Saturday, January 17, 2009

Célia Faussart of Les Nubians Gives Journalism Students a High-Spirited Interview

By Jessica Bakeman

When Célia Faussart asks to kindly excuse her French, she means it. Literally. And she adds a squealy giggle.

Faussart, one-half of the Grammy-nominated duo Les Nubians, gave a high-spirited “Frenglish” interview to a journalism class at Plattsburgh State Oct. 19, and answered student-fielded questions as if she were simply singing. She even let out a few, “la la las.”

Though her work with her sister, Helene, in Les Nubians brought her recognition and fame, Faussart is now working on a solo project: Paris@Night.

“Ah! My Paris@Night, my little French cabaret!” she squeals at the mention of the performance.

The show, with monthly performances at the Zinc Bar in New York City, mixes music, comedy and images, a union of European “ope-eer-ah” and cabaret, she said. The production, in which Faussart uses the stage name Blue Nefertiti, gives audiences a taste of what it means to be “Afro-pean.”

“Blue Nefertiti is the perfect name because I like to link Europe and Africa,” she said. “I like to link the past to the present to the future.”

Born in Paris to a French father and Cameroonian mother, Faussart experiences daily the cultural mix tape of being French, black, and living in Brooklyn.

“I only try to follow my expectations of how to be a great human being first, then to be black,” she said of being held to different cultural standards of race.

Les Nubians’ repertoire demonstrates a fusion of Faussart’s musical interests: classical, jazz, tribal and hip hop.

“I’m from that generation — the hip-hop generation,” she said. “Hip hop helped us have a strong spine.”

Faussart’s vast roster of musical influences includes Miriam Makeba, Joao Gilberto, Celia Cruz, Mozart, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye.

The mellow tunes feature poetry recitation, French and English lyrics, and have a consistent, echo-y, almost angelic sound.

Faussart’s success with her sister was made sweeter by the fact that her artistic partner was family.

“Working with my sister is great, beautiful, blessed,” she said. “We argue, we argue, we ‘ar-guuue,’ but it doesn’t stay because we are sisters.”

She said they help to ground each other, no matter what country a tour might take them to.

“Traveling as family — going throughout the world — is special because you don’t lose who you are, your center,” she said. “If one of us loses it, then the other can say, ‘oh, you’re trippin’.’”

In a 2005 interview with NPR, Faussart said it was part of the “plan” that the music she made with Les Nubians could open Americans up to music of other cultures. Now 10 years after the hit album, “Princess Nubiennes,” she reflects on the realization of that dream.

She said she is not sure that her music changed Americans, or that they were simply finally ready to “open their minds and there we were with Les Nubians.”
She said it’s probably a little bit of both.

Helene is not the only family that keeps her grounded. Her kids; Jamaal, 10 and Makeda, 8, were born in France, and they have now been living with their mother in Brooklyn for two years. Faussart said they did not speak any English upon arrival, and their command of the language is now better than hers. She plopped them in an English-speaking school right away.

“For four months, they didn’t really say a thing,” she said.

She and her children are now settled in Brooklyn, giving Faussart time to develop her solo project, for which she has big dreams.

“I would love I would love I would ‘looove’ to do a bigger cabaret revue,” she said. “Like a Broadway kind of thing with a lot of dancers. La da da da da…”

Photo credit: Oluwaseye Olusa

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