Les Nubians presents Echos
Sisters Helene and Celia Faussart of the Grammy-nominated French urban music duo Les Nubians has always had an affinity for poetry. That love has culminated with 'Echos, Chapter One: Nubian Voyager',' a unique and remarkable project more than five years in the making. 'Echos, Chapter One: Nubian Voyager' brings together contemporary slam and musical poetry scenes with the ancient tradition of the Griot, the sacred African storyteller and oral historian. Ahmadou Hampate Ba, The Last Poets, Zora Neale Hurston Amiri Baraka, Maya Angelou also paved the way for this project. 'Echos, Chapter One: Nubian Voyager' will be released
'Echos, Chapter One: Nubian Voyager' finds Les Nubians telling a new story with deep roots. Conceived and co-produced by Helene, the project features a remarkable group of French and English-speaking urban poets -- Souleymane Diamanka, John Banzaï, C.Lia, Anouch, Zuga, Chuma, Fisiwe, Jamahrl Crawford, Kasema Kalifah, Nazelah Jameson and Queen Godis. Singer Claire Keim ("Lipstik") also provides backing vocals. Les Nubians have also included three new tracks including "Rendezvous" with John Banzai and previously unreleased live versions and remixes from their groundbreaking debut album. 'Echos, Chapter One: Nubian Voyager' is a new wave of poetic expression that is redefined through street inspiration and a new vocabulary, with urban rhythms borrowed from hip-hop.
The sisters began to formulate 'Echos, Chapter One: Nubian Voyager' while on a boat journey to Nubia (a region of southern Egypt and Sudan) to celebrate New Year's Eve 2000. They were amazed at the beauty of the land and its people and appalled by the discrimination facing the Nubians. Helene promptly canceled her hotel room. She says, "I decided to give that money to my Nubian brothers. So I stayed and I slept on the boat. We spent the whole night talking about what their lives were like, how is it to be twenty-something in Nubia. We listened to some music. We shared a lot of things." By morning, the ideas behind 'Echos, Chapter One: Nubian Voyager' were fully formed. "For me, that was the revolution of the new millennium," adds Helene.
Les Nubians had previously toured the United States in 1999, befriending many talented musicians and poets; they held a contest in each city to find the best poet, who performed onstage with the duo. Helene also found some talented French wordsmiths. Amazingly, the poems all come together to form one narrative, the story of the 'Nubian Voyager,' which is divided into four sections: La Terre-mere/Motherland; Urban City Life/Dans La Ville; Des Hommes Et Des Femmes/Love Stories; Spiritual Human Nature/Les Elements.
"When they recorded the poems a cappella," Helene says, "I could feel the energy when they performed their poetry After the recording was done, I knew what type of beats, what type of instruments, the BPM, I knew what type of music would definitely put a spotlight on their poetry." Working with Les Nubians veteran Mounir Belkhir, the soulful producer of the US hit track "Makeda," Helene knew what she was looking for. She set up sympathetic musical backgrounds for the poets that complemented their voices and words, allowing them to speak outside of a strict meter. For example, Helene and Mounir drew inspiration for the accompaniment to Kasema Kalifah' poem "New York City" from the late 1970s oeuvre of New York new wave music and the decadent Studio 54 scene. For another track, Helene wanted to create a spacious effect. She told Mounir, "That track is something mellow and we'll have very few drums. We are going to use everything that will bring us to the air elements so I need a lot of flutes. I need a lot of violins."
Everything fell into place in what Helene calls "little miracles." For example, when she came to New York to record, she could not find a studio. The night before she was supposed to leave town, her friend invited her to dinner with a few people, one of which had a studio with time available. Guest producers Yogi & Wamba, Brian Frazier Moore, Kevin Arthur, Lee Hamblin and Jason 'Katt' Chue also contributed. The music and poetry were recorded in Marseille, Bordeaux, Paris, London, New York, and San Francisco.
Multi-cultural sensibilities come naturally to Les Nubians. Born to a French father and Cameroonian mother, Helene and Celia learned how to sing at a young age. Inspired by a backstage meeting with jazz singer Abbey Lincoln (who encouraged them to "do it-the greatest thing in the world is to be a singer!"), the group pursued their music relentlessly. Their debut, 'Princesses Nubiennes' (Higher Octave/Virgin), was a successful amalgam of the music they'd experienced during their life travels, combining their African roots with jazzy nuances, funky rhythms and a hint of British soul, all delivered in their uniquely elegant French style. 'Princesses Nubiennes' became the most successful French-language album in more than a decade of Billboard charts.
The acclaimed 'One Step Forward' (Omtown) album followed, seeing Les Nubians joined by African jazz legend Manu Dibango, pianist Ray Lema, classical musician Benjamin Biolay, dancehall reggae stars Morgan Heritage, UK electronica wizard I.G. Culture, Belkhir and more. More recently, Les Nubians have presided over an explosion in the French slam scene. The sisters oversaw the artistic direction of the Carnival of Bordeaux in France, bringing poetry in the form of workshops, performances, and public billboard displays.
Helene knows that, like a modern day Griot, she has more stories to tell. This album is just the first chapter in what promises to be an ongoing series for Les Nubians. Helene says, "We'll tell another story, still a voyager story because this is my life. I love that nomadic experience because it opens us to humanity."