Fetching from a Distance . . .
There is no such thing as background music. Only inattentive listeners. Even the most wallpapery music holds secrets, and can be appreciated on its own—not as a carefully chosen room accent or a distant accompaniment to your restaurant meal. All the same, there are times when we turn to music for nothing more than a vibe transfusion—you know, after a dinner party, when everyone needs to move around a little. When the ambient, far-off hint of a sexy backbeat is enough.
This album, the debut of two beautiful sisters who call themselves Les Nubians, is perfect for such moments. Hélène and Célia Faussart, whose father is from France and mother from Cameroon, sing mostly in French. But they're into globe-hopping. This album anticipates the world-aware beats of the Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am and other new-millennium urban stars.
At times the Nubian vocal harmonies echo those found on Sade records (there's a cover of "Sweetest Taboo" here), then get slightly wilder, pushing toward a vague psychedelia. The beats follow a similar trajectory: Though set in a basic, earthy hip-hop zone, they're enriched by African hand-drum rhythms, spacey chanted refrains, and the duo's coy, gently pleading vocals. The result is music that speaks in the universal language of the mellow groove, effortlessly melting elements from world music and clubland together. On the surface Princesses Nubiennes makes few demands, but it offers unexpected riches when you take the time to encounter it up close.
Released: 1998, Virgin
Key Tracks: "Demain," "Makeda," "Bebela," "Voyager."
Next Stop: Zap Mama: Adventures in Afropea
After That: Soul II Soul: Keep On Movin'
Book Pages: 556–557