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Varied as it is, the music of Francis Cabrel never strays far from his basic songwriting tools: the acoustic guitar and gentle reflections on life. His clear voice and clean guitar are ever the focus of his songs. Around this core he weaves contemporary folk, blues rock, French pop, smooth jazz, and even classical sounds. His lyrics have received much attention among French-speaking audiences and critics, and his albums sell well in those circles. His style has also sparked a revival of interest in acoustic music in France. Cabrel's involvement in music began at his lycée (secondary school) in southwestern France. Inspired by Bob Dylan's music, he taught himself to play guitar. He joined up with a group called the Maïna Pub (later changed to les Virginys) which covered songs by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Jimi Hendrix. The group eventually sublimated, and Cabrel began performing solo and working on his own material. In 1974, he entered a contest for singer/songwriters in the southwest France and walked away with first place. The stated prize was the opportunity to record a 45 single, but the judges were so impressed that they asked him to record an LP instead. The resulting album, Les Murs de Poussière, was released in 1977. Cabrel and his record company were displeased with the sound and success (respectively) of the album, but Cabrel moved to Paris and continued to perform in public. He released his second album, Les Chemins de Traverse, in 1979. The second single from the album, "Je l'Aime à Mourir," gained the attention of French listeners, and Cabrel became nationally recognized. In the early '80s, Cabrel released Fragile (1980), Carte Postale (1981), and Quelqu'un de l'Intérieure (1983); these albums generated hits and sold well in France. During these years Cabrel built an audience in Quebec also by touring both solo and with a band. Having garnered considerable success with his three previous albums, Cabrel changed his pace and approach in the mid-'80s. He released a live album (Cabrel Public) in 1984, a studio album (Photos de Voyages) in 1985 and a compilation (w-87) in 1987. He moved back to southwestern France, set up his own studio, turned more of his attention to his family, and released albums of new material at a leisurely pace. He continued this pattern in the late '80s and through the '90s with Sarbacane (1989), d'Une Ombre à l'Autre (a 1991 live three-disc set), and Samedi Soir sur la Terre (1994). Each release was greatly anticipated in France and Quebec, and all sold well. The two albums of original material (Sarbacane and Samedi Soir sur la Terre) did particularly well, and each went multi-platinum. Hors-Saison was released in 1999 following a 5-year break and Cabrel supported it with a national tour and an impressive 10-day stint at the Olympia in Paris. During the early part of the noughties, Cabrel took part in a series of concerts entitled Autour du Blues alongside international artists such as Patrick Verbeke, Tanya Saint Val and David Johnson. Following these shows his tenth record, Les Beaux Dégâts, was released in 2004. The album featured a new dynamic to Cabrels sound with a brass section bringing his songs to life and included a guest performance from Autor du Blues tour-mate David Johnson. Carbel returned in 2008 with Des Roses et des Orties which undertook an array of political and social issues that resonate strongly throughout the entire record. He also included a handful of French adaptations of work by Bob Dylan, Creedence Clearwater Revival and J.J. Cale.
Francis Cabrel (born 23 November 1953 in Agen, France) is a French singer-songwriter and guitarist. He has released a number of albums falling mostly within the realm of folk, with occasional forays into blues or country. Several of his songs, such as "L'encre de tes yeux" and "Petite Marie" have become enduring favourites in French music. Others have since been covered by many artists, such as "C'était l'hiver" by Canadian Isabelle Boulay or "Je l'aime à mourir" by Colombian Shakira.
Cabrel was born into a modest family, his father was employed as a blue-collar worker and his mother was a cashier. He has a sister, Martine, and a brother, Philippe. His paternal grandfather, Prospero Cabrel, immigrated to Gascony from Friuli, Italy, in the 1920s with his wife and six children. Cabrel's mother, Denise Nin, was born in Gascony to an Italian family who had also immigrated from Friuli. The family's original surname, Cabrelli, was abandoned in the 18th century.
A shy teenager, Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" inspired him to pick up a guitar and start writing his own songs. At 16, enthralled by music, he started to sing the songs of Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and Dylan. He also learned English by translating the lyrics. He would later say that his guitar enabled him to appear more interesting to others.
Expelled from secondary school in Agen for lack of discipline, he went to work in a shoe shop while playing gigs with a group named "Ray Frank and Jazzmen," which later became known as "les Gaulois" because every member of the band had a moustache. At that time, Cabrel's appearance was that of a hippie, with long hair and a moustache.
In 1974 he took part in a song contest organised by Sud Radio and performed in front of a panel of judges, which included Daniel and Richard Seff. With his own song "Petite Marie", dedicated to his wife Mariette, he won the contest and was signed to a record deal by CBS.
In 1977, during CBS's "New French Song" campaign, his first record "Ma ville" was released. However, he quickly realized that CBS, having tampered with the accent of his singing voice on "Petite Marie", had thus interfered with the expression of his true personality. That version of the song is disavowed by Cabrel today.
At the Paris Olympia he opened for Dave for one month. He also won the "prix du Public" at the Festival de Spa in Belgium in 1978.
Although he writes predominantly for himself, he has written for other artists, in particular Rose Laurens ("Quand tu pars", 1986). Cabrel is involved in the politics of Astaffort commune in Lot-et-Garonne and was elected its councilor in March 1989.
While Cabrel is best known for singing in the French language, he has also recorded Spanish renditions of many of his most popular compositions.
In 1989, Cabrel's album Sarbacane was released. The singer spent months honing the new songs on Sarbacane to perfection, working out the musical arrangements and recording part of them in a makeshift studio he had set up in his own home. Sarbacane, undoubtedly one of Cabrel's finest works, proved an enormous hit with the public, selling almost 2 million copies. The singles "Sarbacane" (dedicated to his daughter) and "C'est écrit" also did incredibly well in the charts. By now Francis Cabrel had become one of the most popular recording stars on the French music scene. and his life was one busy whirl of TV and radio interviews, autograph signing and promotion. Cabrel soon set off on an extensive tour – which included hundreds of dates in the provinces as well as several concerts at the Zénith in Paris – accompanied by his musicians, Gérard Bikialo (on keyboards), Denys Lable (on guitar) and Bernard Paganotti (on bass).
Meanwhile, Cabrel continued his work on behalf of humanitarian associations and charities, taking part in the famous "Soirée des Enfoirés" to raise money for the Restos du Coeur (the charity set up by comedian Coluche to help the homeless). He also recorded compilation albums with other French stars on behalf of AIDS charities such as Sol En Si (Solidarité Enfant Sida) and Urgence. In 1990 Cabrel embarked upon a mini tour with singer Dick Rivers, delighting audiences with their re-worked versions of American rock'n'roll classics. This mini tour, performed without the slightest bit of publicity in smaller, more intimate venues such as the Bataclan in Paris, allowed Cabrel to make closer contact with his fans and wind down a little after his busy promotional schedule earlier in the year.
Following several more months of intensive touring, which took Cabrel all over Europe, South America and Quebec, the singer released a triple live album entitled D'une ombre à l'autre. The 43 tracks included acoustic versions of Cabrel's greatest hits.
Cabrel fans had to wait another three years for the release of any new material, the renowned perfectionist shutting himself away in the studio for months on end to work on his next album. Samedi soir sur la terre, the singer's eighth album, was finally released in 1994. Musically things had changed little from the early days – Cabrel was still surrounded by his loyal group of musicians and the guitar remained the most distinctive feature of the "Cabrel" sound. But the song-writing was more expressive than ever. Twenty years after "Petite Marie" the new singles "Je t'aimais, je t'aime, je t'aimerai" and "La Cabane du pêcheur" displayed extremely mature, sophisticated lyrics. One of the most outstanding tracks on the new album was undoubtedly "Corrida", Cabrel's attack on the sport of bull-fighting. The album was followed by a new tour and a series of concerts in Paris – at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées, the Olympia and the Zénith. In February 1995 the music profession honoured Cabrel at the annual "Victoires de la Musique" awards ceremony, presenting him with an award for Best Album of 94 (for "Un samedi soir sur la terre"). Later that year Cabrel went on to win Le Trophée RFI/ Conseil de la Francophonie for his hit single "Je t'aimais, je t'aime, je t'aimerai".
Throughout his career Cabrel has tried hard to keep out of the media spotlight, leading a quiet life with his wife and two daughters. Yet the singer was prepared to become a prominent figure in his local community, working as a councillor and organising cultural events in Astaffort. It was Cabrel, for instance, who organised the "Rencontres d'Astaffort', a gathering of young singer/songwriters who came to the town for training and advice. Cabrel also proved himself to be an enthusiastic entrepreneur, setting up his own label Cargo with Charles Talar in 1995. The first artists the pair signed to their new label were Vincent Baguian and Michel Françoise.
In 1997 Cabrel continued his charity work, performing a tour with a host of French stars including Maurane, Michel Jonasz and Maxime Le Forestier, to raise money for the children's AIDS charity Sol en Si. Cabrel's live performances continued to attract a huge turn-out, his fans rightly suspecting that a new Cabrel album would not appear for another few years.
1997 also saw the publication of Hors Saison, a photo album of Cabrel portraits taken by Claude Gassian. A special bonus CD accompanied the book, featuring the duet "Vengo a ofrecer mi corazon", which Cabrel recorded in Spanish with the Argentinian singer Mercedes Sosa. The song, recorded at the Francofolies Festival in Buenos Aires, received a massive amount of airplay which encouraged Cabrel to release it as a single. (This was not the first time that the singer had recorded his songs in Spanish. The release of the album Sarbacane coincided with the recording of an entire album in Spanish, which featured new versions of the singer's greatest hits).
Cabrel rocketed back into the French music news on 30 March 1999 with a new CD album entitled Hors Saison (Out of Season). The album generated a huge amount of interest among fans and music critics alike, and was Cabrel's first new album in five years. Recorded with the same team who had joined the singer in the studio for his last two albums (i.e. Manu Katché, Gérard Bikialo and Bernard Paganotti), Hors Saison did not mark a radical departure from Cabrel's usual style. "Presque rien", the first single release, received an impressive amount of airplay on French radio. And a few months later sales of the album topped the 1 million mark, earning Cabrel a diamond disc.
Encouraged by the success of Hors Saison, Cabrel kicked off a new tour at Le Zénith in Caen, going on to perform a long stint at the Olympia in Paris (28 September – 9 October). Ten days later Cabrel brought the house down at Le Zénith in Paris. Appearing on stage against a pared-down minimalist décor with eight musicians, the singer was supported by Québécois singer Isabelle Boulay who, once her own set was finished, joined Cabrel on stage for a special duet. Cabrel brought his tour to a close in December 1999.
The atmosphere of Cabrel's acoustic/electric tour was captured on a 3-CD live album, Double tour, released in 2000. In January 2000 and 2001 the singer went on to take part in the "Enfoirés" fund-raising tours, from which all profits were donated to "Les Restaurants du cœur", a feed-the-homeless charity set up by the comedian Coluche.
Cabrel, who has built up a huge following of loyal fans both at home and abroad, is renowned for his modesty. Throughout his career the singer has done his utmost to keep his personal life out of the media spotlight and in his early interviews he showed himself to be an extremely shy person. In more recent interviews this timidity has given way to a more relaxed attitude and a mischievous sense of humour, which has only served to increase Cabrel's immense popularity.
While Cabrel continued his involvement with humanitarian projects, he eventually dropped his role in local politics. Considering that he had achieved his goals (which included renovating and re-opening an arts venue and a school), the singer did not stand in the next elections to prolong his position on Astaffort's local council.
Meanwhile, on the music front, Cabrel returned to the stage to take part in a series of concerts entitled "Autour du blues." These concerts, where Cabrel performed alongside international artists such as Patrick Verbeke, Tanya Saint Val and Beverly Jo Scott, resulted in two live albums (released in 2001 and 2003). The "Autour du blues" concerts also gave Cabrel the opportunity of working with the American musician David Johnson, who guested as sax-player on Cabrel's following album, Les Beaux Dégâts (released in May 2004). This album, produced in collaboration with Cabrel's pianist, Gérard Bikialo, featured a new addition to the Cabrel sound in the form of a brass section.
The album proved to be a huge success, selling over 600,000 copies within a few months of its release. In the autumn of that year, Cabrel hit the road on a tour he vowed would be on a human scale. Cabrel refused to play anything other than small or medium-sized venues, preferring to maintain direct contact with his audience. Tickets were all sold out weeks in advance. The tour, which kept Cabrel on the road until the end of the year, included a sold-out stint at Le Casino de Paris (2–14 November 2004).
In 2005, Les Editions Delcourt published a cartoon-strip tribute to Cabrel. Cabrel-Les Beaux Dessins featured illustrations of twelve of his songs.
Cabrel returned to the live circuit with his "Bodegas Tour" in the spring of 2005, playing dates across France and Switzerland right through until June of that year. On 7 November Cabrel organised a fund-raising concert for New Orleans, which had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The concert, staged at the Palais des Congrès in Paris, included Garou, Alain Souchon, De Palmas and Véronique Sanson.
A few days after the New Orleans concert, "La tournée des Bodegas" was released as a CD featuring live versions of songs from the album Les Beaux Dégâts.
Cabrel kept a relatively low profile on the French music scene throughout 2006. He joined Michel Delpech in the studio to record a duet ("Le Loir et Cher") which appeared on the album Michel Delpech &…. And he agreed to play one of the characters in Louis Chédid’s musical Le Soldat Rose, taking to the stage at Le Grand Rex, in Paris, on 12 November that year alongside M, Alain Souchon and Vanessa Paradis. In 2007, Cabrel marked the thirtieth anniversary of his career with the release of a double album entitled L'essentiel 1997–2007.
On 31 March 2008, Cabrel released a brand new album of original material entitled Des roses et des orties (Roses and nettles). This album, the eleventh of his career, revolved around a vibrant mix of electric and acoustic guitars and sultry blues arrangements and was recorded, as per usual, in his studio-barn in Astaffort. While Cabrel’s lyric-writing remained as sensitive and poetic as ever, the tone of this new album was ostensibly harder-hitting than his previous work.
The songs on Des roses et des orties tackled a range of serious social and political issues such as immigration ("African Tour"), religion ("Les Cardinaux en costume") and poverty and social exclusion ("Le Cygne blanc"). Cabrel also examined the artist’s role in society ("Gens formidables") and even delved a little into his own personal life for inspiration, addressing a song to the biological mother of the young Vietnamese girl he had adopted in 2004 ("Mademoiselle l'aventure"). The singer also included a number of cover versions on this new album, performing French adaptations of Bob Dylan’s "She Belongs to Me", Creedence Clearwater Revival’s "Born on the Bayou" and JJ Cale’s "Mama Don't."