Lefel, Edith 1963–2003
Edith Lefel 1963–2003
Zouk singer, chanteuse
The late Edith Lefel was one of the greatest voices in contemporary Afro-Caribbean music, according to the Yahoo! Musique —Biographies website. A leading performer in the zouk genre —an eclectic style based on a mixture of European and African rhythms and melodies that ranges from wild dance music to soulful ballads—Lefel had also earned a reputation as a popular chanteuse, performing music in the style of popular French singers. A very attractive woman whose likeness graced the covers of many prominent French magazines, Lefel died at the height of her powers and popularity, leaving a huge audience stricken by the early loss of her talent.
Many reviewers have compared her to another Edith—Edith Piaf, the songstress of the urban streets of modern Paris. “Edith Lefel’s parents named her after the hurricane that devastated the island of Martinique in 1963, two months before she was born,” and not after Piaf, related Marco Werman for the radio program “The World.” “But prompted by the comparisons, Edith Lefel recorded an homage to Edith Piaf [A fleur de peau]. Lefel’s version of this Piaf standard is how many of her fans around the world are remembering her today.” Thousands of fans throughout the world mourned the passing of the performer they called la petite fée (the little fairy) or la sirène (the mermaid).
Lefel gained her Caribbean heritage from her parents. Born in November of 1963, in Cayenne, French Guyana, to a mother from that country and a father from the island of Martinique, she moved with her parents to Martinique when she was only three. It was there that she was exposed to the rich musical traditions of the Caribbean. According to the Yahoo! Musique —Biographies website, during the 1970s, when Lefel was growing up in Martinique, creative young artists with Haitian bands were just beginning to create the zouk sound. Groups such as Les Frères Déjean, Le Ska Shah Number One, and Tabou Combo drew on a combination of traditional African, Caribbean, and European rhythms, including belair, biguine, and mazurka, to produce their unique music.
In her fourteenth year, Lefel and her mother left for Paris, settling in the Saint-Denis region of the city. There she continued her studies in law—occasionally singing with her brother’s folk rock group—and, in 1984, launched her career as a professional singer.
Born in November of 1963, in Cayenne, French Guyana; died on January 20, 2003, in Dreux, France; married Ronald Rubinel; children: Mathieu, Chris.
Career: Singer with folk, rock, salsa, jazz, and zouk bands in Paris and the Caribbean, c. 1977–2003; recording artist, 1988–2002.
Awards: Trophée de meilleure chanteuse de l’année, SACEM, for the album Mëci, 1992; World Music Audience Award nomination, BBC Radio 3, 2003.
The turning point in her career, according to the article “Edith Lefel nous a quitté” on the Guadeloupe-Panorama website, happened when she met La Mafia band leader Jean-Michel Cambrimol. He invited her to accompany the band on a tour of the French Antilles, and recorded a hit single, “My doudou,” with her. Lefel’s success on that tour led to more offers, including one from Jean-Luc Lazair of Lazair, with whom she recorded the single “Ich Maman.” In 1987 she accepted an offer from the famous Martiniquois group, Malavoi, appearing as a chorus singer in their album La case à Lucie. She earned her nickname la sirène by singing a song of that title on Malavoi’s 1993 album Matebis. During the same period she also met arranger and producer Ronald Rubinel, whom she later married and with whom she had two sons.
The year after Lefel first appeared with Malavoi she recorded her first solo album, La klé, which won the Prix de la SACEM du meilleur auteur for its producer, Georges Debs, in 1988. The album also featured a duet between Lefel and “Latin Crooner” Ralph Thamar—one of many collaborations Lefel recorded during her career with famous musicians, including Gilles Voyer, Dominique Zorobabel, Jean-Philippe Marthély, Sylvi-ane Cédia, and Mario Canonge. She explained to an interviewer for the RFI Musique website that when she hosted a house party, she invited the people that she loved best, and that she felt there was no reason why a recording session should be any different.
By 1992 Lefel had become well-known throughout the Caribbean and her reputation had spread to Mozambique. In that year she released her second album, Mèci, which was honored with the Sacem trophy for the best female singer of the year. Mèci broke records for Afro-Caribbean independent artists, selling in excess of 40,000 individual recordings. Her third album, Rendez-vous, released in 1996, continued to build her reputation as one of the leading female interpreters of the Afro-Caribbean genres.
But that same year Lefel took her career in quite a different direction, with a live recording made at the Olympia theater. In Edith Lefel a I’Olympia, the artist expanded her repertoire to include French and English language material, including some of the same Parisian street songs that had been popularized by Edith Piaf. She explained, in a quote cited on the Yahoo! Musique —Biographies website, that her parents had listened to Piaf when she was young (along with other classic French chanteurs like Jacques Brel and Charles Aznavour) and that she had often imitated Piaf at home for their entertainment. On the evening of the Olympia concert, May 11, 1996, explained the writer for the Yahoo! Musique website, Lefel impressed the entire audience with her immense talent, supported by her friends Ralph Thamar and Jean-Luc Alger, and her husband and children.
Edith Lefel released three more albums, A fleur de peau, The Best of Edith Lefel, and Si seulement, before her sudden death from heart failure at the young age of thirty-nine. Her death shocked the francophone world, and expressions of grief and condolences flooded in from around the world. Harry Diboula, producer of her final album, told RFI Musique in their article “Hommage à Edith Lefel” that Lefel had included a number in the album that seemed to predict her death, “Mon ange.” It was, he said, a subject that she evoked serenely, like a natural event that comes to all. A writer for the Zouk Connection website called her the most respected and admired artist of her generation, and commented that persons like Edith Lefel were too rare for their deaths to pass without public pain. The writer concluded that Lefel and her artistry would never be forgotten.
La klé, Sonodisc, 1988.
Mèci, Sonodisc, 1992.
Rendezvous, Declic, 1996.
Edith Lefel a l’Olympia, Declic, 1996.
A fleur de peau, Globe Music, 1999.
The Best of Edith Lefel, Creon Music, 2001.
Si seulement, Creon Music, 2002.
Latin Beat Magazine, April 2003, p. 41.
“Biographie: Edith Lefel,” Yahoo! Musique —Biographies, http://fr.music.yahoo.com/biographies/edith_lefel.html (May 8, 2003).
“Discographie: Edith Lefel,” RFI Musique, www.rfimusique.com/siteFr/discographie/discographie_562.asp (May 19, 2003).
“Edith Lefel: A fleur de peau,” RFI Musique, www.rfimusique.com/siteFr/article/article_13775.asp (May 19, 2003).
“Edith Lefel: Biographie,” Zouk Connection, http://zoukco.free.fr/bio/index.php?idbio=8 (May 24, 2003).
“Edith Lefel: Livre d’or,” Official Edith Lefel Website, www.edithlefel.com/ (May 19, 2003).
“Edith Lefel nous a quitté,” Guadeloupe-Panorama, www.guadeloupe-panorama.com/edithlefel.htm (May 19, 2003).
“Edith Lefel nous a quittés,” Jolida, http://jodila.com/article.php?sid=1085 (May 19, 2003).
“Edith Lefel, une sirène du zouk disparaît,” Le Web de L’Humanité, www.humanite.fr/journal/2003/2003-01/2003-01-24/2003-01-24-055.html (May 19, 2003).
“Global Hits,” The World, www.theworld.org/globalhits/2003/01/22.html (May 19, 2003).
“Hommage à Edith Lefel,” RFI Musique, www.rfimusique.com/siteFr/article/article_14413.asp (May 19, 2003).
“Necrology,” Beat, http://library.wustl.edu/music/necro/necro-l.html (May 8, 2003).
—Kenneth R. Shepherd
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