Axelle Red, a socially engaged singer
Axelle Red is not only a talented Belgian singer, but also a socially engaged artist, involved in causes for women, children and world peace. She was born on 15 February 1968 in Hasselt, under the name Fabienne Demal.
She brought out her first record, a single, in 1983. Only 14 years old at the time, Fabienne Demal released Little girls, which she signed in the diminutive "Fabby". On the sleeve is an image of the young artist, sat on the floor, looking forlornly at a rag doll. Two years later, in 1985, she released her second single, Back to Tokyo, which was a love song in keeping with the pop sound of the 1980s.
Having obtained her Law degree at the University of Brussels (VUB), she signed to the Virgin Benelux label and brought out her first album in 1993: Sans plus attendre, which contained twelve tracks, under her pseudonym 'Axelle Red'. The singles Sensualité, Je t'attends and Le Monde tourne mal earned success for the record in France, Switzerland, Canada and Belgium. The album sold more than 600,000 copies in total.
The follow-up album, À tâtons, was recorded in Memphis in 1996 with Steve Cropper and Isaac Hayes. Thanks to tracks which included: Ma prière, À quoi ça sert ? and Rester femme, the album received a platinum award for having sold more than a million copies in Europe. One year later, she performed for the first time at the Olympia club in Paris.
But Axelle is not just a singer, she is also a public figure who is firmly committed to humanitarian causes. Since 1997, she has supported, as an ambassador of the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef), the rights of women and children in war-torn regions and developing countries. That same year, she started a campaign against anti-personnel mines, during the enactment of the Ottawa Treaty.
Together with Youssou N'Dour, she sang the official anthem La Cour des Grands for several billion television viewers during the opening ceremony of the 1998 football World Cup at the Stade de France in Paris. For her first show Soul and Rhythm & Blues, which was dubbed The Soul of Axelle Red, she surrounded herself with living legends including Wilson Pickett, Sam Moore, Eddy Floyd, Percy Sledge and Ann Peebles.
In 1999, Axelle was awarded the highest musical distinction in France, when she won the title of female artist of the year at the Victoires de la Musique awards. That same year, she brought out her third studio album which she wrote and produced entirely by herself. Toujours moi confirmed her success, selling more than 800,000 copies.
Her fourth solo album, Face A / Face B, was released in 2002. The title is a reference to the Fast and Slow vinyl records of the 1960s. The themes Axelle explores are particularly hard-hitting: extremism, anti-globalisation, the fight against anti-personnel mines, child soldiers, drugs..
A 3 CD box set containing a host of unreleased tracks, including duets with Aznavour, Cabrel, Eicher, and Vartan, was released in 2003. Selling more than 800,000 copies, her duet with Renaud, Manhattan-Kaboul, became the most listened to track in France. For their efforts, they received an NRJ Music Award that same year.
After having to flee the troubles in the Congo in June 2004, Axelle led a campaign with Unicef in July of that same year, against female excision and child marriages in Niger.
Axelle Red is also associated with cinema. In addition to the tracks she composed specifically for films, she played the role of a neurotic pianist in the film Elektra, by Rudolf Mesdaght, which was released in Belgium in 2004.
In September 2006, Axelle received the highest artistic distinction from the French Minister of Culture, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres: 'Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters'.
One year later, in December 2007, King Albert II presented her with the honorary award of 'Commander of the Order of the Crown' for her social commitment.
In May 2008, the University of Hasselt appointed her 'Doctor Honoris Causa' due to her social commitment both as an artist and human rights activist. On the occasion of International Women's Day, Axelle was guest speaker at the Council of Europe for a debate on domestic violence.
After making an English-speaking album, she released Un cœur comme le mien, in 2011. A mix of soul, folk and electric country, it was recorded in the United States but sung in French.
In 2013, the Belgian singer returned with a brand new album which marked 20 years since her very first record: Sans Plus Attendre.
Her thirteenth album, entitled The Songs Acoustic, which came out in 2015, is an album of rearranged and intimate covers of her own songs, along with a few unreleased tracks. In the meantime, she has performed at various venues in France and Belgium.
Photo: © Cynthia Vertessen