Originally published at DetroitFashionPages.com
I first encountered Les Nubians in 1998 at a listening station in the now defunct Tower Records store in Nashville, Tennessee. I pressed the play button while examining the cover art of the Afropean soul duo’s debut album, Princesses Nubiennes.
As the first track, “Demain”, faded from African rhythms into a jazzy hip hop groove, a sultry female voice sang to me in French, “Tu crois que le monde est a toi/ il appartient.” Suddenly, I was the mirror image of the RCA/Victor dalmatian, head cocked to one side in disbelief. I had never heard anything like this before.
I listened to one verse and one chorus, and then pressed stop. I didn’t want to hear any more. I immediately walked to the counter, and bought the album. I have been a Les Nubians devotee ever since.
I’m sure this experience was not a unique one. Over the years, Les Nubians have been embraced by listeners around the world as they have released three albums, and garnered a long list of accomplishments.
The song, “Makeda”, from Princesses Nubiennes was the largest selling French-language single in the United States in over a decade. The group was nominated for a Grammy and earned a gold plaque for sales of their second album, One Step Forward. Through it all, French-born sisters Helene and Celia Faussart have become beloved ambassadors for the entire African diaspora, the children of Africa who have been scattered around the world over centuries of slavery and immigration.
“That was our intention,” Helene smiled during a post sound check conversation at Detroit’s Music Hall Jazz Cafe, where the duo performed two stellar concerts on their Evolution pre-tour. “Even with taking the name Les Nubians, our goal was to connect with the diaspora.”
Through their many voyages they have embraced the similarities and differences of the cultures they have encountered. “Everyone is different,” Celia interjected. “African roots evolved within their [geographical] context.” Africa is the trunk, she explained, with many different branches.
Music transcends barriers of culture, language and life circumstance. The sisters felt honored and humbled during an appearance at Haiti’s first Festival Mizik Jakmel this May. During the three day festival in the town of Jacmel, the sisters shared the stage with artists like Stephen and Damian Marley and The Reggae Cowboys. Before the festival, residents of the town willingly had their electricity cut from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. to provide power for the festival site.
Helene described the experience as “intense.” The U.S., Canadian and French sponsored military coup that removed democratically elected president Bertrand Aristide, and the violence that continues has taken a toll on this poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. “Haiti is broken, but the people are so resilient.”
Helene and Celia relish their role as spokespersons for the diaspora, and with their new company Nubiatik, they hope to provide other artists with distribution so they can express themselves as well. Their latest “child”, Nubian Voyager, is a CD and book that features some of the best underground poets from the United States, France and Africa.
During the Princesses Nubiennes tour, the duo held a poetry contest, and a different local poet opened their concert in each city. That process was such a great success they decided to expand its scope. Helene was the executive producer of the project which took from 2000 to 2005 to complete.
“I recorded the poets acapella and then had [“Makeda’s” producer] Mounir [Belkhir] create music to fit the poetry,” Helene said. “I didn’t want the words to be influenced by the music.” The CD was released in 2005 and the book with CD package followed in 2006.
And what’s the next step on the journey? A new Les Nubians album is scheduled for release in the spring of 2008. As they record, the sisters still perform a few shows each month.
Celia recently relocated to New York while Helene resides in Paris. Celia hasn’t had time to be homesick yet, and because they see each other so often, she hasn’t had time to miss her sister. No matter where they roam, one gets the sense that these voyagers are most at home experiencing the journey itself.
– J. Nadir Omowale