprinted into many of these tracks is her tag—simply, her name. And just as this voice asserts "Nidia Minaj" on her records, Nidia is firmly asserting herself on this sonic territory; her first widely-acclaimed, physical release on Principe Danger completely sold out, and in between working on her upcoming debut LP she's DJd everywhere from Krakow's Unsound to Berlin's CTM, and at parties in England, Sweden and beyond. As we catch up via email ahead of her appearance at Portugal's Semibreve festival, which takes place next weekend, it's clear that this fiercely dedicated, self-made young talent makes no room for gazing backwards as she looks unflinchingly ahead, with an energy and creativity rivalled only by the releases under her name.
THUMP: What was the music scene like when you were growing up in Vale de Amoireira?
Nidia Minaj: The same as in other bairros—kuduro ruled.
Tell us a little bit about Kaninas Squad and what your vision was for it?
My vision for KS was to go further as a group and make money with our art...but it wasn't possible.
One of the tracks on Estudio da Mana is called "V.A.A.G (VA Ghetto Gang)"—how does your old neighbourhood in Portugal inspire you?
I'm not an easily influenced person so I can't tell what kind of influence my old bairro did or does to me beyond the obvious.
What are the differences in the music or clubbing scenes between Portugal and Bordeaux? Is there a local kuduro scene?
In Bordeaux there's no such thing as a club scene. But it will come, you just have to believe. Portugal feels a bit like if you were in Africa: a lot of music is luso-African.
How did you first learn to produce music?
Watching YouTube videos and with the help of other producers and DJs! Curiosity made the beats this time!
Has your production developed over the years?
My production style develops everyday but it is pointless to talk about it. Listen to a track of mine of today and one of like a month ago and you can see the differences.
What do you listen to when you are not producing music?
Batida, kuduro, rap, a bit of everything, but I listen mostly to batida and rap.
Describe the process of making Danger—how did it feel for the album to get such widespread acclaim?
It was good to get all those compliments. If our work gets praise it's even more motivation to continue doing it.
What's one of the best experiences you've had so far?
I think it was in Tomar in a festival where I was hanging out and playing with Firmeza, Nigga Fox and Isabel. We completely tore the roof of that festival (Bons Sons).
What projects or productions are you currently working on which we can get excited about?
My album is coming out soon, so watch out for that!
Nidia Minaj will apear at Semibreve in Braga, Portugal, in late October.