Colorado Springs singer-songwriter Nina de Freitas had just recovered from COVID-19 last April when she remembered the deadline for NPR’s Tiny Desk contest. Problem was, she was at her mother’s house, without her guitar. The only guitar in the house was her childhood instrument that was missing a string and was beat up from being dropped down the stairs by her little sister. Still she recorded a song and sent it in.
De Freitas didn’t win Tiny Desk this year, but she has caught the eye of its respected hosts before. NPR’s All Songs Considered featured her 2018 submission video as part of “The Tiny Desk Contest Entries We’re Excited About This Week.” It’s just part of a wave of attention the 30-year-old performer has amassed as she continues to find her place musically. De Freitas has played Denver’s Underground Music Showcase three times, taking the main stage in 2018. And she has been noted recently in Denver media as part of Women’s History Month, Latin Heritage Month and a celebration of Colorado Black artists.
Her latest singles, including that 2018 Tiny Desk submission, have been released with a band as Nina and the Hold Tight, but de Freitas has most recently transitioned back to her origins as a solo artist. Either way, she possesses a soulful power that reverberates sonically and emotionally. While 2020 has been difficult on performing artists, de Freitas has been using the time to record with an eye toward releasing a new EP in early 2021. It’s a good time to get to know the ascending artist.
De Freitas is the child of musicians, Carlinhos Brown and Raquel Machado. And though she has lived in the Centennial State since 2006, de Freitas was born in Salvador, Bahia, the first capital of Brazil under Portugal, now known as the heart of the country’s Afro-Brazilian culture.
Brown, Nina’s father, performs a blend of funk, soul, samba and reggae. He has won two Latin Grammys—out of even more nominations—and he has played both New York City’s Lincoln Center and the Hollywood Bowl. His other credits include an Academy Award nomination in 2012. Brown collaborated with his daughter for “Ô Vida,” a song that appears on the soundtrack of the animated film, Rio 2.
Raquel Machado moved to Los Angeles when her daughter was 3. Together, they spent a few weeks in a motel until they got their footing. On the West Coast, Raquel created alternative rock that caught attention, but with her unique voice, record labels fumbled promotion. J.Lo. and Shakira hit the charts in the early 2000s, and producers wanted Raquel to imitate. Over time, she saw an impasse: “Mom worried about not being there … and chose me over music,” de Freitas says.
But she passed on a love and gift for music to her daughter. De Freitas started writing songs young. “I understood structure,” she says. “As a kid, I remember Dad taking me to Toys-R-Us. I wanted a Spice Girls Barbie, but Mom thought I should get a keyboard. After some negotiation, I ended with both. I played with the Casio much more than Scary Spice.”
Leaving Los Angeles, de Freitas and her mother moved to Seattle until planting themselves in Colorado. Here, she was home-schooled, allowing room to hone her songwriting. “I wrote 100 songs that first year,” says de Freitas.
Soon after releasing Spinning, she formed Nina and The Hold Tight, a band she performed with on the Underground Music Showcase main stage. The group garnered complimentary comparisons to Alabama Shakes, and with that ensemble, de Freitas first caught NPR’s attention.
Now, de Freitas finds herself in transition, but at peace. She’s focusing on solo work, splitting time between Denver and Colorado Springs. “I love Radiohead … they evolve,” she says. “The music I’m making … is what I’ve always wanted.”
Her name, Freitas, is often interpreted as “broken stones,” and it seems she’s building from deconstruction. “Everything I’ve released as myself or with Hold Tight is a part of me,” de Freitas says. “I can’t quite put into words what the new music will sound like, but I can say that it will be fully me.”
In addition to Alabama Shakes, de Freitas has been likened to Nina Simone, Mitski and Jeff Buckley. “She is as poignant as she is original and in no moment do I find myself doubting the gravity of her emotions,” says Chris Castillo of Denver band Kiltro. “Her songs are lived, and her melodies are effortlessly affecting. Everything she writes seems to move in a natural direction … [yet evades] conventionality.”
Following that bout with COVID, de Freitas has played some virtual and socially distanced shows. She’s placing her focus on recording another EP in Colorado Springs with Tyler Cuchiara. “Tyler engineered [singles] ‘Salt and Blood’ and ‘Keeps Me Coming Back’ … he understands what I’m going for,” de Freitas says.
“I believe Nina can—and will—make one of my favorite records … ever,” Cuchiara says. “I’m a fan … and have never met anyone who writes or performs [like her]. It’s magic.”
“He … gets me,” de Freitas adds. “I’ll be taking time in the studio to nurture each song for a … definitive, cohesive sound.”