The comparisons between Lara Fabian and fellow Canadian chanteuse Celine Dion are almost unavoidable: both got their start as singers in the French-speaking world; both make their home in Canada’s predominantly French province of Quebec (although Fabian came to Canada during the 1990s from her native Belgium); both have done soundtrack work for Disney; and both eventually began recording in English to enter the very lucrative English-speaking music market. Being compared to Dion, Fabian told Interview, has not discouraged her. “I’ve been compared to so many people—Streisand, Celine—it doesn’t bother me. Why worry about being compared to the best?” Dion, of course, has already become a highly successful musical star in English, but Fabian, whose English-language album debuted in 2000, is on the verge of breakthrough success.
Born in January 1970 in the Belgian town of Etterbeek, Fabian is the daughter of a Flemish father and a Sicilian mother. It was music that gave Fabian her first name. Both parents so enjoyed the love theme from the film Dr. Zhivago that they named their daughter Lara. Given Fabian’s family background, her multilin-gualism is hardly surprising. She grew up speaking Italian as her first language (her mother’s native tongue), but she was also comfortable speaking in French and Flemish, the two official languages of Belgium, as well as Spanish and English, both of which she learned in school. Although the family spent most of the time in Belgium, Fabian visited her mother’s Sicilian homeland frequently as a child.
Fabian inherited her passion for music from both parents. Her father is a musician who plays guitar and once sang backup vocals for Petula Clark, while her mother is musical as well and introduced Fabian to classical music. For Fabian, there has really never been any question about what she would do with her life. “I’ve always wanted to be a singer, ever since I was a child,” she told Canadian Musician. “I remember driving with my father as a five-year-old girl, and I turned to him, very serious, and said, “I am a singer.’ I knew back then that I wanted to be a singer and a songwriter, and I have always been dedicated to that dream, but it has been hard work along the way.”
Fabian’s parents recognized the singer’s talents early on and enrolled her in the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussels when she was eight. She was single-minded in her pursuit of musical training, she told Canadian Musician. “Nothing else really interested me; it was always singing, playing piano, writing songs and poems, learning, being taught everything I wanted to know. It was all music, and it never stopped. I had 10 years of lessons at the conservatory in Belgium, studying classical music. I learned how to sing, play the piano, and all the theory that I needed. By the time I left, I had confidence in my skills, and I knew that the
Born in January 1970 in Etterbeek, Belgium. Education: Studied at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels, c. 1978-88.
Launched professional career in Belgium, c. 1984; moved to Montreal, Canada, and formed own recording label and production company, Productions Clandestines, early 1990s; released French-language album debut, Lara Fabian, 1991; released Carpe Diem, 1994; released Pure, 1997; released debut English-language album, self-titled, 2000.
Awards: Fourth Prize, Eurovision Song Contest, 1988; Felix Awards, Best Female Vocalist and Best Live Performance, 1995; Felix Award, Pop Album of the Year, 1997; Felix Award, Quebec Artist Having Had the Most Impact outside Quebec, 1998; Victoire de la Musique Award, New Artist of the Year, 1998; World Music Award, Best Benelux Recording Artist, 1999; Felix Award, Quebec Artist Having Had the Most Impact in a Language Other Than French, 2000; World Music Award, Best Benelux Artist, 2001.
Addresses: Record company —Sony Music Canada, 1121 Leslie Street, Toronto, Canada ON M3C2J9. Management —Productions Clandestines, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Website —Lara Fabian Official Website: http://www.larafabian.com.
experience had prepared me to become a real professional.”
Even before leaving the conservatory and while still in her early teens, Fabian began performing in competitions in local and regional talent shows and appearing in clubs in Brussels. Her father, who had played guitar for her since she was a little girl, continued to provide her accompaniment on some of Fabian’s early performances. In 1988 at the age of 18, she entered the Eurovision Song Contest, a competition created by the state-run television stations of Europe to find the best new popular songs, and won fourth prize for her rendition of “Croire.”
Fabian’s first single, “L’aziza est en pleurs,” released in Belgium but marketed throughout the French-speaking world, enjoyed modest success, but it was followed up by “Croire” and “Je sais,” which sold 500, 000 and 300, 000 copies, respectively. Her first visit to Quebec came on a tour to promote her single “Je sais.” This crucial visit came at a time when Fabian was feeling frustrated at the lack of opportunities in Europe. “It is a very beautiful place but very conservative, and I was young and headstrong,” she told Canadian Musician. “I was 18 years old, and I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to explore my potential and express myself, and I was feeling stifled. People kept telling me what I should be doing and how I should conduct myself, but I didn’t want to compromise, so I left and found a place where I could be myself.”
When Fabian decided to move to Montreal, she brought along with her producer-arranger Rick Allison, a longtime friend and collaborator. Between them, they had two suitcases and about $1, 000 in cash. Together they established an independent recording label and production company called Productions Clandestines. In August of 1991, Fabian released her first album, self-titled, in her newly adopted homeland. She had recorded the songs on the album earlier in Belgium. Her sound quickly won the hearts of listeners in Quebec. Among the more successful singles from the album were “Le jour où tu partiras,” “Qui pense à l’amour?” and “Les murs.” Another song, “Je m’arrêterai pas de t’aimer,” offered convincing proof that Fabian was not only a compelling vocalist but a talented songwriter as well. By 1993, her first album went gold and the following year was certified platinum.
Carpe Diem, Fabian’s second French-language album, was released in 1994 and quickly proved that the singer-songwriter was no one-hit wonder. In less than a month, the album had gone gold and by 1995 was certified triple platinum. Three of the singles from the album—“Tu t’en vas,” “Leila,” and “Si tu m’amies”—remained in the top 50 for months. To promote her second album, Fabian went on tour, appearing before more than 150, 000 fans around the French-speaking world. ADISQ, Quebec’s association of recording artists, rewarded Fabian’s hard work with two Felix Awards in 1995: Best Female Vocalist and Best Live Performance. One of the highlights of 1995 for Fabian was an appearance she made at Paris’ famed Palais des Congres with legendary Serge Lama. Together the two sang “Je suis malade,” a song that Fabian had included on Carpe Diem.
In 1996, Walt Disney Studios tapped Fabian to supply the voice of Esmeralda in the French-language version of its animated feature, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, as well as the song “Que dieu aide les exclus” (“God Help the Outcasts”) for the French-language soundtrack. Disney was so impressed by Fabian’s rendition of the song that it was included on the English-language soundtrack as well.
As impressive as sales of Carpe Diem had been, Fabian’s third album, Pure, did it one better, soaring to gold in less than two weeks. Released in June of 1997, Pure produced three singles—“Tout,” “Je t’aime,” and “Humana”—that each sold more than one million copies. While touring in France in January of 1998, Fabian got an opportunity to appear onstage with another legendary French singer. At a benefit concert for Restos du Cur, she sang a duet with Johnny Hallyday. Thousands of French fans also got to see Fabian on tour, which included two sold-out shows at the famed Olympia Theatre in Paris. Only a month later the Montreal-based singer was honored with France’s Victoire de la Musique Award, the French Grammy Award equivalent, as New Artist of the Year.
It was clear that France had taken Fabian to its heart. In April of 1998, she sold out a two-night stint at the mammoth Palais des Sports in Paris. Hallyday again invited her to join him onstage, this time during a number of concerts at the Stade de France before an estimated 240, 000 fans. In the fall of 1998, Fabian was back on tour in Europe, appearing before audiences that totaled more than 150, 000. Back in her adopted home of Quebec in November of 1998, she received ADISQ’s Felix Award for the Quebec Artist Having Had the Most Impact outside Quebec. As if to confirm ADISQ’s choice, France’s Paris Match magazine put Fabian on its cover in December to showcase her as its Revelation of the Year. Six months later, at the World Music Awards in Monaco, Fabian received the award for Best Benelux Recording Artist. So eager was Europe’s French-language market for more of Fabian that in July of 1999 Polydor released a slightly modified version of her 1991 self-titled debut album. The changes included a new album cover and the addition of the song “Croire.”
In the summer of 1999, Fabian traveled to New York and San Francisco to record songs for her first English-language album, also self-titled. Released on the Sony label, the album was an important venture for Fabian, who told Interview magazine she wanted to reach the English-speaking world “because English is the universal language. No matter where you come from, if you sing in English, you can cross over to the world.”
Fabian enlisted the help of some high-powered producers to help ensure the success of her debut English-language recording. Such hit-makers as Walter Afanasieff, Patrick Leonard, and Brian Rawling each produced tracks. As for the songs on the album, Fabian wrote or co-wrote about 90 percent.
Lara Fabian, Productions Clandestines, 1991.
Carpe Diem, Polydor, 1994.
(Contributor) The Hunchback of Notre Dame (soundtrack), Disney, 1996.
Pure, Polydor, 1997.
Lara Fabian, Columbia/Sony, 2000.
(Contributor) A.I. Artificial Intelligence (soundtrack), Warner Bros., 2001.
Canadian Musician, October 1, 2000.
Interview, November 2000, p. 44.
“Artist: Lara Fabian,” Sing365, http://www.sing365.com (June 14, 2001).
“Lara Fabian,” Sony Music, http://www.sonymusic.com/artists/LaraFabianUS/English/bio.html (June 14, 2001).
“Lara Fabian: Biography,” Sonicnet.com, http://www.sonicnet.com/artists/biography/910688.jhtml (June 14, 2001).
“Lara Fabian-Biography,” Yahoo! Music, http://musicfinder.yahoo.com (June 14, 2001).
Born: Etterbeek, Belgium, 9 January 1970
Best-selling album since 1990: Pure (1997)
Hit songs since 1990: "I Will Love Again"
Fabian's mother is from Sicily and her father from Brussels. Her first language was Italian in a childhood spent shuttling between Italy and Belgium. However, she also quickly learned French and later became fluent in English through her studies. From the ages of eight to eighteen, Fabian studied at the prestigious Royal Conservatory of Brussels. There she received a solid classical music foundation and began writing songs. She began performing professionally at the age of fourteen.
Upon graduating, she moved to Montreal and worked with another Brussels expatriate, the writer/producer Rick Allison, on what became her first album, Lara Fabian (1991). The CD features French dance pop with the typical electronic beats and perky synths. However, Fabian's plaintive, strong voice and songwriting contributions made it clear that she was more than just another disco clone. The album sold 100,000 copies.
Fabian came into her own on Carpe Diem (1994), which still has up-tempo numbers but gives her more room to show off on ballads. The album sold 800,000 copies, further solidifying her status as an up-and-coming diva.
In 1996 Fabian was introduced to English-speaking Canadians in her performance of the orchestral ballad "Que Dieu Aide Les Exclus" ("God Help the Outcast") for the Canadian soundtrack to the Disney animated movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame. She also provided the voice of female lead Esmeralda for the movie's French-Canadian release. However, she put English crossover plans on hold in a bid to consolidate her stardom in French-speaking countries. The success of Pure (1997), which sold more than 2 million copies in France, proved that she was right to postpone her cross-over debut. She now had even more leverage with record labels looking to ink an English deal, and she was wooed by Sony Music's former chairman Tommy Mottola.
Fabian's English debut, Lara Fabian (2000), was given a May 30 release date that gave Sony time to promote the album before the typical pre-Christmas barrage of blockbusters. In an unusual gimmick, Sony even offered a money-back guarantee to dissatisfied listeners. The album's first single, "I Will Love Again," with its piercing, anthemic chorus, serves as a more upscale "I Will Survive" for the recently dumped. The song made number thirty-two on the Billboard Hot 100 but got all the way to number one on the dance charts. With swirling synths and busy percussion, it bears the stamp of the producers Mark Taylor and Brian Rawling, who worked with Cher and Enrique Iglesias. She croons seductively in Italian on "Adagio" and exudes class on the piano-based soft-rock tune "Part of Me." However, Fabian sounds a little too much like Celine Dion, making it difficult for casual fans to recognize her. Also, her lyrics suffer from blandness, as the following example shows: "When you look into my eyes / you get what you see." Fabian returned to French with Nue (2001) and cracked the Spanish-language market the same year with "Quédate," used in the Telemundo comedy/drama Uga Uga.
Fabian's clear voice can go from pure fire to a cool whisper as it traverses melodies most singers could only dream of. However, she has faced tough competition in the English-speaking market from other divas like Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey, and Celine Dion.
Carpe Diem (Polydor, 1994); Pure (Polydor, 1997); Lara Fabian (Sony, 2000); Nue (Universal, 2001).