We wish to thank our readers for their tremendous patience and support following the debut of our website Mastering the Craft. At the very beginning, we had to immediately take a hiatus to improve our interface to accommodate a larger readership than we were expecting (thank you!) We’ve also had to expand our administrative team as the inquiries from artists rolled in quite swiftly. I'm very excited by all this synergy as well as the connections between the stories of the artists we feature. Hélène Faussart, for example speaks about coming to the US from Paris to find artistic freedom while Austin Brown, as you'll read in a later interview this month traveled from the US to Paris to find the right community to spark his creativity.
Here’s what you can expect this month in Our MASTERS & EMERGING:
In Part I of our interview, Hélène Faussart of Les Nubians spoke about Les Nubians’ influences and early developments. She touched on some of the barriers she and her sister Célia encountered as anomalies in the French music market. She also spoke candidly on how creative differences with their record label would eventually lead to the loss of their record deal. Here, Hélène continues to share insights on the challenges that she and her sister faced in the industry and how, with persistence, they ultimately triumphed.
Lessons for Emerging Artists:
Hélène: We found this amazing agent, Ira Sweetwine, he actually created his company after our first tour, he was an employee for another company before. And yeah, we got back on the road and found some love, some energy, the chance to lead our art, and we were always very much involved in the cultural life. Meaning like doing master classes, creating music for children and music for documentaries. But again, back in France, we were blacklisted. (Laughs)
Mai: Oh my goodness, so much resilience on your part, so much resilience.
Hélène: Yeah, well we had to because we had no other choice. America was a symbol of freedom for all the other artists...French artists, who are looking at us because we did something that nobody did in France. There were all these generations looking at us and thinking, "wow, they have this amazing opportunity in the US, why are they staying here, like you know, suffering. The same way African-American intellectuals, back in the day, had to go to Paris, well we had to go to America. To be able to continue to lead our business and musical vision. We had fewer and fewer opportunities to work. When we had the opportunity for example to write a musical or write music for documentaries that was coming actually from the community.--People that we knew from before.
It was weird because we were coming back with a Grammy nomination, with like all those awards, and what we knew from the industry - and we could see it in the French industry - when people are growing and getting to a certain level and they get business writing songs for others, your music's being licensed... And France was not giving us anything. It was almost like they were telling us, "well you have a Grammy nomination, good for you." Having two black girls to represent France on an international level was not what France had in mind.
Mai: So, through this journey, this incredible fight, was actually creating the art a refuge or was it difficult to be creative?
Hélène: It was super difficult because you get bitter. When I do master classes now, I meet artists that are themselves in a struggle, and the first thing that I try to tackle is the inside--the emotions. Because it's so hard as we look at ourselves and we become bitter. And when I realized this, I was like ‘Oh my God, this is horrible.’ And I remember this lady, she was a background vocalist, longtime background vocalist of French music and we shared the stage one day. She was like a superstar to me.
She said ‘oh I am so glad to see more sisters in the business’ and she said ‘the day you don't have anymore pleasure doing what you do, stop because it's going to eat you.’ You know, sometimes you meet people that will just give you like one sentence, and it sets you [on your way]. And I remembered her, I was like oh my God I need to free myself, I need to heal. I need to heal because this is what I am given, this is what I know how to do, it's doing music. That's my gift and I need to heal. The work to accept all the choices that I made...to stop this divide of the industry against me, you know, this is not the story, change the story, change the storyline. And as you suggested at the beginning of your question earlier, "why am I doing this?" "why is it that I am so singular, what do I honor in this and how can I continue to honor my [vision] by just flowing.
Mai: It's really extremely powerful what you are saying, and I think that artists who are coming to it in the beginning have no idea how much internal fortitude-- the kind of backbone they’re going to have to have to really see it through all the way. So that's going to be a wake up call for our readers...very powerful what you are saying.
Hélène: Suddenly, when you change the story and you have gratitude in honoring your path. I would say that it's like in photography...you don't see what's in the shadow you see what's in the light. Then on your path you realize, oh, I am not by myself. There are so many other people, you know, that are believing in me, supporting me, collaborators. You thought that you were only by yourself, fighting all of this, and you realize there are all of those glimmers of light everywhere, and it gives you so much more energy, so much faith, so much hope. And it's almost like suddenly you start manifesting (Laughs) you're thinking about something, something very singular.
The day Trump was inaugurated [and later] decided on the immigration ban, I remember it shocked me, I was shook to my core.
Mai: Yeah, that was a weird day.
Hélène: Yeah, it was... the next day was a Saturday, I went to this beautiful event at the Brooklyn Library and it was a night of philosophy with so many great talks. It's 5am, I miss my cab, and all my emotions are flowing, I started crying on the steps of the Brooklyn Museum on the fate of humanity. Humans are going crazy, how are we going to do this? (Laughs) I walked back home, there were many people along the way, I spoke to many people it was actually an amazing day. Less than two months later, I receive an email from my agent telling me that the Brooklyn Library would like you to perform for this series that they are launching. I go to a meeting and the lady was like "you're going to perform on the steps of the library."
Hélène: And I am like "really?" And the theme of the night was human rights Brooklyn Gaze Edition 1: Erasure and Revelation. It was exactly what I was crying about like two months before. And I’m like, oh my God, this is really amazing. It was really a beautiful night. ...I really love what I do...and there’s some mystery to it too. And also, you can't do it by yourself, it's teamwork. Teamwork makes the dream work. It's better to have 10 percent of nothing than zero percent of nothing. In the business this helps a lot, it helps you to understand how to better scale your business. I am easy with like the money flow. You need to have a flow, you need to create a flow. When the flow interrupts this is actually where we get bitter and we're like "Ugh". "I don't know if I am continuing doing music, let me stop this, let me check if I could be a cook somewhere."
Hélène: But that is not your path, don't make yourself miserable. Accept that "okay, it's gotta be shared." You know already...I mean in our experience, we already knew the sharing experience with the major companies and policies that are coming with it. When you're at peace with that you can have a better scaled business. One thing also, someone who was very important in our career, Zinx. Zinx is someone who told us very early, like in the early 2000's, that your fanbase is actually your best friend. They are your first supporters, you have to love them, you have to keep in touch with them. He is actually a former athlete, I think he competed in the US Olympics in 1984 or something like that. But he was a percussionist too, he toured with Sting all through the 90s. He's a singer too. He released his albums in the mid-90s.
Mai: So he schooled you on the importance of loving your audience?
And he gave us a lot of friends. Being independent is actually a blessing, when you're doing something different and he was doing something way different. His singularity was amazing at that time. He literally schooled us on this. He gave us a lot of hope again. And he was right because we could continue touring because we had an amazing fanbase, you know? I would say cherish what you got, and in [doing] this you will get more. See your glass full, instead of spending your energy and your thoughts on the empty glass. As an artist, you need to focus on the full glass.