Even if youre hip to the incredibly sultry, culturally grounded sounds of breakthrough international duo Les Nubians, here is one thing you may not know: 19-year-old Célia (aka C-Lia), and 23-year-old Hélène (aka LN) Foussart are daughters of hip hop. You may not know by listening to them. They dont rap. Their vibe is more eclectic than street, their imagery clearly African and reflective of the years they spent growing up in Chad. Their language, French, is derived from the other years they spent growing up in Bordeaux, France. Even their melodies tend to be more reminiscent of Miriam Makeba, Sade and Soul II Soul.
But at the bottom, the drums lay a foundation rooted in hip-hop culture. Their rhythms mix the spirits of the Bronx and the Nyabinghi drum. Dont take this reporters word for it, theyll tell you themselves.
"Our tracks are composed in hip-hop style the same spirit," says LN.
"Makeda, even if its smooth, is composed like hip hop. My philosophy of hip hop is to bring something out of nothing and nowhere."
"Were hip hop in the message," adds C-Lia.
Remember, hip hop was created on the backs of artists who were not hip hop. It fused such musical spectra as funk and disco. It created breakbeats, rhyme cadences and street credos using pre-existent music. And the vision of hip-hops parents Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Grandmaster Caz, Afrika Bambaataa was that their child would grow, create an even wider vision and add it to the continuum. Les Nubians have done a new thing with the vision that was hip hop.
The most beautiful thing about C-Lia and LN is that theyve managed to bridge so many cultural gaps on their debut, Princesses Nubiennes, while compromising little. "Nobody was really doing what we are doing," says C-Lia, who is becoming fluent in English by practicing on interviews. "We had to fight to find a place for us. When you know a situation like that, youre not frustrated. Youre prepared."
Using easy, smooth singing, live instrumentation, rap and poetry, they are spreading messages about such issues as oppression, abortion and distorted versions of African history. All the while, they maintain one bottom line.
"Its about love," C-Lia says, explaining the basis for their sound. "In all meanings. Respect is love. Tolerance is love. Fighting against ignorance is fighting for love. Understanding peoples pain is love. Thats what our album is about. Were talking about abortion, but not without moral meaning. Were talking about oppression also. Message is very important. We dont want to be vain. We have to stand and be involved in life. Thats not talking about politics. But its standing for something."
Their themes translate without translation. Only one song on Princesses Nubiennes is sung in English. But the French messages get across because Les Nubians have a rare ability to convey their spirit, and that energy that sends the right thoughts and actions with no translation necessary but if you must have it, log on to lesnubians.com, where the entire album is spelled out in English. Likewise, their parents referring to hip hop, not their biological French father and Cameroonian mother introduced hip hop to the world by peppering their beats and rhymes with social messages that signified the signs of the times.
Les Nubians are in the United States for the second time, but this is their first real tour. They promise an intimate affair with their live show. "Its like inviting people to our home," says C-Lia. "The bass, keyboard, drum. We really like small venues, because we are used to it. We enjoy when people are not very far from us. But in big venues, things can still happen. We opened for James Brown in Paris. It was our first big venue. It was great.
"What I want to say about the show is, in every city, we invite poets to the stage. We rehearse that day, then perform at night."
This will be the groups first time here, but they recognize and respect the Detroit area, culturally, as the place that birthed techno to the world.
They admit, however, that the lifestyle in Africa and France is, indeed, different from what theyve seen so far in America.
"In Africa, you are living for life. Not to buy," says C-Lia, explaining the major differences between American lifestyles and those of their homelands. "In France, money is still not of value. It is a way to achieve something, but you have to find a goal. They (the French) dont live to work. You live to have another achievement."
"Demain, demain, demain/Si il reste un lendemain/Demain, demain, demain/Je le veux en paix pour les miens/Que volera-tu demain?/La paix des miens."
(Translation: Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. If theres still a day after today, I want it for myself in peace. Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. What are you stealing? Peace is mine.)
For Les Nubians courageous music, thank Public Enemy and De La Soul. Thank Miriam Makeba and Sela. Thank Prince. Then be thankful that the cultural continuum has new blood. Khary Kimani Turner is a freelance writer for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]