Afropean Soul Sisters Bring A 'Nu Revolution'

They burst onto the international music scene more than a decade ago, with a blend of European and African styles they call "Afropean." Now the French-based duo, Les Nubians is back with a new album serves up more of their global soulful sound. Guest host Farai Chideya speaks with the singing sisters about their latest project, as they perform a selection of songs off their album, titled Nu Revolution.

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(Soundbite of music)

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

Les Nubians, the Grammy-nominated recording group, has celebrated over 10 years of international success. The duo consists of sisters Helene and Celia Faussart. They're from France, with African roots. They arrived onto the music scene with a style of music they call Afropean, a blend of European and African Diaspora music styles. Their hit single "Makeda," from the debut album titled "Princesses Nubiennes," opened the door to an international following.

(Soundbite of song "Makeda")

LES NUBIANS (Group): (Singing in foreign language)

CHIDEYA: After two acclaimed albums, Les Nubians took a brief hiatus. But now they're back, with their third studio album. It's called "Nu Revolution."

When we invited them onto the program, we were just hoping for an early listen of their album, but they said that wasn't enough and they wanted to perform some songs. So we've moved next door from our home in Studio 4B into Studio 4A, in front of a live audience.

And here to give us an exclusive taste of their new album is the Les Nubians. (Foreign language spoken)

LES NUBIANS: Merci. (Foreign language spoken)

Ms. CELIA FAUSSART (Les Nubians): Thank you very much for inviting us.

CHIDEYA: Thank you, thank you.

(Soundbite of applause)

CHIDEYA: So what did you want to do with this new album that you hadn't done before?

Ms. HELENE FAUSSART: Well, this album is definitely more up-tempo, for example, than the other albums. We wanted to celebrate...

Ms. C. FAUSSART: Rejoice.

Ms. H. FAUSSART: We wanted to dance and rejoice. In this time of crisis and trouble - I mean, it's recession and Mother Earth is, you know, getting enraged. And we're living a quite troubled time. And I think there's no more room for mourning. We can't build, and we can't rebuild, anything with mourn. Celebration is definitely what we need.

My mother used to say when life is too hard on you, when the weight on your shoulder is too heavy, dance and you'll see that it's going to be lighter. So that's actually the - I would say the bottom line of that album.

CHIDEYA: And, you know, Celia, one of your - your album title is the same as one of the songs on the album. So can you tell me a little bit about the song "Nu Revolution," and then maybe we can hear a little bit about it?

Ms. C. FAUSSART: Oh, sure. "Nu Revolution" is the key of this album. It's the main topic because we're living in new times. So nu - nu like Nubians, and new like brand new - and revolution because in revolution there is rev. In French, rev means dream, so it's the evolution of a dream. It's also the evolution of, and the revolution through, woman - through Eve.

This album is how we materialize our dreams, and how we formulate new dreams to create the future. It's also how we put on all this energy of love and togetherness toward world citizenship, and us being as one.

CHIDEYA: Excellent. Well, I would be delighted to hear some, and I know everyone else here would as well.

(Soundbite of song, "Nu Revolution")

LES NUBIANS: (Singing) Tell me where you are from, and tell me where do you go? How safe is your home? Tell me where you like to go. Are we walking in the same direction? How are we paving the way? Can you feel this world is in motion and we are part of it? Yeah.

It's time for a nu revolution, as we're both changing every day for the better, as we sing to the words. Don't let the illusion be in your way.

Nu revolution has just begun. Nu revolution has just begun and long will be the rest of the journey. If you find yourself in need of affection, turn to your brother, he will bring love.

And if you are frightened, we close the hurt, your sister will take your pain away. And don't walk but yourself, who'd ever guide you in the blessing light of a new day.

It's time for a nu revolution. It's time as we're all changing every day, for the better as we sing to the words. Don't let the illusion be in your way. Love. Make love. Make love. Make love. Make love. Make love. Make love. Make love. Make love. Make love. Make love. Make love. Make love. Make love. Make love. Make love. Sing love.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. H. FAUSSART: Thank you. Thank you.

CHIDEYA: That was just magnifique. And it seems like you have such an intense positivity about you. You know, going back to these questions of where we are in the world, you spent part of your childhood in Chad, which is south of Libya -and of course, Libya is one of the countries where we are seeing upheaval, unrest, bloodshed.

First of all, maybe you can tell me a little bit about what Chad was like when you were growing up, and then how does it make you feel to watch all the images of unrest?

Ms. H. FAUSSART: Well, it was a country in war...

Ms. C. FAUSSART: Against Libya at that time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. H. FAUSSART: Against Libya at that time, that turned into a civil war later. So I guess I like, actually, your question because I believe that our positivity is coming from that time - because when things are basically going wrong and everything is so wrong around you, you know, you need to find resources to kind of stay alive and, you know, continue your life. And actually, I think that we in Chad, we learned that you have to stay positive in life because the worst is just at your door.

Ms. C. FAUSSART: And also, like, when you grew up in a place like that, words like peace and love, like universal love or democracy, they are words that make sense. They are values that you're going to fight for it, that are going to be in your spinal cord and you know that's - you feel it, that that's what you're going to fight for. And it's not those naive...

Ms. H. FAUSSART: It's not vanity or...

Ms. C. FAUSSART: It's not vanity. It's not shallow. It's real purpose because you see. You are obliged, when you grow up in a country like Chad, to be aware of what is geopolitics. So you are obliged to know what's going on in all the countries around because Chad is, really, right in the middle of Africa.

Of course, this path gives us directly a consciousness and awareness of what -if we go into music, for example, instead of going into diplomacy, that was because it was part of...

Ms. H. FAUSSART: Because that was part of our...

Ms. C. FAUSSART: ...of our possibility.

Ms. H. FAUSSART: ...path.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. C. FAUSSART: If we're going into music, what music do we want to bring to the people? What is the message we want to bring to the people? And into our influences, we discovered through our role models - people like Fela Kuti or Bob Marley - that yes, music is a weapon. Music is a way to make a leverage into the world, to help people rising to another level of consciousness and make them act.

CHIDEYA: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Farai Chideya. We're speaking with the musical group Les Nubians about their latest album, "Nu Revolution."

I'm sure there's a lot of stereotyping that comes your way for any number of reasons - because you're women; because you're, you know, from a global family with French and Cameroonian roots; because you play what sometimes, in America, gets lumped into the world-music category, even though it's a million different types of music. So what do you do when you feel like somebody's trying to put you in a box?

Ms. C. FAUSSART: We get out of the box.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. C. FAUSSART: You know, as soon as they try to put the top - we push it and we're like oh, out. Cool.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. C. FAUSSART: No, we - I have just a simple way of thinking about things. The world is going in a certain way, so it's like hopping in a train. So we're in a train; we're going that way. And some people are going another way. And that's OK, you know.

CHIDEYA: Right.

Ms. C. FAUSSART: We know where we are going, so they will not stop...

CHIDEYA: You've got direction.

Ms. C. FAUSSART: ...us. You can try to communicate and enlight - with people. But then, prejudice is just prejudice. We don't have time for that in our energy.

CHIDEYA: Absolutely. But we have time for more music.

Ms. H. FAUSSART: Yes. And we have a guest.

CHIDEYA: Oh, yeah?

Ms. H. FAUSSART: Mr. John Banzai, directly from Paris.

CHIDEYA: Wonderful.

(Soundbite of song, "Veuillez Veiller Sur Vos Reves")

Mr. JOHN BANZAI: Les Nubians. Ba, ba, ba, ba, Banzai.

LES NUBIANS: (Singing) Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey.

Mr. BANZAI: (Singing in foreign language).

LES NUBIANS: (Singing) Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey.

Mr. BANZAI: (Singing in foreign language).

LES NUBIANS: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken).

Mr. BANZAI: Singing in foreign language).

LES NUBIANS: (Singing) Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey,

Mr. BANZAI: (Singing in foreign language)

LES NUBIANS: (Singing) Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey,

Mr. BANZAI: (Singing in foreign language).

LES NUBIANS AND Mr. BANZAI: (Singing in foreign language) Do not let your dreams fall asleep.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. H. FAUSSART: So John wrote that song, and many other songs, for Les Nubians in the last 10 years. John is responsible for "Amour a Mort." He's responsible for "Temperature Rising," too. And he wrote that amazing lyrics - about our dreams. It's called - the translation says, do not let your dreams fall asleep.

Ms. C. FAUSSART: (Foreign language spoken).

Ms. H. FAUSSART: (Foreign language spoken). It's pretty hard.

CHIDEYA: It's a tongue-twister.

Ms. H. FAUSSART: It is. It's especially tough, tongue-twisting.

CHIDEYA: I speak a little French - not much. But I can understand most of your lyrics. But you have fans who don't understand your French lyrics at all. How do you use your voice and your - you know, just your music to communicate across that language barrier?

Ms. H. FAUSSART: We grew up listening to so many different music in so many different languages, and we never felt like there were - a barrier anywhere. We could definitely dive and relate to all of those songs, even if it wasn't in (foreign language spoken) or in other languages. We felt it. I guess what we're doing is the same. As you say, some may understand. Some don't understand the true - the melodies through the music. They...

Ms. C. FAUSSART: The music, the choice of music.

Ms. H. FAUSSART: Yeah. I guess they feel, you know, what we're talking about. I remember - you know, touring, you meet this wonderful audience of ours. And they come to us and they're like, oh my God, this song - for example, on the first album, "Si Je T'Avais Ecoute" - she's like, I don't understand a word of that song, but there's so much sorrow. There's so much pain in there. It's like a woman is crying. What is happening in that song? Wow.

I was looking at that lady, and I was struck because we were talking about abortion. And she could like definitely feel it through the music ,without the words. And this is where I felt very proud of our music because it was a confirmation that we were doing it the right way - that what we wanted to express is in there.

CHIDEYA: And you even have a little interlude - (foreign language spoken) - about communicating, you know, like, with your African relatives. And even though, you know, you don't know all the words, you have the heart, you have the spirit of it.

Ms. H. FAUSSART: Exactly.

CHIDEYA: But here's one more question before we have to let you go -regretfully, but with more song. OK: You're sisters, and you're working together, and you're traveling together. Is that stressful? Does that, like ...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: ...wear you out or is it?

Ms. H. FAUSSART: I wouldn't use the word stressful because I don't think it's stressful.

Ms. C. FAUSSART: No. No. No.

Ms. H. FAUSSART: But of course, we're sisters so there's all the sister thing. Oh, you took my thing away. Will you give it back? So there's a lot of bickering and, you know, sister thing bah-bah-bah, and you and me, and you are, you did this. But at the end of it, it doesn't even stay long. It's - you know, then you go in your room, you wait a little bit, and then we're back again. And then we have to communicate. We're family.

CHIDEYA: Absolutely. Helene and Celia Faussart make up the group Les Nubians. Their new album "Nu Revolution" will be in stores in April.

So what song are we going to go out on?

Ms. H. FAUSSART: Hmm.

We're going to take you on an "Afrodance."

Ms. H. FAUSSART: Yeah. We declare 2011 the return of the Afro.

Ms. C. FAUSSART: Yes.

Ms. H. FAUSSART: I think that we're living - you know, everyone is like, oh yeah, let's - you know - be organic; let's recycle, all those stuff.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. H. FAUSSART: Right. Let's take care of your hair, too. Let's be natural there.

Ms. C. FAUSSART: Let's be natural

Ms. H. FAUSSART: You know, let's get back to the organic way. Your Afro is wonderful, beautiful. Keep it like this. Natural is beautiful. Return of the Afro right now.

Ms. C. FAUSSART: Strength of the lion and lioness.

Ms. H. FAUSSART: Yeah.

(Soundbite of song, "Afrodance")

Ms. H. FAUSSART: Yeah. Let's wear our crowns.

CHIDEYA: And that's our program for today.

Remember to tell us more, you can always go to npr.org and find us under the Programs tab. You can also follow us on Twitter. Just look for TELL ME MORE NPR.

I'm Farai Chideya. You've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

There's more talk tomorrow.

(Soundbite of song, "Afrodance")

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