-->
Music

Les Nubians: Les Nubians Presents Echos, Chapter One: Nubian Voyager

Scott Hreha

A courageous experiment by a group refusing to work within the confines of 'neo-soul', 'world beat', or any other inflexible genre tag.


Les Nubians

Les Nubians Presents Echos, Chapter One: Nubian Voyager

Label: Triloka
US Release Date: 2005-10-04
UK Release Date: 2005-10-10
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

It's probably rather cliché to start off a CD review with a confession, but bear with me for minute because this one is central to the theme: when this disc arrived in the mail, I almost cried. It wasn't out of joy or barely containable excitement, nor was it gratitude for having been so fortunate to score this particular assignment; no, this near-breakdown was borne of no such affectation. This particular tragedy came about as a result of reading the accompanying press material and realizing that I was not holding in my hands a CD of new music by Les Nubians, but rather a collection of spoken word material compiled by that group's Helen Faussart. What, exactly, had I gotten myself into?

Say what you will about recorded poetry, also known as "spoken word" (yes, I'm defiantly refusing to accord it proper noun status), but my particular prejudices against it as an entity run deep and unforgiving. I'll spare the personal details, but let it suffice to say that many years as a student of music and literature, combined with a concurrent and subsequent career as part-time jazz critic, have given me a condemn-first, listen-later-if-at-all attitude toward the subject. And I know I'm not alone: from the Orensanz Art Center in New York City to the Velvet Lounge in Chicago to the Pillsbury Theater in Minneapolis, I've watched fellow audience members cringe in dismay as some self-professed poet ruined a perfectly good musical performance with pretentiously drawn-out spaces between words and amelodic sing-song cadences.

But once I gathered the courage to sit down and spend some time with the record, I realized my gloomy expectations were way off base: not only are cringe-inducing moments few and far between on Echos, Chapter One... it's [gulp] pretty damn good. Yes, of course, it's big of me to admit it, but there are some quite remarkable pieces on the CD -- enough to make me reconsider the critical baggage I brought to the table in the first place. So enough about me; let's look at what makes the disc good enough to enact a sea change in my thinking, and perhaps the thinking of all those people who skip the last track on the Roots' records as well.

The overall success of Echos, Chapter One is due in no small part to Faussart's clear concept for assembling a cohesive whole out of the poems she recorded over a span of several years after Les Nubians' first U.S. tour in 1999. With such disparate sources -- artists from France, Africa, and the United States are featured in both French and English among the record's 21 tracks -- it must have been an organizational challenge to make them all fit together so seamlessly. But Faussart has music on her side; that is, the music she created to support most of the vocal pieces in her collection. Much like Les Nubians' two proper releases, the sounds blend electronic and traditional African musical influences into an intelligent pastiche that weaves a connective thread through the myriad of tongues and themes.

Additionally, the disc is split up into four distinct thematic sections -- "Motherland", "Urban City Life", "Love Stories", and "Spiritual Human Nature" -- that further reinforce its narrative feel; so much so, in fact, that listening to the tracks randomly compromises their effectiveness. Of course, there's a small degree of marketing going on here as well, in the form of five "new" tracks by Les Nubians themselves, including a live version of "Demain", a remix of "Embrasse moi", and a more formal collaboration with John Banzai, one of the spoken word artists who appears elsewhere on the disc. But again, the ease with which these "teaser" tracks combine with the others is additional testament to Faussart's skill at combining all of the material at her disposal into something that pushes the boundaries of her artistic reputation without alienating her audience.

All of which is to say -- and let me remove my foot from my mouth in order to do so more clearly -- that I shouldn't be so hasty to judge a recording by its press release, because Echos, Chapter One is a truly rewarding experience. It's not without its blemishes -- as one or two of the spoken word artists featured still have that uncanny poet's ability to overstate their cases -- but nowhere near the harrowing experience I had initially anticipated. Instead, the result is a courageous experiment by a group refusing to work within the confines of "neo-soul", "world beat", or any other inflexible genre tag; and for that alone I look forward to a Chapter Two.

6
Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less
TV

'Curb Your Enthusiasm' S9 Couldn't Find Its Rhythm

Larry David and J.B. Smoove in Curb Your Enthusiasm S9 (HBO)

Curb Your Enthusiasm's well-established characters are reacting to their former selves, rather than inhabiting or reinventing themselves. Thus, it loses the rhythms and inflections that once made the show so consistently, diabolically funny.

In an era of reboots and revivals, we've invented a new form of entertainment: speculation. It sometimes seems as if we enjoy begging for television shows to return more than watching them when they're on the air. And why wouldn't we? We can't be disappointed by our own imaginations. Only the realities of art and commerce get in the way.

Keep reading... Show less
6

Wars of attrition are a matter of stamina, of who has the most tools with which to keep fighting. A surprising common tool in this collection? Humor.

The name of the game is "normal or abnormal". Here's how you play: When some exceedingly shocking political news pops up on your radar, turn to the person next to you, read them the headline and ask, "is this normal or abnormal?" If you want to up the stakes, drink a shot every time the answer is abnormal. If that's too many shots, alter the rules so that you drink only when things are normal—which is basically never, these days. Hilarious, right?

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image