A CD review
By Stephani Maari Booker
I’ve been a fan of Hélène and Célia Faussart, two French sisters of Cameroonian descent known as Les Nubians, since their first U.S. hit “Makeda” in 1998, a paean to the Queen of Sheba and all women of African descent. The album the song was from, Princesses Nubiennes (Virgin Records), was the biggest selling French-language album released in the U.S. in over 10 years.
In May of last year, Les Nubians played two shows at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. The sisters will return to the Dakota on June 26 and 27 for another two performances. The duo’s quick return to the Twin Cities is a good occasion to write about their most recent CD, Nü Revolution (Shanachie Records).
An Afrocentric consciousness has always run through Les Nubians’ music — with a name like theirs, that’s no surprise. However, their current CD is their most politically focused, even blatantly Afrocentric work to date. It’s definitely music with a mission, with song names such as “Liberté,” “Africa for the Future” and the title track. The CD literally starts off with a bang — the first track, “Nü Queens Intro,” is pure, powerful African percussion with no vocals.
Just because there’s a message with Les Nubians’ music doesn’t mean they can’t have fun. This album shows a boisterous, humorous side to the duo that I haven’t heard on their two previous albums, Princesses Nubiennes and One Step Forward (Virgin/Higher Octave, 2003). (In 2005, they released Echoes, Chapter One on Nubiatik, their independent label, but that was a collection of spoken word and music by other artists.) One song, “Femme Polyandre” (Polyandrous Woman), is a role-reversal play on the issue of one-man/many-women polygamous marriages.
“Have you ever danced with your hair?” the sisters ask at the beginning of “Afrodance.” At the Dakota concert I attended last year, the sisters looked like they were going to break their necks throwing their Afro-crowned heads round and round during an energetic performance of “Afrodance.” In one tongue-in-cheek verse of the song, Les Nubians sing to the tune of the 1980s electronic funk hit “White Horse,” “If you want to hide/just cut your hair short/if you want to be rich…/find a rich man like Bill Gates.”
Another fun-filled and message-filled song is the standout track on Nü Revolution: “Nü Soul Makossa” is a re-working of the legendary “Soul Makossa” by Cameroonian musician Manu Dibango. Those of you who are thinking, “I’ve never heard of that song” have definitely heard it without knowing it — the “mama-say, mama-sa, ma-ma ko-sa” chorus was copped by Michael Jackson for his hit “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” from the mega-blockbuster album Thriller. Dibango himself plays sax on this track; he previously was a guest on One Step Forward.
Other notable guests on the CD are independent modern soul mainstay Eric Roberson (who also performed at the Dakota last year) and Ghanaian-American rapper Blitz the Ambassador.
As with One Step Forward, the songs often mix French and English singing, rapping and even spoken interludes, as well as mixing modern soul, jazz, hip hop and sophisticated European pop — but in Nü Revolution, it’s all mixed with a heavy measure of pan-African music and messages of freedom, self-determination, positive self-images for people of African descent, and female empowerment. And in the end, it’s not a real revolution without laughter, joy and love, and there’s plenty of that on this album.
I haven’t been to a lot of shows at the Dakota, but the Les Nubians show I went to last year was one of the best two I’ve seen at the club (along with Lalah Hathaway). Even if “Makeda” is the only song you know by Les Nubians — or even if (gasp!) you’ve never heard anything by these Afro-pean soul sisters — I highly recommend you see their exuberant live show or cop their joyous, cross-cultural, bilingual CD. Or both if you can.
For information about Les Nubians’ June 26-27 shows at the Dakota, see the Spot listings on page 5. For more information about Les Nubians, go to www.lesnubians.com.
Stephani Booker welcomes reader responses to [email protected]