Omtown, 2003

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Combining elements of Zap Mama, Miriam Makeba, Sade, Wyclef Jean and Soul II Soul, the 1998 debut album Princesses Nubiennes by French/Cameroon sisters Helene and Celia Faussart merged the cosmopolitan hipness of Paris, the African crossover scene of Bordeaux and contemporary influences from the Black Continent gathered during their 7-year childhood stay in Chad. It launched a successful new form of Afropean HipHop/R&B style that grew into the best-selling French language album in US Pop charts of the last decade, with their version of Sade's "The Sweetest Taboo" enjoying particular popularity.

Also appearing on efforts by Black Eyed Peas and Talib Kweli, Towa Lei and Guru's Jazzmatazz as well as The Red, Hot & Riot tribute to Fela Kuti, this year's follow-up by the Faussart sisters who work as Les Nubians is One Step Forward. It invites pianist Ray Lema, rapper Talib Kewli, singer Morgan Heritage and groove meister IG Culture for another go at their recipe of smoothly harmonizing HipHop, AfroPop, R&B, a little Rap, Electronica, synth strings and now also Reggae, possibly because some recording took place in Jamaica's Geejam Studios.

While One Step Forward includes a few backward steps -- particularly those tracks with Kewli and Heritage where the sisters default to radio-friendly while uncomfortably commercial and ill-fitting English -- the album overall succeeds and sports some outright gems. There's the gently lilting Jamaican calypso/reggae "El Son Reggae" that has you dream of your next (or first) Caribbean vacation while hawking your kids to the pawnshop. There's the happy-go-lucky AfroPop "Me & Me" with a brief extract of Samuel Jones' "Give me" that contains tasty Big Easy references. There's the ballad "Amour a Morti" with 8-piece string section and some tasteful duetizing. "Que le mot soit perle" shifts into familiar Sade terrain but manages to clearly stake out its own sultry niche while "Saravah" carves into casual smooth Jazz flavors. The closer "Immortel Cheikh Anta Diop" blends Lema's keyboards with Manu Dibango's marimba and engages in a lengthy bit of story telling, with tasteful voice-overs shifting between song and recitation.

Not without blemishes, the album really fully gathers steam in the second half of its 15 tracks. With the killer Reggae cut of the first half, it more than makes up for some of its outa-the-gate handicaps to finally traverse enough enjoyable distance and be recommended. To qualify, let me state that I'm nuts enough to buy an album purely for one single stunner. There's more here than just one, two or three winners. So even those less - er, musically addicted or malnourished should find their money well spent. Let's face it, outright hit factories without any filler, on one small silver disc, aren't exactly commonplace. If one wished to dine regularly, such impossible standards cannot be enforced with Germanic precision in the hopes of sated appetites.