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Les Nubians' 'Echos: Nubian Voyager' brilliantly captures the spirit of I Kiffe NY festival

Misani | 4/12/2011, 4:34 p.m.

Les Nubians, the leading contemporary French-language urban music vocalists from France, staged a stupendous takeover of Joe's Pub in New York City last Thursday evening with their presentation, "Echos: Nubian Voyager Poetry and Music from the Urban Edge." Without a doubt, this brilliant multi-genre cultural trip set the benchmark for the progressive, month-long I Kiffe NY festival, which is taking place at various venues throughout the city.

Les Nubians' exhilarating production brought together some of the most dynamic banlieues (outskirts of the city) artists from France, along with several equally remarkable urban talents from America. Accompanying Les Nubians, the multi-talented avant-garde sister duo, on their ever-evolving cross-cultural voyage was the superb spoken word/hip-hop artists John Banzai and the inimitable Souleymane Diamanka from France, as well as the talented spoken word artist Jamarhl Crawford and the impressive spoken word artist/singer Queen GodIs are from America. Of special note in the capacity-filled venue was the highly esteemed Mr. Melvin Van Peebles, who, along with French actor Vincent Cassel ("La Haine," "Ocean's Thirteen"), are the benefit committee members of I Kiffe New York. Peebles, the legendary Chicago-born, multi-lingual director, actor, screen-writer, playwright and composer, is widely acclaimed for his groundbreaking, independent classic film, "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song," (1971).The filmmaker, who has lived and worked in France over the years, is also the award-winning director of the French-language film, "Le Conte du ventre plein" ("Bellyful," 2000).

Also acknowledged for his philanthropic work in promoting African achievement in business, entertainment and social justice, Peebles was awarded the French Legion of Honor in 2001. Presented by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, the unprecedented I Kiffe New York festival is a multi-disciplinary cultural festival that serves to showcase the lesser acknowledged or supported artistic endeavors of France's banlieues communities. At the same time, it pays tribute to America's urban art form, which has been the source of inspiration for the banlieues artists. In addition, the festival also provides a conduit to explore how American urban art influenced the creative development of the banlieues artists and how in turn they adapted it to their own background and to their French cultural heritage. Inspired by America's hip-hop (and the antagonistically termed) "ghetto culture," many of the festival's participating artists emanate from trans-cultural, largely immigrant communities, where "the banlieues, with their public housing projects, most often evoke negative connotations of hardship, gloom and menace." However, advocates of the banlieues artists maintain that "such one-sided portrayals neglect their growing importance as a prime source of France's cultural dynamism and innovation." These proponents further conclude that "certainly, much must still be done to better integrate the inhabitants of the banlieues into mainstream France; nonetheless, amidst their transition to integration, they are the locus of some of the most groundbreaking art making happening in France today." Popularized by the youths in the banlieues, the word "kiffe" (pronounced keef), which originated from the Arabic language, is a French slang that means to adore or to be absolutely crazy about something or someone.