Les Nubians sisters call for a ‘Nü Revolution’ in global citizenship
Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” French-Cameroonian sister duo, Les Nubians, approached their third album Nü Revolution with that same frame of mind.
Born in Paris, but raised in Chad, Celia and Helene Faussart have become famous for their eclectic mash-up of hip-hop, soul, R&B and Afro-Caribbean rhythms, flowing freely between French and English lyrics.
But up until this year, the duo had never recorded an album within the U.S. To celebrate global unity, Les Nubians began recording in Detroit during President Obama’s convention. “It was inspiring to start an album at such a historical time,” says Celia.
Working with U.S. producers, the duo hoped to bring their musical hybrid directly to Americans in a format and language they could relate to.
“Our first language is French—it’s the language we dream in,” says Celia. “But the more years go by, the more we interact in English. We were creating these songs in this environment (the U.S.) and communicating directly with the people here.”
Les Nubians’ style is a refreshing escape from American Top 40, with a heavy Afro-beat and sultry French flair, but the sisters insist it was developed nearly by accident.
“In Chad, there weren’t many activities for kids,” says Celia. “When you have nothing, you have to entertain yourself, so we were always creating shows—it was an imaginative upbringing.”
Since neither of their parents had much of a musical background, the girls learned from music they heard on the streets of Paris. “There were musicians all around us—from classical Indian dance groups to rap groups,” says Celia. “We had very diverse influences.”
The duo attributes its openness to musical styles and cultures to the lessons instilled in them as children raised by an interracial couple.
“My father always said to travel and experience the world,” says Celia. “He was from a time when people believed in the phrase, ‘travel builds stronger youth.’”
Today, their lyrics reflect that message in Nü Revolution’s title track: “It’s time for a nü revolution/ as we’re all changing every day/ for the better/ as things seem to go worse/ don’t let the illusion be in your way/ love is the only way.”
“World citizenship and togetherness is happening now,” says Celia. “We cannot be insensitive about what happened in Japan and Haiti. People are realizing, now more than ever, that we are one.”
The name, Les Nubians, was chosen to spread that message. “Les” means “the” in French, and “Nubia” refers to the first African civilization. “[The name] was a way to talk about black culture and the diaspora from a global view,” says Celia. “Africa is mother to all of us—we all come from Africa.”
African roots are ever-present on Nü Revolution, a more up-tempo deviation from freshman effort Princesses Nubiennes. Funky jam “Afrodance” sets the tone for the album, on which the duo expresses a desire to “celebrate, dance and rejoice,” says Helene.
Their blended harmony and transition between languages, as showcased on jazzy album opener “Liberté,” has remained consistent since they entered the scene in 1998. Perhaps being family has its perks.
“We do bicker sometimes, but we’re complimentary in terms of abilities,” says Celia. “The musical blend is easier.”
A music career was not always the
“Our mom always said, ‘get your Ph.D. and then you can be a singer,’” says Helene, who studied law. “We both went to the university, but we realized that music was a bigger part of our lives.”
Helene’s knowledge of law and Celia’s ethnomusicology background have paid off, though, as the duo uses both in the industry.
“Law became useful because we are independent artists; all that experience helps,” says Helene. “They say ‘all the paths lead to Rome.’ We’re all [heading] in the same direction, but taking different paths to get there.”
Asked where they are on their path, Celia says, “We don’t want to be stuck in time. We want to mix the past, present and future to create a new, futuristic Africa—[our style] is like, urban Amazon … strong, feminine, noble.”
Les Nubians play at 7 and 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 24, at Kuumbwa Jazz, 320 Cedar St. #2, Santa Cruz. Tickets are $30/adv, $33/door. For more information, call 427-2227. Photo Credit: DelphineDiallo