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WORLD MUSIC REVIEW

Les Nubians' heartfelt trip around Africa's musical map

March 20, 2003|Ernesto Lechner | Special to The Times

Think of Les Nubians, the group formed by Franco-Cameroonian sisters Helene and Celia Faussart, as one big, juicy tribute to the inherent funkiness of African music and its limitless global permutations.

Indeed, on Tuesday at the sold-out El Rey Theatre, the duo, backed by a skillful instrumental trio and two backup vocalists, performed a veritable rainbow of black sonic motifs: jazzy inflections, delicate Afro-pop, as well as hip-hop's take on the almighty beat as generator of all musical life -- a song's essence and soul.

Some of the songs from Les Nubians' upcoming second album, "One Step Forward," sounded a bit too polished to generate genuine emotional excitement. The slick "Que Le Mot Soit Perle," for instance, was undeniably pretty but suggested background music for a party thrown by self-conscious hipsters.

But halfway through the performance, their version of Sade's "Your Sweetest Taboo" began a jolting turn toward more raucous, passionate territory. From that moment, it was all sweaty, good-hearted, funky fun. The sisters relaxed, danced, segued Prince's "Starfish and Coffee" into their own "Makeda," and delivered a truly unforgettable encore by improvising a variety of songs on a set chord structure. They may falter at times, but Les Nubians definitely have their hearts in the right place.

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