Axelle Red was born as Fabienne Demal on 15 February 1968 in Hasselt, Flanders, Belgium, the daughter of Roland Demal, a solicitor in Hasselt and Councillor for the Flemish Liberals and Democrats (VLD) in the City Council.
Nowadays a committed artist and a militant humanist, back in 1993 Axelle graduated from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) as a lawyer, the same year her first album Sans Plus Attendrewas released which immediately resulted in her artistic break out in France, Switzerland, Canada and Belgium, where sales alone amounted to more than 200,000.
Her soul album, À Tâtons, recorded in 1996 in Memphis with musicians from the Stax label, including Steve Cropper and Isaac Hayes, is a real eye-opener. Axelle received an International Federation of the Phonographic Industry platinum award for sales of more than 1 million and a year later, she sold out the Paris Olympia for the first time.
Since 1997, Axelle has been an ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) standing up for the rights of children and women in war-torn regions and developing countries. That same year she devoted herself to the Ottawa Convention against land mines and in the poverty-stricken Haiti; she came face to face with children who have been imprisoned in miserable conditions without trial.
In 1998, Axelle married, and sang the official hymn, ‘La Cour des Grands’, with Youssou N'Dour in front of a few billion television viewers at the opening ceremony of the Football World Cup in the Stade de France in Paris. Seven months pregnant with her daughter, Janelle, in her shows devoted to soul and rhythm and blues she was joined by her heroes, Wilson Pickett, Sam Moore, Eddy Floyd, Percy Sledge and Ann Peebles. ‘The Soul of Axelle Red’. Axelle supported Amnesty International’s grand benefit concert in Paris although, under doctor’s orders, 7 months pregnant, she was advised not to perform herself. That same year saw the release of her Spanish album, Con Solo Pensarlo.
In 1999, Axelle received the most important music award in France for female artist of the year, the Victoire de la Musique, while her third studio album, Toujours Moi, was also released, written and produced by herself. It sold more than 800,000 albums. Once again, she returned to Asia where she had travelled extensively as a student. In Laos, one of the poorest Asiatic countries, Thailand and Cambodia she met women and children whose lives are a never-ending circle of violence, discrimination, prostitution and poverty. Axelle’s stinging words still ring through. ‘If I or my daughter had been born here then we wouldn’t be alive today’.
After more than 400 concerts, 2000 saw the recording of her first live album and DVD during her French tour, Alive.
In 2002, her fourth studio album, Face A / Face B, was released. The title refers to the vinyl records from the sixties labelled ‘fast and slow’ side (an up-tempo side for dancing and a ballad side for slows). It was a co-production with producer Al Stone (Jamiroquai, Björk,…). Axelle’s subject matter reflected her strong commitments covering extremism, anti-globalisation, anti-personnel mines, child soldiers and drugs. As a result of her experiences in the field, Axelle returned to Cambodia as part of the campaign against antipersonnel mines, then arrived in the Mexican city of Chiapas right in the middle of a Zapatista demonstration about the rights of the indigenous population, and further visited aHandicap International project in Vietnam.
In 2003, her second daughter, Gloria, was born. A CD box was also released comprising three CDs with numerous previously unreleased tracks such as duets with Charles Aznavour, Francis Cabrel, Stephan Eicher, Sylvie Vartan, Arnoand Tom Barman. Her duet with Renaud, ‘Manhattan-Kaboul’, had the most airplay in France that year and notched up sales of more than 800,000 singles, for which Axelle and Renaud received an NRJ music award at Midem inCannes.
After being forced to flee the riots in June 2004 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Axelle campaigned in July of that year in Niger with UNICEF against female circumcision and child marriages. ‘French Soul’, a first ‘Best Of’ was released with two previously unreleased songs ‘I Have A Dream’ and ‘J'ai Fait Un Rêve’, an homage to Martin Luther King. Axelle directed the two videos herself. Pregnant from a third daughter, Billie, she ended the year with a lightning visit to Sri Lanka with UNICEF emergency aid for the people who had been hit so badly by the tsunami.
In 2005, Axelle travelled to the north of Senegal for the French Oxfam/Agir Ici’s campaign, ‘Make noise till Hong Kong’. She spoke up for honest trade prices. In May, she joined Peter Gabriel and Youssou N'Dour at the Geneva concert on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the United Nations, at which Axelle is thanked by Kofi Annan for her humanitarian work with the various NGOs. Together with Bob Geldof, she is also the spokesperson for ‘Live 8 in France’ and performed on 2 July 2005 at the Palace of Versailles in front of 200,000 people during the benefit. At the European summit, Axelle officially asked Barroso, chairman of the European Commission, to increase the budget for the development of the Third World countries.
2006 saw the release of Jardin Secret, Axelle’s fifth studio album, a story of hope, optimism and positive thinking. Fleeing to a personal utopian world as a reaction to the pessimism in the world. The tracks were recorded in Willie Mitchell’s legendary Royal studios in Memphis (where Al Green and Ann Peebles recorded all their albums. In September 2006, Axelle received the highest artistic honour, becoming ‘Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres’, presented to her by the French minister of culture, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres. She also took part in the 0110 concerts against intolerance and racism in Antwerp and Brussels.
In 2007 Axelle visited poverty-stricken Sierra Leone for the Unicef campaign ‘Together, saving 4 million babies’, five years after the terrible civil war. Sierra Leone has the largest child mortality in the world. Genital mutilation of girls and violent ill-treatment of women are still a matter of course. In March 2007, Axelle spoke at the FIFDH (International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights) in Geneva together with the Cambodian director, Rithy Panh, during a debate on prostitution. In December 2007, King Albert II presented her with the medal of ‘Commandeur in de Kroonorde’ for her social commitment.
In May 2008, the University of Hasselt awarded Axelle the honorary title of ‘Doctor Honoris Causa’ for her social commitment as an artist and human rights’ activist. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, Axelle was guest speaker at the Council of Europe during a debate on ‘domestic violence’. She also wrote her first album in English, Sisters & Empathy, and recorded it with her regular musicians, Michael Toles and Lester Snell from Memphis and Jeff Anderson and Damon Duewhite from New York.
- 1993 : Sans plus attendre
- 1996 : À Tâtons
- 1998 : Con solo pensarlo
- 1999 : Toujours Moi
- 2000 : Alive (in concert)
- 2002 : Face A / Face B
- 2006 : Jardin Secret
- 2008 : Sisters & Empathy
- 2011 : Un coeur comme le mien
- 2013 : Rouge Ardent
- Victoires de la musique :
- NRJ Radio's NRJ Music Awards :
- Best French song (2003) for Manhattan-Kaboul with Renaud
- Best French duo (2003) with Renaud