“We sing in the language that we dream in, that we love,” said Helene Faussart one, half of the Afropean Grammy-nominated group Les Nubians. “Celia and I share the love of music and art and since we grew up together we decided to sing together.”
Indeed it has been 15 years since Les Nubians started their journey, two sisters born in Bordeaux, France from a French father and a Cameroonian mother. An unconventional group with a sophisticated style of Jazz, R&B, African beats and French lyrics with a touch of Sade, Soul II Soul and Miriam Makeba. With their Afropean sound, Les Nubians will make you dance and sweat while giving you the opportunity to sing along with them in their native tongues as well as engaging in their roots to the fullest.
Singersroom: Helene what does Les Nubians mean?
Helene Faussart: Les Nubians mean from Nubia. It was a way for us to pay tribute to the motherland and to talk about black people as one people. When we got back from Africa to France we were quite shocked to discover that French people didn’t know much about Africa. [They were] only thinking about Africa as a starving continent, a place with no history, no pride, nothing to [establish] the black culture. Talking about les Nubians which is the first black civilization [was] a way to let them know that Africa has a long past history of billions; an amazing country that is actually the basis of our nowadays culture.
Singersroom: Was it hard for you to be accepted by both cultures since you are from a French father and a Cameroonian mother and also due to the fact that you grew up in Chad (Africa) as well as in France?
Helene Faussart: It was definitely [an enchantment] in humanity and life. This world can carry the most beautiful things and the ugliest things. We grew up in the country (Chad) where there was a war, we live beside war. It was part of our education at that time, opening your eyes on geopolitics; you cannot go in a place like that and feel disconnected from the world. Then you have a bigger vision of what the world is in terms of interest, politics and economy. [At a very young age] we kind of developed that interest for our nowadays world â¦because it opened our eyes on humanity and how we can live through the most painful experiences in life and through the most beautiful experiences in life, because the motherland is so rich, it really nourishes you, it really feeds you.
Singersroom: You talked about your life in Chad but what about France?
Helene Faussart: When we got back to France after Chad, we were a little odd because we didn’t have conception habits. In Chad we didn’t have so many shops, so shopping, it’s like an activity. For example you shop because you have needs, you don’t shop to just shop, that’s a concept that’s just unreal in Chad. And until now it’s very hard to get into that shopping fever because this is not how we grew up. Also the way people in France were selfish [which] was the main difference and [also] racism.
Singersroom: Since your 1999 U.S. debut album, Les Princesses Nubienne, do you think that the musical scene has changed enough for you to release another French album?
Helene Faussart: Yes we can definitely do Soul music in French and make it sound personal, inspiring and not being a copy cat. For Les Nubians, our main concern was to do music that really looks like us, [music] that we are, music that reflects our identity. We took the best and eventually â¦our music has been embraced and understood.
Singersroom: I know that you consider yourself Afropean but what does the word mean to you?
Helene Faussart: Afropean means what I am, being of African descent and being of European descent [as well as] growing up in Europe and in Africa and growing up with all of the influences from all [the other] communities. In France we have a strong African community, a very strong Caribbean community and the African American community that affects Europe [for years]. Our identity has been denied [by] the French media for a long time, so the only black references that we have are coming from America. I have a very good friend and rapper name Casey, she sings “we are not seating on two chairs but we are seating on three chairs,” which is the American chair, the French-European chair, and the African one.
Singersroom: How important it is for Les Nubians to combine their Afropean roots into their music?
Helene Faussart: There were no other ways we can do music. When we began singing back in the day we were doing Acappela shows and we were covering music â¦from traditional African songs, to cotton field songs, to Gospel and going into the different Diaspora of South America, Caribbean, or singing Samba, then jam from England and so on. Then [little by little] we quite define ourselves like what really touches us, what type of beats, what type of arrangements we would like to appear. It is also important for us not to lose our identity in our music, and our music can only be the reflection of ourselves and we are Afropean, we couldn’t be something else. It’s funny because when we did our album people were asking us “how you can define your music?” We were answering, we don’t define our music, it’s Afropean music, it’s the only definition I can give. But to tell you it’s Soul, it’s R&B, it’s Jazz, it’s Afro, it’s Hip/Hop, and [well] it’s everything that’s there.
Singersroom: How does it feel to be the most successful French artists in the US?
Helene Faussart: Ca fait du bien (it feels good)â¦ (Laughs) the very first thing that I said to Celia (the other half of Les Nubians) is that, “At least the music that we’re doing is good music.” When we were growing up we listened to other artists like Miriam Makeba, Fela Kutiâ¦ We listened to Indian music, from my mother’ side, we couldn’t understand what those people were saying at all but they were doing music that touched us and that makes it music. The fact that our music can affect other places and [other] parts of the world beside the language [barrier] means that [we] are doing music and whoa, yeah, it’s great.
Singersroom: To continue on the same idea according to the billboard charts, ‘Les Princesses Nubienne’ has been the most successful French language album in more than a decade, do you feel good about your accomplishment?
Helene Faussart: Completely, to do music for us is a true accomplishment. Meaning we are not pretending to be something else or we didn’t make the wrong choice. We didn’t fake it, we [did] so much, so that music can travel and go to different places in the world. It’s a real accomplishment but it’s not finished, so you cannot stay on this and say its okay I touched that star and I am done. I feel like I got my degree but to be a full doctor you have to practice and maybe when you will be 60 or 70 years old then you will look at your work and say “yes, ok I did well.”
Singersroom: Beside Miriam Makeba and Fela Kuti who else influence your music?
Helene Faussart: Ella Fitzgerald, Edith Piaf; artists who gave 100 percent of themselves and for whom singing was not just opening their voices and singing notes like birds but who put their entire soul into it.
Singersroom: Helene you have said that “music is every moment of your life,” why?
Helene Faussart: Each moment in life has a song, and I can’t see my life without it. In Africa and like other black and Latin cultures, music is there all the time. At home with our mother the day starts with a prayer that we sing and your life continues with music from school, from the streets, popular songs, music of every moment, music of death, sacred music, love music, childhood music and it’s sad that in our society people restrained themselves from it.
Singersroom: Helene, you have worked with Talib Kweli and The Black Eyed Peas, how was it like working with them?
Helene Faussart: It was a great time, we met amazing people. Talib Kweli and The Black Eyed Peas are really nice people. Kweli is an incredible lyricist and he’s involved in various causes, he’s a very conscience brother and very open. Actually the day we met, he brought me medicine, because I had the flu. It was my first time in NY during winter time, the wind just blew me away and knocked me downâ¦ (Laughs) At the hotel he gave me some medicine and I was like whoa! That is so nice and that is how our friendship begun. Kweli is perfect and we met Mos Def too, who is also an amazing person. Working with The Black Eyed Peas was another thing, these guys came to Paris back in the days and they were doing either their first show or second show there and the way they moved the crowd was just amazing, nobody knew about them, they came to [do] their show and they had a ball. I went to them and I introduced myself and I was like “thank you for the show, let ‘s get in touch” and WI.L.L.I.A.M called us to do the tracks. He is a real musical freak, meaning his musical universe is so huge, you can do whatever, he’s so creative, and he never closes the door to an idea.
Singersroom: In 2004, you were nominated for a Grammy Award in the best urban alternative category alongside Erykah Badu, Outkast, Musiq and Kelis. Were your emotions at a high?
Helene Faussart: We were the happiest girls in the world. The day we heard that we screamed so loud. Of course we felt it like a blessing, it was an accomplishment, and we felt like ok now, we are getting a new degree. Next time we gonna have to winâ¦ (Laughs)
Singersroom: Your second album ‘One Step Forward’ took you back to a journey, can you describe the experience?
Helene Faussart: In ‘One Step Forward’ we wanted to go a little further â¦ so it was mainly like a meeting of us with a few producers and traveling to meet them. It’s funny how ‘One Step Forward’ opened [doors] for a new territory, we’ve been with that album in places that we have never been before.
Singersroom: For the people out there who don’t know who Les Nubians are and who have never been to one of your shows, what do you want them to know about the way you perform?
Helene Faussart: When you come to a Les Nubians show you gonna have music, that you will be able to meditateâ¦ music that will make you dance and sweat. Be prepared to [experience] an interactive moment because we are sharing and communicating a lot with the audience.
Singersroom: After spending 15 years in the business, do you have any regrets?
Helene Faussart: No regrets. (Helene singing in French) It’s a name of one of our songs, if I had to do it again, I will do it again without hesitation.
Singersroom: What’s next for Les Nubians?
Helene Faussart: The third album, it’s cooking. It will be done in different countries across France, US, and Africa. We hope to have it done by next year and then go on tour.
Singersroom: (Celia Faussart just walked in) Hey Celia how you doing?
Celia Faussart: I am doing good, sorry for the delay but I was stuck in traffic.
Singersroom: It’s ok. I won’t keep you long, I am sure you must be tired and all, so I will ask you one question .With you being the baby of the group, does Helene respect your input?
Celia Faussart: We are Africans, she is the elder, she’s not in charge, she plays the role but it really depends. Sometimes I feel like she does not listen to my ideas. We find a way to make it happen anyway. [Other times] I feel like she does not listen to me cuz I am the baby. So I have to repeat myself three or four times but then sometimes I can say something and she say yeah, there’s no pressure on it, we’re African so I have to show respect. —— By: Interview By Valerie Varasse