French singer, French storyteller: Francis Cabrel

Francis Cabrel - French singerIt’s only recently that I have been re-exposed to the music of French singer, songwriter and guitarist Francis Cabrel.

Although I had not heard any of his songs since childhood, I must admit I fell in love instantly.

This rediscovery prompted me to find out more about the man and the artist. I think his music should have a place of honor in every French music connoisseur’s library.

The backstory of this French singer

Growing up in France in the 70s and 80s, and living there until I was 20, I listened – fairly reluctantly I might say – to the music of the French songwriters of that time: Brel, Aznavour, Cabrel, Nougaro, Dutronc, Ferré, Brassens, etc. My parents only listened to music with French lyrics.

English ‘easy listening pop’ (as I call it) was all the rage back then. Sadly enough, for me and other teenagers, it came to replace native songs that had much more meaningful lyrics and better constructed melodies.

La poésie française

Cabrel’s songs, like ‘L’encre de tes yeux’, ‘Petite Marie’ and ‘Je l’aime à mourir  (‘La Quiero a Morir as recently recorded by Shakira), are not only beautiful in their simplicity and delivery, but also cleverly written and vividly poetic.

Each word has been carefully chosen, for its specific beauty as well as its chemistry with the other lyrics, making Cabrel a true master of the art of storytelling in some forty-odd lines.

“Cabrel’s lyrics are somewhat reminiscent of a French vintage wine: precisely blended and perfectly poured.”

These are powerful and heartfelt words which I would imagine, for a shy person, are easier to write than to speak.

Cabrel’s lyrics are somewhat reminiscent of a French vintage wine: precisely blended and perfectly poured. Strangely enough, he does actually produce his own wine with his brother Philippe under the label ‘Boiron’.

True to his art and heritage, and protective of his roots, Cabrel has also refused to let producers reduce his strong meridional accent in his recordings. He knows who he is, and he is not changing for anyone.

Beyond France

Categorized as a French folk artist in his younger days, with his hippie-like long hair and bushy moustache, Cabrel has also dabbled in blues and country, influenced by Bob Dylan. He has recorded several songs in Spanish, a language he loves for its sensuality.

French singer Francis Cabrel

The Cabrel of today, rugged with shorter hair and no moustache, appears to be a more assured man, whose shyness seems to have been replaced with a mischievous sparkle.

Despite his popularity, he remains a modest man who cultivates a rich interior life: an artist who doesn’t crave the spotlight and a poet who has traveled many imaginary continents and returned with beautiful offerings.

Cabrel lives a simple and humble life with his family in a little Lot-et-Garonne village called Astaffort. To those who ask him why he is not as much in the media spotlight as other artists, he responds with humor that maybe it is them who are too much in the spotlight.

Ambassador of French music

His contribution to the music world is vast. In 1994, his organization, ‘Voix du Sud’ started the ‘Rencontres d’Astaffort, which are vocational training courses for young songwriters, composers and performers. Some 40 songs are written in a 15-day period and the best ones are performed in the village theatre.

Nathalie Sewell4

Cabrel has built up a huge following of loyal fans both at home and abroad. If you haven’t listened to his recent or earlier recordings, check them out. There will be a song that speaks to you, I promise.

Maybe one day, I will have the opportunity to talk music with him in a quaint little Astaffort café. Pourquoi pas…

What do you love about Francis Cabrel? Share your favourite song in the comments below.

Image credits:
1. Spanish influences via Blablavalley
2. Young Cabrel via Topito
3. Rencontres d’Astaffort via La Depeche

About the Contributor

Nathalie Richard-Sewell

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  1. Elise Mellor Jul 9, 2014 at 10:35 AM - Reply

    Bob Dylan … in French? *RUNS THE THE ITUNES STORE*
    He sounds like such a lovely person, too. And that ‘stache!! }:

  2. Nathalie Richard-Sewell Jul 9, 2014 at 11:57 PM - Reply

    Indeed! Ah le charme à la française… 🙂

  3. Christina Guzman Jul 11, 2014 at 5:02 PM - Reply

    I am definitely guilty of trying to avoid ‘native’ songs. It’s a shame though, because i do end up finding songs that I like (Once I actually look hehehe). But i find that it’s so much easier listening to what’s played on the radio.

  4. Mary Hoekzema Jul 12, 2014 at 11:01 AM - Reply

    I discovered Francis Cabrel 7 or 8 years ago when i first started studying French, and since then have bought many albums, including the two most recent ones, Des Roses et des Ortis and Vise le ciel, his tribute to Bob Dylan. He is by far my favorite French singer-songwriter and I have a lot of French music. I have far too many favorite songs to list them all. Listen to–La Robe et l’échelle, African Tour, Des Gens formidables, Elle dort, Tu me corresponds, and Elles nous regardent for starters. He works with some outstanding studio musicians who deserve serious credit, too. You are the first person I’ve run into to feature this fanatastic artist. Thank you. Another person with a long continuing career who deserves attention is Yves Duteil.

  5. Shannon Marie Jul 16, 2014 at 9:48 AM - Reply

    I have all 40 of the songs! So good! I love La Petite Marie!

  6. Manon rawat Apr 23, 2020 at 4:40 AM - Reply

    I love his song & I’m very huge fan of Francis cabrel from india..l’octobre, la corida, je l’aime a mourir, c’est ecrit, homme pareil et toutes Les autres chansons, Je voudrais lui rencontrer une fois dans ma vie. Un grand fan indien. May God always bless him.???

  7. Tony Festa Jun 7, 2021 at 6:22 AM - Reply

    I was introduced to Cabrel’s music in 1993 in a record store in Greenwich Village, NYC. The manager was playing his greatest hits (at the time) CD and I had to buy it immediately!

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