LES NUBIANS: A New Dawn
Tri-continental sirens Les Nubians explore the creative revolution, independence and the future of Africa.
Images: Jenny Baptiste
Let’s start with Nu Revolution, your new album. The idea of revolution is on every song, in one way or another. What are we fighting for?
Helene: The goal is to give our audience energy, faith, courage and consciousness. We’re living in a crazy world, how can we make a change? On the album I think that we are basically saying that the change starts with us. And having all this energy [on the album] is like putting us in motion, giving us the energy to get into action and not stay idle—just looking at the world crumbling around us and doing nothing.
The message is so profound it is akin to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On—and timeless! Interestingly, Celia and I were talking the other day about how right now feels a bit like the 1960s …
Celia: It is our ‘60s! It’s an artistic movement and it has to be the creation of artists that brings the humanity: that brings the unity and the community; that brings the people to another level. I think that has always been the purpose of art. And of course, we’re doing it as a movement, so every level is important. Music is important. Message is important. And performance is important. And we’re very happy as we’re touring right now to see that, “Yes, it’s reached the people. They get it.”
Helene: I think this is definitely how we see music and we go through our musical references, the people who gave us inspiration and the will to do what we do today, their music, their art is timeless. Fela Kuti, Bob Marley, Miriam Makeba, you were talking Marvin Gaye—all of those people timeless. The message was strong and is still carried and valued. Those were inspirations to us so I think quite naturally it is also what we are gravitating towards.
So how does it feel to be independent now, with your own label?
Celia: More work, definitely, more responsibilities. We are full entrepreneurs now. So it took us time to realign [after our mother passed away] and reorganize [after we left Virgin Records] our lives, to find our dream team of people that we really wanted to work with.
Helene: And it makes full sense, especially when you carry such messages it is a kind of guarantee that your message stays in tact. There is no compromise—the music or the message— that you have to do and it will reach the people the way that it was conceived and organized.
So what about the international space—the world— we are much more connected now than we’ve ever been, especially since your debut…
Helene: You know when we were making our debut album, we felt a little misunderstood, but maybe we were just a little too advanced. Maybe we were a little too early with what was going on in the world. I think with this album, we were on time. I think we all understand what we [Les Nubians] were/are talking about and how much it is important now.
At this point in your career, does it even matter what the naysayers think?
Celia: You have to trust your heart because it is your first compass. But also you have to uplift people, and open and broaden their horizons. You meet with them halfway. So those who are there already ready, understand exactly what you are talking about, but you have to also reach out to those who are in the process, or even those that didn’t even think about it because it can open some windows for them.
…We grew up with Hip-Hop and the first stage of Hip-Hop is peace, unity, love and having fun. So I think we’re pursuing all of those same ideas that are fundamental for us.
Needless to say, it all feels very personal. ”Liberte” gave my goosebumps. When you said: “Where were you” on the hook, whom were you talking to in this song?
Celia: We were talking to everyone.
Helene: Especially knowing that when we wrote ”Liberte”, we were literally going out of the Obama convention when he was running as a candidate. We attended that convention in the Joe Louis arena in Detroit with hundreds of thousands of people. We were talking to all of them, like if we had that conversation in the convention center with each of them. It was so powerful to see like all of those people of different generations, genders, religions, origins— pull together and pursuing a common goal with such faith. And when we finally got out of the convention center, everybody was so high without smoking or drinking anything! It was super special.
Whose idea was it to get Eric Roberson to sing in french?
Helene: We’re crazy. We like to get people out of character. We thought it would be super cute. And when he told me that he remembered his lines and everything, “Oh, my wife loves when I’m giving her those French words…”
Celia: So it worked! [laughs]
That’s real change! [laughs] But let’s talk about another change that is happening in the world. Africa is changing socially, politically and economically, how do you feel about all that is going on?
Celia: The change of a generation; the end of the old world and the beginning of a new one, with the old world still existing because that is how it was built—evolution, revolution. So how does Africa evolve from where it was? It is a very important, transitional time, where what’s really important there is who are those new leaders that we’re going to have. And we don’t only need one; we need several.
Helene: Fifty percent of Africa is under 18 years old. They are very sensitive to our messages. They are looking at us like, “You are our older brothers and sisters. You’re opening a path. We are right behind you.” They are ready and they’re seeking this new leadership.
Celia: And those new messages…
Helene: Like on our album there are a lot of sing-a-long songs, the path of Africa now is a sing-a-long. We have to be together and sing-a-long so we can achieve those objectives, those goals to take care of our continent [together]. Our continent is the next continent. Yes, it’s great to see all of those revolutions, but I have to tell you that I’m not worried because it looks now like a kind of economical war. Western countries are all trying to get their piece before it takes off. So our people will need a lot of energy and more than that, consciousness so that they will stand to defend what is theirs.
Celia: And they will check their leaders! So when they [the leaders] try to step out and do something crazy, we will let them know. How about that?
What does Africa in the future look like?
Helene: We’re looking at a new universe where third world leaders are now world leaders, like Brazil, China and India. It’s going to be the same with Africa. We’re coming….
Images by Jenny Baptiste.