By Nia Hightower, DC Music Live
When you think of jazz, the music of global soul group Les Nubians may not be top of mind, but the sister “Afropean” duo says jazz is very much a part of its own sound.
Les Nubians, who will perform tonight at The Hamilton, is part of this year’s DC Jazz Festival, which runs June 1-10. The duo will perform songs from its last four albums that feature a blend of soul, afrobeat, hip-hop and, of course, jazz.“Jazz has a legacy,” says Helene Faussart, one half of the neo-soul group from France. “The jazz greats [such as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and John Coltrane] that you think of today have died already, but has it stopped jazz?”
If anything, the group says the musical genre has continued to grow and manifest through other various genres including the group’s latest album, Nu Revolution, which was released last year in the United States.
Though it’s the sisters’ first time at DC Jazz Fest, they are no strangers to jazz festival performances. Just last year, they sang at the Monterey Jazz Festival in California, following Roy Hargrove, who also will play during the 10-day festival in D.C.
“Jazz audiences look at you in the beginning, and they look kind of puzzled,” recalls Helene referring to audience reaction to her group’s sound. “But then, they get it.”
She and sister Celia Faussart say it’s good to see jazz festivals opening their shows to different forms and variations of jazz since their own music has been heavily influenced by it.
“We are jazzheads,” says Helene. “Celia is a songbook when it comes to jazz music.”
From American jazz to African jazz to Caribbean jazz, Celia says the genre is “infinite.”
“The freedom of form and the love of music is what jazz brings,” she explains. “Mixing it with [our music] makes it very special.”
The two note the impact jazz continues to have on today’s music, pointing to collaborations with R&B and hip-hop artists found on jazz musician Robert Glasper’s Black Radio Music album, released earlier this year. Helene also notes how electronic music dabbles in samples from the jazzcentric Bluenote record label.
“And Igmar Thomas performs the jazz found in a Tribe Called Quest,” Celia says about the jazz trumpeter, composer and bandleader’s tribute to the popular 1990s rap group. “There’s so much jazz in hip-hop just think about Pete Rock and DJ Premiere.”
In addition to being excited about making their debut at DC Jazz Fest, the Faussarts say it feels good to come back to D.C.
“Last time, we performed here at The Black Cat,” says Helene. “We got a chance to share the stage with a beautiful queen by the name of Akua Allrich.”
Allrich, a local jazz vocalist, performed at The Hamilton the first night of DC Jazz Fest.
“I love hearing her on a regular basis. She’s an artist who’s on repeat in my iPod,” Helene continues.
When they aren’t performing during visits to the capital city, you can find them enjoying a show or having a drink at Bohemian Caverns, “hopefully listening to DJ Underdog.”
“For people who love Les Nubians, they have to check out DJ Underdog, he’s all about global soul,” says Helene.
As Les Nubians works on remixes from Nu Revolutions, they talk about the collaborations they’d like to see in the future with artists from the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area – jazz harmonica player Frédéric Yonnet, perhaps a Fertile Ground reunion or even a French-American soul ballad performed with Raheem DeVaughn.
Even D.C.’s go-go music is a part the duo’s musical library.
“The drums and that go-go bell is so African,” Helene says.
They lamented the passing of go-go legend Chuck Brown, but say his music most certainly will live on.
“We lost another cornerstone of music,” says Helene, “but even when we’re gone there’s a lasting beauty.”