When French neo-soul artists Les Nubians return to Washington this weekend as part of the D.C. Jazz Festival, the sisters know that they are among friends. “We love D.C. - every time we come to D.C. it’s like you’re coming to family,” says Hélène Faussart, who with her sister Célia first made waves in 1998 with the release of their debut album “Princessse Nubienne.”
Since their debut, the Grammy-nominated duo has gone on to make a name for themselves in the global soul scene, most recently with their 2011 album, “Nu Revolution” The sisters will perform a two-show set on Saturday at The Hamilton and talked with The RootDC about their personal and professional relationship, the secret to their longevity, and how soul music has taken over the globe.
What is it like to have both a professional and personal relationship with your sibling? How have you been able to maintain that relationship with each other?
Hélène - One remembrance I have that is very important is that we had the chance to work with drum master Doudou N’Diaye Rose from Senegal...he told us “You have to stick together. It is a magic that is unique. You are from the same block, and making music this way, is making it really special. So stick together and stay in that energy.” ‘Cause we’re sisters - we bicker sometimes. Sometimes we may not have the same opinion on stuff, but it’s always a good reminder of what to do and why we’re sticking together.
Célia - We’re sisters, so personally...there is no way of getting over [that]. And then I think on the professional side, as my sister says it’s very magical. I think that the energy and the power that you can give and share as being a family group is really one of a kind - it’s very particular energy.
How has your music helped to shape and redefine “soul” music?
C - I think that our first album and our music brought an opening to global soul. The fact that our first album “Princesses Nubiennes” is part of the first neo-soul albums - we are in that movement of the pioneers when the genre was defining itself. I think that we brought to soul, and by America accepting and loving our music this way, we brought a different branch to the tree. We brought a different flavor, a different possibility to soul, and to neo-soul. When we look back, it gave a lot of strength to other soul artists from other parts of the world to be original. Our success helped open another road for Afro-pean soul music and global soul music in general.
Why did you choose to be recognized by the name “Les Nubians?”
H - Because we needed to be reminded about our roots. In France, we were shocked to discover how [little] people knew about black people in general, that there were too many cliches. As we say in ‘Makeda’ if you don’t know where you’re from, you don’t know where you’re going. We also wanted to talk to our black people in the world and calling ourselves ‘nubians,’ we’re creating unity there, and not like a segmented portion of people. It’s definitely talking to our black people throughout the world and the rest of the world, because we’re international citizens.
What are you both working on next?
H - We’re working on distributing and licensing the project in Europe, Africa and South. America. We’re working on videos - there will be new videos for the fall - and a remix project of Nu Revolution. It’s super-yummy, I’m super-excited - there will be some good surprises for listeners and for dance-floor lovers.
You released your first album in 1998 and are still recording and performing together after 14 years - what has been the secret to your longevity?
Together: Hard work!
C - When you get to the brand, it’s a lifestyle, it’s original, it’s a one-of-a-kind experience. The people who come to our shows, the people who listen to our music - they all know that Les Nubians is a particular genre, a particular aesthetic. It’s a particular type of energy-sharing on stage.
H - But there were some ups and down. This is definitely life, and I artists are even more sensitive to those matters. I think this is what makes the difference in between a craftsman - because he’s always continues to do his craft. It’s faith - I think faith and dedication to what you’re doing - even in hard times, you don’t abandon [that]. You’re just like “Okay, that’s what I’m supposed to do, and I’m doing it.” Of course - the road is rocky. Dedication, faith, hard work - is definitely what is also driving us.
Traveling to the diaspora, bridges that we’re building in to cultures and different people and all of that - it’s such an amazing adventure. and this is an amazing call, I would say. I’m very honored and proud to answered the call.
Les Nubians will perform June 2 at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. at The Hamilton, located at 600 14th Street, N.W.
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