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It's not just tree-hugging liberals who love LES NUBIANS


On “Tabou” (Roots Remix)

By Mtume ya Salaam of Kalamu.com


Newspaper columnist, playwright and poet Donald Marquis once said, “An idea isn’t responsible for the people who believe in it.” I agree with that. And, not only do I agree, I believe Marquis’ line of reasoning should be extended. In this case, we might extend it to music, as in: “A CD isn’t responsible for the people who like it.”


Back in 1998, two sisters (biologically, I mean) calling themselves Les Nubians released their debut album, Princesses Nubiennes. A few people whose opinions I usually trust told me I should give the album a listen. Despite their opinions, I resisted. I hadn’t yet heard of Don Marquis or his quote. Unconsciously, I made the CD responsible for the people who seemed to like it.


I won’t describe the people who are willing to spend nine bucks on garden-variety romantic ‘comedies.’ I’m not going to describe the people who spend their hard-earned money (or not-so hard-earned, for that matter) on organic produce. And I’m not going to describe the people who drive convertible Volkswagens with the little plastic flower next to the stereo.


But let’s just say that those are the same people who seemed to loooooove Helene and Celia Faussart AKA Les Nubians.


I recall, in fact, one particular person (who happened to be a melanin-challenged member of the fairer sex who literally followed me around a large record store attempting to convince me to purchase the Princesses Nubiennes album. The longer she kept it up, the more I resisted. Eventually, I had to make up some cockamamie story and duck into the manager’s office just to get away from her. By then I’d pretty much decided I was never going to listen to that damned album.



     The princesses on stage


* * *

One bright, sunny day a couple years later, I stopped by at my older sister’s apartment. We were hanging out in her sunroom and she was speaking to me about something or the other but I was barely able to pay attention because some of the most lush and gorgeous singing and playing I’d heard in quite a while was playing in the background.


As most of you already know, I pride myself on knowing at least a little something about all forms of Black music, especially anything modern, and it was obvious that the music Asante was listening to was both Black and modern. What wasn’t obvious was who it was singing and/or playing. In fact, I was completely clueless. I stayed quiet for as long as I could, running through my mental list of known artists and playing the ‘six degrees of separation’ game with myself.


Which got me nowhere.


Finally, although it hurt me to ask, I gave up the guessing game and popped the question. The conversation went like this:

Me: “’Sante, what are we listening to?”

Her: “Les Nubians.”

Me: “No shit?

Her: “Yep.”

Me: “Well. I guess the granola-munching, tree-hugging, convertible-driving chicks were right.”

Her: “What?”

* * *

I bought the Princesses Nubiennes CD the next day, and although I love nearly every song on it, this week’s feature selection is actually a non-album B-side. The way I see it, everyone reading this falls into one of two groups: 1) Those who already own the Princesses Nubiennes album and therefore have no need to download a song from it; and, 2) Those who should own the Princesses Nubiennes album and therefore should have no need to download a song from it either.


The feature track — an alternate version of Les Nubians’ French-language cover of Sade’s “Sweetest Taboo”—is subtitled ‘Roots Remix,’ but it is actually a remake. The original version appears on the album; for the new version, Les Nubians enlisted the The Roots band to provide all-new and all-live instrumentation. The result is something that sounds a bit more conventional than Les Nubians’ usual (which is to say, unusual) style, but I love it just the same.


And, just to encourage you few unfortunates who’ve never heard (or heard of) Les Nubians to purchase some of their music, here are some bonus tracks. “Sugar Cane” and “Demain” are from their 1998 debut.


Just keep in mind that as good as these tunes will undoubtedly sound to you, the first Les Nubians album is best experienced all at once, as an album. “Saravah” is from their 2003 release, One Step Forward, a collection that is both more scattered and more ambitious than its predecessor.


It also happens to be blessed with one of my all-time favorite cover photos.


With thanks to www.kalamu.com/bol where this piece was originally posted.


Mtume ya Salaam is a published writer and an expert on contemporary Black music. He lives in New Orleans, USA and can be reached at mtume_s@yahoo.com.


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