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Afro-French 'Echos' from Les Nubians

ED GORDON, host:

The Afro-French sibling duo Les Nubians have always been an oddity on the R&B scene. The record industry describes them as urban alternative, but that rather ambiguous category gives the ladies a certain amount of creative freedom as well. Their latest project, "Echoes," is a good example of that. It's a mixture of R&B and poetry. Still, like their prior works, the sisters say this CD puts an emphasis on the global connections between people and music.

(Soundbite of song "Les Entrailles Du Monde")

LES NUBIANS: (Singing in French) Moi, femme, terre d'origine. Moi femme. Sur mes continents l'homme voyage et avec lui c'est langage.

GORDON: Ladies, welcome. Thank you both for being with us. Greatly appreciate it. Big fan of your music and I'm looking forward to--Celia, let me start with you--to the latest project, which really is a melding of poetry spoken-word form and music. Why'd you decide to do both?

CELIA (Les Nubians): We decided to do both because, first, this project, "Echoes," is our first production. So it's like a Les Nubians album, it's Les Nubians' presence, some beautiful poets, because we traveled throughout the planet and we met those beautiful people and we wanted to introduce them to our audience.

HELENE (Les Nubians): I think that one of the main fear that people might have for this new century is actually being afraid of the other, that person that I don't know. But there's so many ways to know that person finally. And music, I think, is the best way to learn about other people culture. It's really a language by itself. Now putting words--this is why we wanted the project to be bilingual is because words has power. There's a meaning of the word, but even in another language, that word still has the same power and will be understood differently from a language to another. And this is why we put the music under, so it will help to understand the meaning of the words. But music is definitely, I believe, a kind of prophetic tool to definitely change and try to bring a little more consciousness and love and a lot of nice feelings throughout the world.

(Soundbite of song "Les Entrailles Du Monde")

LES NUBIANS: (Singing in French) Combien de metissage, metisse-sage, son l'heritage de nos corps chevauches.

GORDON: We don't always embrace what is different than we are used to, yet your music, here in the black community in particular, has been very much embraced. Would you like to see African-Americans, in particular, but America in general learn to embrace different cultures more and is that part of why this project is important here?

CELIA: Yes. I think that it's part of the plan into records. I think it's very important that American people open their mind and--to other cultures, but I think it's also already there. It's just need to blossom. If people, for example, were interested in ours, it's the beginning of an open-mindedness about it. And, yes, "Echoes" also is a way also to build bridges and to continue in that virtual opening.

(Soundbite of song "Les Entrailles Du Monde")

LES NUBIANS: (Singing in French) Moi, femme, gerdienne de memoire, mere despoir, pilier entre les hommes et les divinites, ma spiritualite etant racinee dans la verite, la realite.

GORDON: So much has been made lately of hip-hop and its importance around the globe and that it really has given a new form of expression to people who heretofore really had not had that kind of a forum, didn't have a way to get their thoughts out. Do you also see this as an ability to give people who perhaps would not have the opportunity to say to the world what they want to, this allows them to do that?

Unidentified Guest: Yes, it's--oh, how you say that?--(French spoken). It's an open window.

(Soundbite of song "Fire")

LES NUBIANS: (Singing) Fire in my eyes and I can't cry, my tears are dry. I wonder why I am here.

CELIA: It's an open window for them to express their point of view, their talent. It's like now the hip-hop is--like, the message is starting to fade a little bit. And in poetry, there's more and more real people, so their message is very interesting and important, food for thought that we need nowadays, now.

(Soundbite of song)

LES NUBIANS: (Singing) ...I'm living. Pain and sadness burn beneath my flesh. Please, undress my skin from this awesomeness within. My only sin is that I was never, ever a firefighter. And stab my soul, burns on like lighter, and I bleed kerosene, I spit up gasoline and I...

GORDON: Helene, let me ask you finally, in terms of the importance of the word, with what you see, there are some who believe that poetry and prose and spoken word should really deliver a message, should be very deep. There are others who'd say it's just a form of expression and whether you just want to have fun with it or you make a deep political message, it's all equal. Where do you fall on that?

HELENE: I think, there's no bad thing in doing a very light poetry, you know. Every word resounds for itself. Every word can suscitate in someone, you know, different type of emotions. We cannot judge, you know, the ethics of the word on a person. The topics can be very serious and can be hurtful sometimes. So I think it's mainly a form. And what I appreciated in the project, like "Echoes," is that every poet has a different way of using his words. One will be more playful; the other one will be more political conscious. So to my opinion, it's a matter of form and how you play, how you use it, you know.

GORDON: Well, ladies, we want to thank you for your time. We're excited about the project and that you've taken time to give people from your platform the ability to say something. We'll be hearing from them soon, and we appreciate your time.

HELENE: Thank you.

CELIA: Thank you very much.

GORDON: Sibling duo Helene and Celia make up Les Nubians. Their CD "Echoes" hits stores this week.

(Soundbite of song)

LES NUBIANS: (Foreign language sung)

GORDON: Thanks for joining us. That's our program for today. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

(Soundbite of song)

LES NUBIANS: (Foreign language sung)

GORDON: I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.