Edith Lefel

Born : 11/1963 in Cayenne (French Guyana)
Dead : 20/01/2003 in Dreux (France)
Country : France
Language : Creole
Category : Female Artist
Style of music : Zouk

Edith Lefel - aka "La petite fée" (The Little Fairy) from Martinique - has established herself as one of the most exciting young divas to have emerged from the Afro-Caribbean music scene in recent years.

Edith Lefel - aka "La petite fée" (The Little Fairy) from Martinique - has established herself as one of the most exciting young divas to have emerged from the Afro-Caribbean music scene in recent years.

Born in Cayenne French Guyana in November 1963, Edith grew up with a mixed cultural background. Her father was born and raised in Martinique but her mother hailed from French Guyana and Edith actually spent the first three years of her life in her mother's homeland before her parents moved on to Martinique. "I was named after Hurricane Edith - a hurricane which devastated the whole island (Martinique)," the singer recalls. Edith certainly went on to live up to her name, causing what can only be described as a seismic reaction when she exploded onto the international music scene in her 20s and staked her claim to join the clan of new zouk divas.

Martinique was a thriving musical hotbed in the 70s, islanders listening to traditional rhythms such as belair, biguine and mazurka, but also dancing to the infectious beat of compas played by the big Haitian orchestras. It was this last genre in particular which inspired Martinique's up-and-coming singers and musicians, artists who, around a decade later, would go on to become the stars of the new zouk movement.

Edith, who would go on to become one of the leading female voices of the new zouk movement, began her musical apprenticeship in her teens, performing in concert with her elder brother. Edith's guitarist brother, who had his own folk/rock group, persuaded his younger sister to sing on stage with them and on Saturday nights Edith would hit the road with the band and drive off to perform at local parties and communal get-togethers. Edith's first public performances proved to be a big success and her covers of classics by legendary compas groups such as Tabou Combo and Skasha went down well with audiences right across the island.

Following In The Footsteps of A French Namesake

Besides singing compas classics, Edith also included a few covers of legendary Piaf songs such as "Hymne à l'amour" in her repertoire. In fact, the Martiniquan singer admits to being a major fan of the French chanson star, saying "I used to spend a lot of time imitating Edith Piaf at home - my parents listened to a lot of Piaf back then as well as records by Brel and Aznavour".

Edith's mother took her daughter to France when she turned fourteen and Edith spent her early teens growing up in Saint-Denis in the Paris suburbs. Diligently continuing her school studies, Edith began to work towards doing a law degree. Music remained her primary passion in life, however, and she soon landed a bit of temporary work singing vocals on radio adverts. But, more importantly for her career, around the same period Edith also began getting work as a backing singer in a number of Paris studios. It was while working on the studio circuit that the young singer would go on to meet the pioneers of the burgeoning zouk movement, working with the likes of Simon Jurad, Jean-Philippe Marthély and Patrick Saint Eloi, Kassav', a group which had already established itself at the forefront of the French Caribbean music scene.

Edith got her first major break in the zouk world in 1984 when the Martiniquan singer Jean-Michel Cabrimol, leader of La Mafia Formation (a group renowned for their infectious mix of salsa, cadence-compas and jazz) invited her to accompany the group on a tour of the French West Indies. It was during this tour that Edith would meet up with Jean-Luc Alger, singer and frontman of the group Lazair with whom she went on to record the zouk classic "Ich Maman". Edith was also introduced to songwriter Ronald Rubinel who encouraged her to start performing his compositions. Rubinel not only played a major role in Edith's lightning rise to fame, working as her arranger and producer, but he also shared the singer's private life, fathering twins with her.

On Stage With Malavoi

In 1987 Edith got a second unexpected break when Malavoi, Martinique's most famous zouk export, invited her to perform with them at Le Zénith in Paris. In fact, Edith stepped in at the last minute to replace Marie-José Alie (the Martiniquan star responsible for the smash hit "Caréssé moin" who also made a name for herself as a TV journalist on RFO). Edith's natural stage charisma and her easy contact with the audience made her an instant hit and she went on to tour with Malavoi after the concert at Le Zénith.

Thanks to her work with Malavoi Edith found herself introduced to the leading names of the zouk world and she soon went on to perform backing vocals for Philippe Lavil. She also recorded the duet "Sos mémé" with Ralph Tamar - aka "The Latin Crooner" - a song which featured on her debut album "La Klé". Produced by Georges Debs, one of the leading lights of the music stable which had already catapulted Kassav and Zouk Machine to fame, "La Klé" brought Edith instant critical acclaim, winning her a prestigious Sacem award for Best Songwriter of the Year. Meanwhile, as she emerged as an exciting new talent on the French music scene, Edith achieved major star status throughout the Caribbean and Africa (a country she visited for the first time when she toured Mozambique with the group Gazoline).

In 1992 Edith triumphed at the Sacem awards once again, winning the trophy for Best Female Singer of the Year for her second album "Mèci". "Mèci" also proved to be a considerable commercial hit, selling over 40,000 copies - which represents record sales for an Afro-Caribbean artist considering there was no publicity hype or backing from a major label! Edith rocketed back into the music news in 1996 with the release of her third album, "Rendez-vous", produced by her musical arranger/Pygmalion Ronald Rubinel. This time round, Rubinel came up with the bright idea of promoting Edith's new album with a massive poster campaign in the Paris métro.

Edith's Name Up In Lights In Paris

On 11 May 1996 Edith Lefel, the "petite fée" from Martinique, received the ultimate accolade in Paris when she was invited to perform at the legendary Olympia music hall - a venue which in its heyday had hosted concerts by the late great Edith Piaf and Martiniquan diva Léona Gabriel. Edith certainly lived up to her namesake that night as she took to the stage with her faithful zouk accomplices Ralph Tamar and Jean-Luc Alger and blew the audience away with some amazing vocals. Needless to say, Ronald Rubinel spent the evening looking on from the wings with the twins, sharing every moment of Edith's triumph in Paris.

Edith rocketed back into the music news in 1999 with a brand new album entitled "A fleur de peau". Produced, as always, by Roland Rubinel (who had been spending a lot of time flying out to work in recording studios in Cuba) Edith's new album featured two innovative covers - an infectious zouk version of the Diane Tell classic "Si j'étais un homme" and a salsa reworking of Piaf's "Hymne à l'amour". Edith's new album also benefited from some excellent contributions from fellow zouk stars including Tony Chasseur, Dominique Zorozabel (from Zouk Machine), Guyanese diva Sylviane Cedia, Jean-Philippe Marthély and the renowned Martiniquan pianist Mario Canonge.

Edith Lefel released a Greatest Hits album in 2001 featuring 17 tracks including two live extracts from her concert at the Olympia and eight duets recorded with artists such as Malavoi, Jocelyne Beroard and Jean-Luc Alger.

"Si seulement...", the final album

Edith went on to put the finishing touches to what would be her final album. Produced by Harry Diboula and released on Créon Music in December 2002, "Si seulement..." is a lively zouk album which also includes a touch of biguine, a mazurka track (featuring accompaniment by the famous pianist Mario Canonge) and a merengue cover of the Paulo Rosine classic, "Apartheid" with big brass band backing. And, for the first time on a zouk album, listeners are treated to the stirring chorus of a gospel choir (courtesy of Cameroonian artist Georges Séba's ensemble who have also performed with the likes of Garou and Céline Dion).

Edith's final album features contributions from an all-star cast, many of the Antillais music world's biggest stars – including Frédéric Caracas, Thierry Delannay, Jocelyne Labylle and Jean-Michel Rotin – joining Edith in the studio. Edith, who strove to make this album as modern and 'open' as possible, also added a touch of melancholy to her final recording, opting for pared-down musical arrangements and an intimate piano-bar ambience.

Edith was to have taken her new album to the stage at the start of 2003, performing a series of concerts featuring her new songs. But sadly, the singer succumbed to a fatal heart attack in her house in the Dreux countryside and the zouk world lost one of its greatest stars on 20 January 2003. A funeral mass was held for Edith Lefel at St-Sulpice Church in Paris on 25 January and she was finally laid to rest in Père-Lachaise cemetery, just round the corner from one of her greatest musical idols, Edith Piaf.

 

January 2003

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