« C’était au temps ou Bruxelles chantait »: Brel’s Youth
Jacques Brel was born April 08th 1929 in Schaerbeek, Belgium. In great academic difficulty, his life doesn’t start in the music business but in the import-export business with his father in 1947. But his mind is elsewhere already. In constant need of evading his day-to-day routine, he organizes a theatrical show called “La Franche Cordée”at the age of 16. This group of young Catholics gives their time, voices and energy to elderly and ill people. Brel is interested in music from a very young age and fancies Ravel and Schubert.
At the age 21, he starts adapting texts (such as the little prince by St Exupéry), composing and singing his own songs. His Belgian singer life starts really when he joins Jacques Canetti and his Cabaret “Aux Trois Bodet”. The famous French singer Georges Brassens sees his potential and decides to contact him. Thus starts Brel’s French and Parisian life, in 1953
« C’est Paris qui commence »: Brel’s Parisian Beginning
As a symbol, his two daughters are called Chantal and France. Chantal parallels with the French word “chanter”: singing. The second name is more obvious, France.
He decides to move to Paris in 1953. “The Abbot Brel” as he is called by Brassens acknowledges a difficult beginning. The public and the press does not see yet Jacques Brel as I do, but as an average singer with limited capabilities.
Despite his first record in 1954 (a 78 Rounds Per Minute vinyl) being a failure, Canetti integrates Brel to his summer tour with Philippe Clay and Catherine Sauvage. His astonishing career is yet to start as he joins the famous Knokke-Le-Zoute Music Awards. He finishes very last to the contest. But Brel keeps on performing every night in Canetti’s Cabaret ’Aux Trois Bodet”. He still has a full support from the Bulgarian born musical producer Canetti.
It’s only in 1954, when he meets notorious Belgian conductor Jacques Hélian while performing in Brussels that he receives a proper acknowledgment of his talent. For the very first time, France is about to hear and discover ‘’The Great Jacques”. 1955 is a turning point in his life, as he starts recordings 33 RPM’s vinyls. Jacques, his wife and their daughters move to Paris.
« Telle est ma quête, suivre l’étoile »: Recognition
He records in 1956 one of his most famous songs called « Quand on a que l’amour » with François Rauber. It remains one of his most accomplished creations and is still played to this day. He also received a price for this song.
After the attacks on Paris on November 13th 2015, French president François Hollande decided to play this song to commemorate the fallen ones. The strong vocals, the powerful lyrics and the breathtaking melody touched, touches and will forever touch any music lover to their very core. This song represents Brel’s potential and he is about to show the world his infinite talent.
As the American culture invades Europe, Brel is influenced by the arrival of the new musical genres, such as Swing or Rock.
In 1959, Brel continues to astonish the world with classics such as « Ne Me Quitte Pas » or « La Valse à Mille Temps».
Two very different music genres, as one is slow and provokes a feeling of misery and the other is a Waltz, on which the world danced for years.
Brel is now touring all around the globe and filling the biggest arenas. With more than 300 dates annually, Israel, Canada, Morocco and Lebanon welcome the soon to become French-Belgian singing legend.
Brel dares and Brel releases the same year a song called « Les Flamandes », which will not be appreciated by the Flemish.
But no matter, Brel is now a superstar and would « suffocate if he wouldn’t take any risks ». And his fame will grow exponentially as he releases « Amsterdam » in 1964 and « Vesoul » in 1968.
Not only by his skills but also by his authenticity and energy, Brel shows us his range with these songs. His use of many instruments (such as the accordeon, piano, harpsichords, guitar and trumpets ) makes his songs recognizable.
« Rêver un impossible rêve »: A New Career Path
Brel’s career isn’t summarized by his songs. He shares his melodic soul and accent by playing theatre and in movies.
In 1967, he says goodbye to the stage in New-York and thus starts his cinema career. in 6 years, he casts and produces 10 movies.
It’s only in 1974 that his career takes another turn and after getting his pilot license, he crosses the Pacific Ocean.
Brel is now 48 years old and finishes his last album “Les Marquises”. He dies on October 9th 1978 after a lung cancer.
His career totalizes 25 millions album sold worldwide and a nomination for the prestigious Cannes Festival in 1973 for his movie “Far West”.
If I could summarize Brel’s career in a few words, I would say that he is an eternal unsatisfied hard worker life lover. His songs relate all periods of his life and manages to describe, through the danceability of his art and the catchy melody of his verses, his forever lasting envy of escaping reality.
The Great Jacques wants to send a message to the world, and uses every way to do so, even if it means getting the public against him.