Madonna is emailing me, and I’m totally fine. Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone. She’s been the wallpaper on my phone, my dance tutor, the inspiration for long-expired passwords, and now we’re emailing. Through intermediaries, and there’s no FaceTime in the cards, but still. An artist and (I usually hate this word) icon I’ve loved, celebrated, analyzed, cited and defended for 35 years, is answering some of my questions. Everything is absolutely chill, and I’m breathing normally. Keep your smelling salts.
The occasion: Refinery29 is exclusively premiering the video for “Batuka,” off Madame X, Madonna’s fourteenth studio album, which debuted at #1 last month on the Billboard 200. Like many critics and fans, I find Madame X to be particularly beautiful — her most cohesive and visionary LP since 2005’s disco opus Confessions on a Dance Floor, and her weirdest, most emotional dare since 2003’s woefully dismissed classic American Life. (Did I mention I’m a fan?)
Even more than Bush-era American Life, Madame X finds Madonna reckoning with a bleak global moment as she considers her own remarkable history. This time, much of the sound was inspired by the superstar’s extended time with her children in Portugal, where she immersed herself in, and then interpreted, a range of musical traditions local to the region. That includes batuque, a style that emphasizes drumming, singing, and dancing, which was created by Black women from the island of Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony with a central role in the slave trade.
“Batuka” — a defiant, joyful cry for rebellion with a rousing call-and-response structure — is Madonna’s collaboration with the all-women Orquestra Batukadeiras, and they join her in the striking video, directed by Emmanuel Adjei and filmed off the coast of Lisbon. “I found them to be so strong, authentic, soulful, loving, generous, and kind,” Madonna told Refinery29 of her collaborators.
The sixth video (so far) during this very cinematic Madame X era finds Madonna in a jam session with the Orquestra, with haunting shots of the coastline that reference the area’s brutal history. We also get to marvel at stunning closeups of the women in the Orquestra — as well at the Queen of Pop dancing freestyle in a floral dress and combat boots. An undisputed master and innovator of the form since the advent of MTV in the 1980s (see: “Material Girl,” “Papa Don’t Preach,” “Express Yourself,” “Vogue”), Madonna, with “Batuka,” has now starred in over 75 music videos.
Here’s what Madonna told Refinery29 about recording and filming “Batuka,” working with the women, her own forgotten history of drumming, and more. It’s all very casual.
Refinery29: In the Inside Madame X short film, you spoke a bit about discovering Batuque and the Orquestra Batukadeiras, and then collaborating with the women on this song. What did these women teach you?
Madonna: “I learned a great deal from these women. Many of them came from very economically challenged backgrounds, without access to formal education. The ways we measure achievement and success in our conventional society fails to capture their singular brilliance and strength. I found them to be so strong, authentic, soulful, loving, generous, and kind. You can’t learn these things in school. They taught me those things. It’s a tough world out there, and it’s inspiring to work with people who have been through the struggle but still manage to manifest and share joy with us all. That was a big part of the lesson.”