Since 1999, the French/African duo Les Nubians have bewitched listeners with their blend of African music, hip hop, and jazz. Their breakthrough album, Princesses Nubiennes, spawned the hypnotic track, “Makeda”—while sung entirely in French, the heavy beat as well as Helene and Celia Faussart’s lovely harmonies held universal appeal. Their latest album, Nü Revolution, continues their musical journey, proving that the duo’s initial success was no fluke.
Virtually every track on Nü Revolution shines, with their messages of positivity and unity. As with their previous albums, language does not present a barrier for understanding. “Les Gens” recalls Princesses Nubiennes in its hip-hop and world music mixture and the sisters’ perfectly blended harmonies. This song has the potential to become a radio hit similar to “Makeda.” With a slightly off-kilter rhythm, “Déjà Vu (Already You)” lets Les Nubians trade vocals with soul singer Eric Roberson. The most straightforward hip hop track, “Veuillez Veiller Sur Vos Rêves (J.Period Remix)” features guest John Banzaï, who raps entirely in French. The thumping beat, however, transcends language.
The title track, sung in English, recalls Stevie Wonder in terms of its bass line and message of positivity. “It’s time for a new revolution/With the world changing every day,” they chant, urging listeners to “make love” and “give love.” In addition, a celebratory tone pervades each song, such as the catchy “Nü Soul Makossa,” based on the heavily sampled 1972 Manu Dibango single, “Soul Makossa.” Dibango provides the saxophone while the Faussart sisters repeat the oft-imitated “mama-se, mama-sa, ma-ma-ku-sa” refrain (Michael Jackson also borrowed this phrase for his “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”).
Displaying their African roots, the whimsical “Afrodance” invites everyone to “get scandalous” and to “shake your afro.” Sure, the track may use the familiar “everyone get on the floor” theme, but they add quirky elements to distinguish the song from such other tunes. Using African-tinged rhythms, Les Nubians even reference the “if you want to be rich” line from the Laid Back hit “White Horse.” These elements all result in fun Afropop that is sure to burn up dance floors. “Africa for the Future” is straight-up Afropop (see legendary Nigerian artist Fela Kuti for more examples of the genre), with a shuffling beat and rapid guitar riffs.
Nü Revolution is more than about partying, however—as on their previous albums, Les Nubians include thoughtful, slow to midtempo tracks as well. “Vogue Navire (Sail On)” contains Wonder-esque harmonica as well as a piano riff that recalls Ashanti’s “Foolish.” But the sisters’ smooth vocals sung in their native French add an international flavor to this lovely ballad. The exotically beautiful “Je M’en Occupe (I’m Taking Care Of It)” interlude fuses African rhythms with French lyrics, with no percussion other than handclaps and, in essence, beatboxing.
With each album, the group has experienced even greater creative growth. Nü Revolution represents Les Nubians’ best work yet, and it gives the listener an instant education in Afropop and world music. No fluency in French is necessary for appreciating these sophisticated tunes and pounding rhythms. Overall, Nü Revolution ranks as one of the best albums I’ve heard thus far in 2011.