The DJ talks to us about his roots and his knack for skilfully blending the old and the new
Barzakh Festival: Batida brings Angola's vintage sounds to the masses
Angola’s contribution to Africa’s musical landscape is well documented. The large African nation’s diverse ethnicity and its diaspora have given birth to a variety of styles, ranging from the popular fiesta sounds merengue and semba to the more groove-inflected beats of kizomba and kuduro.
Undoubtedly, the peak of the country’s popular music scene came in the 1950s thanks to an energetic rock community led by the guitarist Carlos Vieira Dias, who in his guise as Liceu is recognised today as the father of Angolan pop music.
Portuguese-Angolan Pedro Coquenão knows these sounds well. Born and raised in Lisbon and known to fans as Batida, he remembers the songs pouring from the family stereo and stories of the country his parents once called home.
Understandably, despite their hypnotic and zippy melodies, the songs resonate far more deeply than mere dance music.
“There is a sense of nostalgia because Angola is where my parents came from and these are the songs that they played,” Batida says.
“I wonder sometimes what it would be like if we had stayed there, and when I go back I do have mixed emotions. It’s like meeting a brother you didn’t grow up with, but you still enjoy the music and food he likes. So, while there is nostalgia, there is an acceptance that the music created was part of a very special time that is gone now but it also comes with an intention to bring it back.”
This, in a nutshell, has been his mission statement since Coquenão burst onto the electronic and world music scene a decade ago under the alias of Batida.
The first time he used the handle – which means “to rap” in Portuguese – was as a DJ when hosting an African world music show on the National Portuguese Radio station Antena 3. The vintage tunes he played, coupled with modern touches provide by Batida’s DJing work, elevated the music above golden oldies or pastiche.
It sounded vibrant and vital and, before long, leading producers such as the UK’s Gilles Peterson praised Batida’s inventive approach. While chuffed with the attention, Batida isn’t convinced about being dubbed one of the leaders of the Afrotronic scene.
“Well, I am not comfortable being called a leader of anything,” he says. “When it comes to the term Afrotronic, it used to describe music that was coming from Africa or music that comes from the outside that is inspired by music which is done in an electronic way. Now, I don’t know if I can accept it as a genre, but it is an idea. I just don’t know how big it all is.”
That said, there are a few ways to gauge Batida’s success in his endeavours. The popularity of the radio show that led him to embark upon a full-time career as a recording artist and performer, having released two albums and performed in major festivals across Europe and North Africa, is one. His latest stop will be his regional debut in Abu Dhabi as part of Al Barzakh Festival at New York University Abu Dhabi tomorrow night.
Batida explains that the roots of his eclectic DJing approach began as a teenager glued to the radio.
“This is the image that I have of my teenage room,” he says. “I had a small tape recorder and the radio. I would be browsing for songs that I would like and put them together and that gave me a raw idea of what a mixtape could be. So to me, the radio was my first instrument and my first computer in a way. I wasn’t playing but instead I was listening to others and adopting what I felt was exciting and interesting.”
That organic process has remained a constant throughout his work. Each of Batida’s albums is a riotous collage of horns, sampled vocals and souped-up riffs and off-kilter beat loops.
However, where his self-titled 2012 debut album suffered from a somewhat chaotic nature, his most recent album Dois – released in 2014 – benefits from a welcome craft and a skilled curator’s ear for sound.
A case in point is swaggering opener Pobre e Rico, which melds samples from a vintage Angolan movie with indigenous Afro beats.
“Angola didn’t have many movies back in the 1970s, so I found this great movie sample that was talking about the society at the time and then I mixed it with an Afro beat that was not Nigerian, which is normally the case, but made in Angola,” he says.
“So really, I was trying to play with this different concept saying... this song based on the movie and [then] reimagining what Afro beats would sound like if it was created in Angola,” he tells me.
For a more visceral thrill you can’t go past Ta Doce, which is built on a sample of shouty vocals and a sturdy beat from the ngoma drums. Sensing that something was missing, Batida dipped into his memory bank and realised the spiralling riffs of Combat Rock from The Clash would be a perfect accompaniment.
“It was in the same tone of the drums and it sounded so great on the loop that I had to accept that sometimes I may not be what people expect me to be,” he says.
“I normally follow my instinct and intuition, so with that song I just felt great and I was dancing alone in my garage. It was a great feeling.”
Batida will perform as part of Al Barzakh Festival on Wednesday at 7.30pm
Also appearing at Al Barzakh Festival:
Performing tomorrow night is a Palestinian group at the front of one of the region’s most exciting sub-genres. 47Soul’s lean-yet-chaotic sound is billed as electro-dabka. It is as fun as it sounds, with the flamboyant percussion of the famed Levant folk genre laced with perky synthesisers and taught taut guitar grooves. On top of it all are the distinct vocals from each of the four band members which represent singing styles from the region. Futuristic music without losing its historical significance, 47Soul is party music with a purpose.
47Soul will perform as part of Al Barzakh Festival on Wednesday at 7.30pm
Their regular Thursday-night shows in Port-au-Prince are remain the stuff of legend. RAM was the soundtrack to many a rowdy night filled with colourful characters straight out of a Tarantino film. The Haitian group, a large collective which can consist of stretch up to more than a dozen liveperformers, is set to bring that visceral energy to Abu Dhabi with their blend of Afro-Haitian songs that are fuelled horns and blistering guitars. After being one of the Caribbean’s best kept secrets, the group gained international attention after appearing in the soundtrack of the 1993’s Academy Award-winning film Philadelphia. They will make their regional debut on the back of their latest album, RAM 6: Manmanm Se Ginen, and if we are lucky perhaps we will hear some tunes from their next studio album which is presently in the works, which is in the works.
RAM will perform as part of Al Barzakh Festival on Thursday at 7.30pm
Al Nuban Folklore Troupe
The group’s routines are rooted in the ancient Afro-Emirati tradition, with some dances linked to the region that is now called Sudan. Helmed by Taher Ismael, performances often consist of 20 dancers divided into two lines as they perform to the heady sounds of the tanboura, drums and manjour. The group is a mainstay of cultural festivals across the UAE in addition to being an in-demand act for weddings.
Al Nuban Folklore Troupe will perform as part of Al Barzakh Festival on Thursday at 7.30pm