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Les Nubians up the tempo

Sisters Celian (left) Helene Faussart are Les Nubians.

Sisters Celian (left) and Helene Faussart are Les Nubians.

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When : 8 p.m.

Where : The Shrine, 2109 S. Wabash

Tickets : $15-$20 (21+)

Info : (312) 753-5700,

Updated: September 6, 2013 6:29PM

When sisters Helene and Celia Faussart released their debut album “Princesses Nubiennes” in 1998, Les Nubians’ blend of urban rhythm and blues, Afrobeat, soul, cool jazz and hip-hop was an innovative breath of fresh air. The native Parisians’ French lyrics and African roots traditions added further intrigue.

Adventurous American audiences connected with early single “Makeda,” a song closely aligned with Les Nubians’ principal theme of embracing ones’ culture. “This song was carrying the declaration of faith of Les Nubians,” says Helene. “We’re saying if you don’t know where you’re from, you don’t know where you’re going.”

Les Nubians will perform at the Shrine on Sept. 7, bringing songs from 2011’s celebratory “Nü Revolution.”

Many of the duo’s newer songs blend English and French lyrics about themes that cross borders. “Liberte” mentions freedom and equality espoused 50 years ago by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Helene professes admiration for measurable ways that America has honored King’s ideals.

“What I thought was amazing with the Obama presidency is that it was possible in America in less than a century,” she says. “It’s an amazing transformation of the society in only 50 years. Now, the question that we are asking is what will be the next big collective dream?”

“Nu Soul Makossa” updates the classic 1972 African disco single “Soul Makossa” by Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango. Already a hit, the song’s chanting hook exploded into pop culture when Michael Jackson grafted it into 1983’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Something.” Nearly 40 years following the original, Dibango collaborated personally with Les Nubians for a song protesting social injustices and unfulfilled promises.

“He’s like a very dear uncle,” says Helene of Dibango. “When I was four years old, my parents went to the Olympia to see Manu Dibango performing. My mother brought some flowers for Manu. My parents put me on stage to bring the flowers. I gave him the flowers and refused to get out of the stage for the rest of the show.”

Helene and Celia have often praised their late mother’s strong example. A Cameroonian native with practical ideas, the pair’s mother once recommended securing jobs as doctors or lawyers, in addition to creating music. Les Nubians may represent a different path, but the sisters have achieved much while honoring their mother. Says Helene, “We always agreed with our mother that music is one of the most beautiful forms of diplomacy.”

Les Nubians have often been recognized for musical and social efforts including work with children’s charities. The Faussarts were honored in December as Musicians of the Year by the annual African Diaspora Awards, recognizing support of the African community within the United States. “To receive this award from the African diaspora in New York City was definitely a sign that my sister and I were on our true path,” says Helene.

Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.

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