Richard Elliott (Newcastle University, UK)

‘This Is Our Grime’: Encounter, Strangeness and Translation as Responses to Lisbon’s Batida Scene [BACK]

Batida has come to be used as a collective term for recent forms of electronic dance music associated with the Afrodiasporic DJs of Lisbon, first- or second-generation immigrants from Portugal’s former colonies (especially Angola, Guinea Bissau, Cabo Verde and São Tomé e Príncipe). It is influenced – and seen as an evolution of – the EDM musics that have come from these countries, especially the kuduro and tarraxinha music of Angola. There has been extensive coverage of the batida scene in online and print English language publications such as Vice/Thump, Fact magazine, The Wire and Resident Advisor. For a global dance music scene still dominated by Anglo-American understandings of popular music, batida is often compared to Chicago footwork and grime (just as fado has often been compared to the blues). The translation is a two-way process, with musicians taking on the role of explaining their music through extra-cultural references. This paper uses these attempts at musical translation as a prompt to explore issues of strangeness and encounter in responses to batida specifically and to situate them in the broader context of discourse around global pop.

Links to tracks referred to in this presentation:

DJ Marfox, ‘Eu Sei Quem Sou’: OR

DJ Lycox, ‘Dor do Koto’: OR

DJ Marfox, ‘Swaramgami’: OR

Elza Soares, ‘Pra Fuder’ (Nidia Minaj remix): OR

Keywords: EDM, global pop, batida, translation, encounter

Bio: Cultural musicologist working primarily in the discipline of popular music studies. Author of four books – Fado and the Place of Longing (2010), Nina Simone (2013), The Late Voice (2015) and The Sound of Nonsense (2018) – as well as articles, chapters and reviews on popular music, literature, consciousness, memory, nostalgia, place and space, affect, language and technology. Currently working on global popular musics, song studies, and music and materiality. Senior Lecturer in Music at Newcastle University.

Personal website:

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9 thoughts on “Richard Elliott (Newcastle University, UK)”

  1. Thanks for this Richard, fascinating. I have written down lots of names of musicians, tunes and publications to follow up!

    I have a question regarding the relationship between Batida and another, comparable Lusophone scene that you mention briefly, i.e. Baile/Carioca Funk. Is there much dialogue between the two scenes? Any collaborations between artists that you know of? What is your take on how both respond to their different contexts of the Portuguese postcolonial? How are they similar, and how do they differ?

    1. Thanks for the questions Ruth. My impression has been that there is more dialogue between the Portugal scene and the various African scenes that are more closely connected to the Lisbon DJs backgrounds (Angola, Cabo Verde, Sao Tome e Principe) than with the Brazilian scenes per se. I think that’s also important for musicians in both Portugal and Lusophone Africa inasmuch as Brazil has often dominated the Portuguese-language music scene internationally. That said, there’s a huge Brazilian population in Portugal, so collaborations are inevitable. DJ Marfox has gestured towards Brazil with tracks such as ‘Made in Brazil’ ( and he and Nidia Minaj have both remixed Elza Soares for a project that also included Brazilian artists Omolu, BadSista and Marginal Men – not quite collaboration, but music being given a kind of family resemblance, albeit via a third party (UK-based label Mais Um Disco). Marginal Men from Rio have worked with Enchufada, another Lisbon-based label that covers kuduro and batida amongst other genres; MM have produced sets which make connections to Marfox and other Lisbon DJs ( That’s the other thing – a lot of the connections between those scenes get made in the live sets and club mixes.
      As for the differences between the postcolonial contexts, I’m not sure I have the knowledge to respond to that (especially for the Brazilian case) other than to say that tempting comparisons between musics coming out of the urban housing projects of both countries would need to be tested alongside the quite different histories of post/colonialism in Brazil and the former Portuguese colonies that became independent in the 1970s and led to migration to Portugal and the creation of projects such as the one Marfox and Nervoso live in. Good places to start looking in Anglophone scholarship would be K.E. Goldschmitt’s work on Brazilian music in transnational contexts, Derek Pardue’s work on black music in Lisbon and work by Fernando Arenas.

  2. Dear Richard,

    Thank you so much for this fascinating presentation. I have been struck by how pervasive notions of strangeness and futurism continue to be in the discourses surrounding electronic dance musics of all shapes and sizes (even in by now well-established genres like techno, jungle, electro, etc.) since they were first circulated by Eshun, Reynolds, Fisher, Gilbert and Goodman (among others) in the nineties. They appear throughout academic publications but, as you mention, have also become internalised in fan discourses, reviews, promotional materials and so on. Do you think there is a sense in which these tropes of strangeness and futurity, as well as the evocatively strange metonymic vocabulary of journalists etc., could be in part rhetorical and/or performative, and could in fact be being applied in a consistent and purposive way to specific and recognisable musical features? Could there perhaps be an element of a mutually agreed-upon “myth making” involved here, which could be being used to amplify the affective qualities of these musics?


    1. Thank you, Maria, for this great comment and question. I have a short and a long answer to your question. The short answer is ‘Yes, definitely!’. For the longer one, I think, for me at least, there are a number of connected tropes that I’m interested in. The first of these is strangeness as a response to musics from other countries and cultures. As part of a bigger ongoing research and teaching project looking at Anglophone responses to non-Anglophone recorded music over the last one hundred years, I’m tracing the way that strangeness gets deployed as both a way of othering ‘foreign’ musics, but also as an initiative to begin the process of translation (into the familiar), to make tentative steps towards cosmopolitan perspectives and to showcase mastery and expertise on the part of journalists, curators and other actor/collaborators. So that would be one aspect: ‘strange music’ and how to explain it. Another related one, which is closer to the move towards cosmopolitanism, is the idea of embracing strangeness and learning from it. Jace Clayton has some good writing on this in his Uproot book, where he talks about lingering in and learning from strangeness. Also related to this, I think, are some of the things Mykaell Riley discusses, both in his keynote for the conference and in his writing; I was very struck, for example, by how—in his foreword to Joe Muggs’s Bass, Mids, Tops: An Oral History of Soundsystem Culture—Mykaell emphasised the need to overcome any sense that black British music was in any sense alien or foreign. That topic comes to the fore in quite a few of the papers in this session.

      As to futurity, I think you’re right about the performative aspect of it AND that it can be mapped onto particular sounds. Regarding the latter, I have been presenting a paper over the last couple of years called ‘Songs as Systems’, where I trace an interesting consistency with which journalists have used metaphors of ecosystems, atmospheres, viruses and weather systems to describe recent forms of song that challenge conventional song structures (examples I’ve explored include Björk, James Blake, FKA twigs, Grimes, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, David Sylvian). When I was preparing that paper, I read a paradoxically nostalgic piece attacking retromania by Rob Young of The Wire, where he wrote:
      ‘Reliving those years reminded me how different things were nearly 25 years ago. Far from the current spate of retromania, the cutting edge was exactly that, a burgeoning flood of desktop powered electronic music whose every new iteration seemed to speak of things to come rather than things that have been. In the mid-90s, the internet was an infant. Today’s social media and market-driven online culture requires you to be the person you really are. The mid-90s was still a digital wild west, devoid of two-step authentifications, multiple passwords and ‘likes’. Everything was freely given over for grabs. The remix was paradigmatic: tracks frequently submitted in multiple versions, authorship subdivided and atomised into a globally distribute collective consciousness. In this utopian open studio, artist aliases ran amok. It’s incredible, re-reading some of the key texts of that era in electronic music, how much energy we spent as writers just keeping track of who was who. now does a better job of keeping track of the aka trail of producers like Germans Jammin Unit, Khan and Wolfgang Voigt. In those days you had to do a lot of detective work, reading the clues in the names as they morphed from 12″ to 12″.
      It’s a long time since I listened closely to much of this material, but it’s sobering to think that the time distance between now and its 1994–97 heyday stands in a similar relation as the mid-90s did to krautrock, progressive music and the early days of ambient. Given the enduring rarity of many of the releases, it all feels equally worthy of a critical rediscovery.’ (

      In the same piece Young identifies and then curates, via excerpts from The Wire, ‘the development of a critical style around the genre we loosely dubbed electronica’. Many of the ways of talking about electronica that were developed in the pieces Young collects can still be found in writing from The Wire and other outlets today, which I thought was interesting. Reflecting on the longer quotation, it seems to me that there’s much to unpack. It’s not just that one could point out that ‘burgeoning flood of desktop powered electronic music whose every new iteration seemed to speak of things to come rather than things that have been’ and ‘The remix was paradigmatic … a globally distribute collective consciousness’ seem like descriptions of what’s happening right now if one is willing to stay tuned to the global networks (indeed, there’s more of a sense of the global now than ever before). It’s more that the writing itself is as in thrall to the retromania that Young is accusing contemporary music of displaying (even though I don’t like using that now-ubiquitous ‘R’-word). This is writing that praises a supposedly now-lost futurity (in music and journalism) via a typically rhetorical strategy of saying ‘it was better then than now’!

      Previously, when writing about music and nostalgia, I identified a tendency in the music writers you mention to favour a kind of vanguardism in their responses both to new music and to older music. I think that’s long been a tendency in pop journalism in this country and I think it’s also understandable (and has led to some great writing) in part due to identification with pop as new and modern (Norman Jay’s interview in Joe Gibbs’s book is good on this). What I’ve never understood so well is the need some writers have felt to denigrate and attack other forms of music in order to establish the new/futuristic as the paradigm. But that might explain why I never succeeded as a music journalist.

      Sorry for the essay, but your comment and question really resonate for me as these are things I think about quite a lot. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on the topic.

      1. Thanks so much for your reply, which gives me much to think about. The national/cosmopolitan dynamics of strangeness seem like a really interesting avenue of research, so I look forward to hearing more about that when it comes out. And I wholeheartedly agree with you that retromania seems to be more of a journalist’s than a musician’s disease! I always found it curious that the vanguardism of Gilbert, Reynolds, Fisher faltered when it came to Dubstep, Funky, UK Techno 2.0 etc., so clearly there was always a “correct” vision of the future that they were promoting which failed to materialise, or perhaps it was the idea that they were no longer representative of it that was the sticking point. I will need to try to find your ‘Songs as Systems’ paper as that sounds particularly relevant to my current work. Thanks again for your presentation and comments.

  3. Hi Richard,

    Thanks very much for your paper. I love the artwork and when I first heard the tracks you played I was like, “oh yeah, Warp bleeps” — translation in action! I have two questions for you. The first is perhaps slightly obvious so forgive me, but thinking about translation as an act of negotiation/compromise, I wonder what is lost when we/journalists say/write “oh it’s kind of like grime or Warp or footwork”? It’s obviously a necessary way to make the unfamiliar familiar and to forge connections but does something go missing? Would we need new language to account for what’s missing? Can we even account for it in our language-bound imaginations? Or, scarier, am I being exoticist when alluding to a je ne sais quoi that gets lost in translation?

    Secondly, I’m really interested in these themes of strangeness and encounter, strangeness and futurity, and the different (quasi political) undertones these themes might have—alien as utopian, modern as better, etc. But I was also thinking, looking particularly at the map you showed, about homologies between place/location and musical sound. In addition to themes of strangeness and encounter, have any journalists translated the story of batida with reference to the sounds of Quinta do Mocho? For example, you pointed out how the neighbourhood is next to the airport, so do journalists weave in those kinds of (airport sounds) into their reviews/features? I suppose I’m thinking about the examples in my book (not a plug!) where journalists mapped the sounds of a place like Cleveland onto the sound of Pere Ubu.

    Thanks again.


    1. Hi Mimi,

      Thanks for your comments and questions. Regarding the ‘Warp bleeps’, the label clearly heard something similar because they released three EPs of this music in collaboration with Principe in 2015, so another kind of translation in action I suppose.

      What gets lost in translation? Much, no doubt. But my position on this has shifted in recent years. My starting point was to be very critical of attempts to translate genres in this cross-cultural manner, not least because the exercise always seemed to prioritise the Anglophone terms and genres, or at least assume that these were the lingua franca for musical discourse. I first got exercised about this when writing about fado in the 00s and constantly finding references to it as ‘the Portuguese blues’ (this bugged me twice over: one because of the need to Americanise everything; two because it was so reductive: if you’re going to Americanise, fado has as much in common with US country music and elements of bluegrass as it has with blues!). But, even then, another part of me was vexed by the desire within fado to fence it off in an often exclusionary way (‘only Portuguese people can understand it’, ‘fado is the soul of Portugal’, ‘you have to be born a fadista, you can’t learn it’) even while wishing to claim it as a universal language (‘you don’t need to understand what I’m singing to get the music’, ‘fado is universal’ – these are pretty much straight pull quotes). At that time, because I was working on music and nostalgia, I became inspired by Svetlama Boym’s work, where she talks about a European ‘grammar of nostalgia’ and points out that many European countries have supposedly ‘untranslatable’ words which are in fact synonyms for each other (words like saudade, dor, sehnsucht). Since then I’ve been fascinated by the paradoxes thrown up by the simultaneous desire to fence cultural terms and practices off while also claiming equivalency and even universality for them.

      When I started researching and writing about batida, I was interested to see this process emerge again. At first I was still critical of the seeming need to translate the terms and the genres into Anglo equivalents, and that was really the starting point for this paper. However, as I spent more time on it and spoke to people in Quinta do Mocho, and also as a result of teaching a module on global pop for the last few years where we constantly interrogate this process of translating and the strangeness/familiarity dynamics over a range of case studies and eras, I started to move more towards the position I adopt in this paper. I actually wanted to use more of Kwame Anthony Appiah’s work on cosmopolitanism in the paper but had to cut most of that material due to timing; he only gets a brief mention in the finished paper (with a bit more detail in the notes of the version on my website, reproduced in part here). Appiah refers to ‘color language’, noting that recognition of colour may be universal but the complexities of naming colour(s) move toward the local and specific: ‘Whether you have a word for the color purple … won’t just depend on whether you’ve ever seen something purple; it will depend, too, on the resources of your language’ (Kwame Anthony Appiah, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (London: Allen Lane, 2006), 96). He goes on: ‘the points of entry to cross-cultural conversations are things that are shared by those who are in the conversation. They do not need to be universal; all they need to be is what these particular people have in common. Once we have found enough we share, there is the further possibility that we will be able to enjoy discovering things we do not yet share’ (97).

      I now prefer to work with this inspiring idea of difference and different languages as an invitation to find what we have in common rather than the previous stance I often took—and which I think is common to many of us who have read our ethnomusicology and thought critically about issues of representation—which was a more critical standpoint that worried constantly about ‘othering’ and misrepresentation. I’m not saying we don’t need to be vigilant about such matters, but the worry (or the ‘scariness’ you refer to) can sometimes be dis-enabling and stop us doing the practical work of understanding each other and building community. I found that what I was reading as ‘theory’ in Appiah (theory for me: practical guidance backed up by life experience and learning for him) played out in practical terms when I visited Quinta do Mocho and experienced the attempts at translation and representation happening there. This is true of the art projects happening there and the tours that accompany them, where appeals are made to the common languages or shared, inherited ideas (e.g. in art knowledge and appreciation) that are used as the basis for explaining how the artworks represent local issues. It’s also there in the way that some of the musicians talk about the music. When I interviewed DJ Marfox he talked about his music as taking something that was already known (referring both to Lusophone African styles but also American house and techno and British grime) and adding something to it, or twisting it in new ways. So the desire to make that connection seems to me to be the way that the various actors involved want to ‘[re]assemble the social’, as I put it in the paper.

      Jace Clayton provides some other ways of thinking about strangeness and how to deal with it and his work—especially Uproot—has been influencing me and the global pop module in the last couple of years. He writes that ‘experiencing the world via music or travel is supposed to be strange. Acknowledging that you don’t know what’s going on while being willing to linger, listen, and learn is all it takes. Noise appreciated as poetry becomes music. Foreign languages learned turn familiar. Allegedly exotic sounds approached in their own terms … can reemerge as soul and set up camp inside yours’ (Jace Clayton, Uproot, 92). The willingness to linger and learn is key here, I think, and sits well with what I was feeling on my visits to Quinta do Mocho. There’s always to learn, though, of course.

      I’ll try a briefer answer to your other question (!). No, I’ve not come across much of that in the Anglophone journalism. I know the kind of thing you mean and I’m familiar with it from texts about Chicago footwork and UK grime (Dan Hancox is good on the sounds of London neighbourhoods in grime). I’m not sure how many of the Anglophone journalists who’ve written on batida have visited Quinta do Mocho (some of the interviews have taken place in downtown venues), so they might not be aware of the proximity to the airport. As well as the ‘print’ journalism, there are some good short film features on the scene, some of them filmed in QDM and which do evoke the sonic world at least implicitly (the Major Lazer ‘Blow Your Head’ one is good for this). Where this has happened a bit more is in the texts which come with the Bandcamp releases, written by the Principe team; several of those map urban sounds onto the music (not necessarily the airport, though, but not all the DJs live in that area). It’s something I’m touching on a bit with my work because it is a very distinctive sonic feature of the neighbourhood. It goes the other way too, of course, with the music becoming part of the soundtrack of the neighbourhood as it emanates from open windows, bedroom studios, street parties, and so on. On occasion, I’ve heard the neighbourhood on approaching it before I’ve been able to see it clearly and those sounds have been a mixture of plane noise and batida.

      Thanks again Mimi for getting me to think about these things some more and I look forward to your paper!

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