15 Things You Didn’t Know About Les Nubians

With each passing day, I am astounished at the number of interracial relationships that existed in the 60s and 70s. Even though society frowned upon such unions, there was no holding back love for those who were determined. Such is the story of this French man and Cameroonian woman who found love amidst a prejudice and unaccommodating society.

This union would later produce sisters Helene and Celia Faussart, a French Neo-Soul group. 

During the early 1900s many European countries colonized African countries, it was not uncommon for these ‘white masters’ to be intrigued by the beauty that is African women. I can only imagine it was love at first sight for Mr. Faussart upon his trip to Cameroon.

Republic of Chad Reviewed…

Map of Chad and CameroonChad, officially known as the Republic of Chad, is a landlocked country in Central Africa. It is bordered by Libya to the north, Sudan to the east, the Central African Republic to the south, Cameroon and Nigeria to the southwest.

  • Chad is divided into multiple regions: a desert zone in the north, an arid Sahelian belt in the center and a more fertile Sudanese savanna zone in the south.
  • Lake Chad, after which the country is named, is the largest wetland in Chad and the second largest in Africa.
  • Chad’s highest peak is the Emi Koussi in the Sahara, and N’Djamena, (formerly Fort-Lamy), the capital, is the largest city.
  • Chad is home to over 200 different ethnic and linguistic groups.
  • Arabic and French are the official languages. Islam and Christianity are the most widely practiced religions.
  • Beginning in the 7th millennium BC, human populations moved into the Chadian basin in great numbers. By the end of the 1st millennium BC, a series of states and empires rose and fell in Chad’s Sahelian strip, each focused on controlling the trans-Saharan trade routes that passed through the region.
  • France conquered the territory by 1920 and incorporated it as part of French Equatorial Africa.
  • In 1960, Chad obtained independence under the leadership of François Tombalbaye. Resentment towards his policies in the Muslim north culminated in the eruption of a long-lasting civil war in 1965.
  • In 1979, the rebels conquered the capital and put an end to the south’s hegemony.

10 things you didn’t know about Les Nubians:

  1. Les Nubians 2Consisting of biracial sisters Helene and Celia Faussart, of French Caucasian and African descent, Les Nubians have been compared to such sultry British soul artists as Sade, Soul II Soul, and Des’ree, though their numerous nods to jazz, hip-hop, Afrobeat, and various other musical styles result in a mix that defies categorization.
  2. Les Nubians formed in a small town in Bourdeaux, France, where the Paris-born sisters lived as teenagers after returning from several years in the African country of Chad.
  3. Although Helene and Celia did not find themselves subject to much racial discrimination in Paris or Chad, things changed when they moved to a more rural environment, they began to encounter thoughtless questions about their heritage. Loneliness set in as well. “I was so disappointed and so lonely that I started singing more…, I started singing jazz,” Celia told the Washington Post in 1999.
  4. Helene was Nineteen years old, living by herself when she discovered   her sister tapes of artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Natalie Cole, further fueling her interest in that musical form.
  5. After the death of the girls’ father, Celia went to live with Helene and the duo began singing together.
  6. Les NubiansWith the release of their debut album, Princesses Nubiennes, in the United States in 1998, Les Nubians became the country’s top-selling French-language musical group in over a decade.
  7. Their music has been described as:  “Something like Sade fronting the Roots,” by the Denver WestwordWith Les Nubians, you had all the ingredients that would appeal to an African American female listenership. They sounded like a marriage between Sade and Erykah Badu, and it just happened to be in French, the most romantic language in the world.
  8. In an effort to foster greater cross-cultural understanding and to further explore their music, Helene and Celia helped found a cultural collective, Les Nouveaux Griots, named after the term for an African storyteller and keeper of heritage.
  9. Through the collective, Helene and Celia met famed jazz vocalist, actress, and political activist Abby Lincoln, who encouraged the pair to wholeheartedly pursue their singing, and Les Nubians became the sisters’ full-time pursuit.
  10. Young and with no musical training, they found it exceedingly difficult to find instrumentalists who would take them seriously, so originally they sang acapella. “From the beginning when we decided to sing together, we wanted to sing with a band,” Celia told the Post. “But no musicians trusted us. It was: ‘You’re too young…. You don’t have any experience…. You didn’t go to music school…. You don’t know anything about music so we won’t play with you!'”
  11. Before long, though, they caught the ear of Virgin International records and inked a recording dealPrincesses Nubiennes was recorded with Lee Hamblin at Soul II Soul studios in England, and the album was initially released in France, Switzerland, and Belgium in June of 1998.
  12. The reception in these French-speaking countries was lukewarm, however. Recognizing the value of catchy beats and soulful melodies in any language, the Virgin subsidiary Omtown/Higher Octave picked up the album for release in the United States, where it met with a much more enthusiastic reception.
  13. With airplay first on college stations, then in commercial markets in New Orleans, Chicago, and Philadelphia, Les Nubians soon began to catch on nationwide.
  14. The video for their single “Makeda” received heavy rotation on Black Entertainment Television (BET).
  15. Princesses Nubiennes (Les Nubians) became Billboard magazine’s top-selling French-language album in over a decade.

Quotes from Les Nubians:

Les Nubians 3 “The griot is someone who delivers the population its background, or they will give you your genealogy, or they will empower you with fictive tales, or they can be really realistic,” Helene explained to the East Bay Express.

“The collective “sought to make people discover the African diaspora by the gastronomy  by the music, by the art, by the literature and spoken word. Les Nubians are an extension of Les Nouveaux Griots—a way of talking about our Afropean identity, the promotion of the European and the African cultures in a mixed society,” Helene told the Washington Post.

” Celia reflected on the group’s border-defying appeal in Denver Westword: “Language cannot really be a barrier in music. It’s not the main purpose of music,” she said.

“That they would sing in their native tongue was never a question, Helene told fellow world-beat singer Angelique Kidjo in Interview. 

“We like singing in English, but it was important for us to compose in French because it is the language we speak every day,” she said. “It’s crucial when you are doing your art to express yourself in your own language.”

Visit iTunes to listen to more samples and to purchase music from Les Nubians. You can also visit their website for more information on tours, etc.


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