I had the wonderful experience of seeing my very first Les Nubians concert at La Maison Française, which is located at the French Embassy in Georgetown. The concert was part of an event dubbed “Grand Fête de la Francophonie,” which is just one of the many events taking place as part of the annual Francophonie Festival (which ends April 15). Over 35 French-speaking countries were represented, each sharing their distinctive foods, arts and crafts, and other cultural traditions.
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With their trademark tribal make-up, bouncy afros (which they later demonstrated how to shake), African jewelry, cowrie shell belts, and body glitter, it was clear that Les Nubians (made up of sisters Hélène and Célia) was ready to hypnotize us with their mix of soul, jazz, hip-hop, and the French language. They wasted no time getting into the material from their new album, Nü Revolution, which will be available on April 12. Some of the standout performances from this album included: “Nü Soul Makossa”, which is a remake of the 70’s disco-funk hit by saxophonist and fellow Cameroonian Manu Dibango (and made more famous by Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”); current single “Veuillez Veiller Sur Vos Rêves” which included an appearance from French rapper John Bonzai; “Afro Dance,” which started with a funky interpretation of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance;” and “Déjà Vu,” which is performed on the album as a duet with Eric Roberson. For good measure, they performed popular songs from their two previous albums like “Makeda,” “Tabou,” and “Temperature Rising.”
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Les Nubians have had 13 years to perfect their stage show, and they didn’t miss a beat. The one thing that stood out to me the most was that there was a lot of dancing, from Les Nubians and from the audience. Between songs, they would swivel their hips suggestively, break out into African dance, whip their hair like Willow Smith, and at one point they even broke out into a little hand dancing. Towards the end of the show, they had us jumping up and down, waving our hands in the air, and cha-cha sliding from left to right like a human ocean over a Carnival beat.
When I play a Les Nubians album, it’s usually followed by relaxing on the couch with a glass of wine. This new album has them exploring more upbeat rhythms, presumably having been influenced by the Detroit music scene, as well as their African roots (their mother is Cameroonian, and they used to live in Chad). While I wouldn’t call this a “dance” album, there are lots of moments where you will want to do just that. This new album is a celebration of a variety of things; namely, self pride, womanhood, and the election of our president Barack Obama which represented hope for many nations, just to name a few. The concert was a reflection of their celebration of life and the power that music has to unite us all. You need not speak or understand French to be able to enjoy what Les Nubians has to offer. DC is one of their strongest markets, so you might wanna make it a priority to be at their next show. Oh yeah…make sure you bring your dancin’ shoes.
Les Nubians’ new album, Nü Revolution, will be available on April 12.