Asa & Les Nubians Live at Central Park Summerstage

Ernest Barteldes By

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Asa + Les Nubians
Central Park Summerstage
New York
July 05, 2009

One of the first proper summer days in the Northeast greeted fans at New York's Central Park as Nigerian-born Asa (pronounced A-sha) kicked off her set at her Summmerstage debut last July 5th.

Backed by a small three-piece band (guitar, bass, drums and a backing vocalist), Asa went through several tunes from her recently released CD Naïve (Mercer Street), including "So Beautiful," a bilingual song written in honor of her mother. She also performed a snippet of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" that quickly reverted to a more African groove after she attempted a few of the late singer's dance steps. "If you are not blessed with the talent of moonwalking, do what you know," she said. "And this is what I know." She ended her show with a Janis Joplin-like blues tune that was well-received by the audience.

Asa might have a good chance of finding wider audiences as long as U.S. fans are willing to keep an open mind to her cohesive mix of soul and Afropop—and if the reception she received is any indication, she might be on the right path.

After a short break, Les Nubians (formed by sisters Helène and Celia Faussart) went on backed by a fully integrated seven-piece band that included musicians from different countries, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. They began the show with a soft ballad, and quickly moved on to a more dance-friendly mode. They followed that with two reggae numbers that featured their guitarist, but due to poor sound mixing, those watching from farther away from the stage could not hear his or the saxophonist's solos.

One highlight was "Liberté," written in honor of President Barack Obama. Before playing, the sisters mentioned the racial problems in their country of residence. "France is built on the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity," said Celia Faussart. "But when are we getting that?"

The duo also paid homage to Michael Jackson by playing a cover of Manu Dibango's 1972 single "Soul Makossa," a song that served as the basis for Jackson's "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin,'" the first single from Thriller. They also improvised around Estelle's "American Boy" with different lyrics and a French-language rap, and concluded with an extended Afro-pop theme that invited the audience to dance.

The entire performance was an enjoyable one—but it would have been infinitely better if we could fully listen to what was being played on stage, not just voices, bass, drums and echoes of everything else.


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