Bernard Lavilliers


7 October 1946

Bernard Lavilliers (real name: Bernard Ouillon) was born in Firminy in the Loire area in France. His father worked for the national manufacture of weapons in Saint-Etienne, his mother was a teacher. At 16, Lavilliers became an apprentice in the weapons factory where his farther worked, and also started boxing. After some thefts he was placed in a house for juvenile offenders. At this point in his adolescent life, as he described years later, Lavilliers did not know what to do with his life: be a gangster, a boxer or a poet. In 1963 he joined the Communist Party. At the age of 19, he moved to Brazil, where he was interned at the fortress Metz for one year due to subordinate behaviour.

When he returned to France, he started singing in nightclubs. During this period he encountered Jean/Pierre Hébrard, artistic director of Decca. In 1967 he released his two first 7”+ in that same year his first daughter, Anne-Laure, was born. His first album was released the following year. He remained faithful to his left wing conviction and performed in the occupied factories in the Lyon area. In 1970 he marries his second wife, Evelyn. Their daughter Virginia was born in 1972. In that same year, Lavilliers released his second album, ‘Les poètes’ and in 1974 followed ‘Le Stéphanois’. Léo Ferré’s influence is very much present, but the latter album featured the song ‘San Salvador’, a samba orientated song that expressed the future musical evolution of Lavilliers work. In 1975 his son William was born. In 1976 he released ‘Les barbares’, his first album for major record label ‘Barclay’, with both commercial and critical success, that was further established with ’77 album ‘15e round’. These albums mark the entrance of Lavilliers into the pop-rock scene. In 1977 he performs for the first time at the prestigious Olympia Theatre. The 1979 concept-album ‘Pouvoirs’ failed to maintain commercial success; apearently, the French audience was not ready for this experimental rock album that opened with a twenty minute track... Despite this, the record was followed by a very successful live tour.

In the following years Lavilliers moved to Saint Malo where he bought a boat and left for Jamaica, then New York and Brazil. Back from the trip, which is an enormous source of inspiration, he released ‘O Gringo’ in 1980. It is a huge success with the hits ‘Salsa’ and ‘Stand the ghetto’. He also sang ‘Est-ce ainsi que les homment vivent’, (‘Is this how people live’), a poem by Aragon set to music by his idol Léo Ferré. At the beginning of the eighties, Lavilliers popularity further increased. Yet, he still remained a rebel and adventurer. In his songs he often refers to his experiments with all sorts of drugs.

In January 1981, he took the road to El Salvador in Central America, via Los Angeles. Then he released ‘Nuit d´amour’ (‘Night of love’), which includes the song ‘Eldorado’. In 1983 ‘Etat d’urgence’ followed, again a commercial and critical success, including ‘Ideés noires’, a duet with French blues singer Nicoletta. The record went gold in three months time. Despite commercial success, Lavilliers morale is low, partly due the fact that his last partner, American Lisa, just left him. After a long acoustic tour Bernard Lavilliers publishes his tenth album: ‘Tout est permis, rien n'est possible’ (‘Everything is permitted, nothing is impossible’). He also wrote the musical score for the French film ‘Rue Barbare’ and performed at the stage of the Olympia Theatre for almost a month. At that time he met Miss Li, a dancer with whom he married in 1984.

In search of inspiration, Lavilliers resumed his travelling around the world and heads of for Africa this time: Dakar, Senegal and Congo Brazzaville. The new ideas resulted in his new album ‘Voleur de feu’ (‘Thief of fire’) in 1986, including ‘Black and White’, a collaboration with Congolese musician Nzongo Soul. In 1988 he released "If" followed by the live album ‘Live on the road again 1989’. Two years after returning from a trip to Asia he released ‘Solo’ in 1991, including the song ‘Salome’ named after his daughter, born in 1987. He invited Leo Ferré on the scene of the ‘Fête de l'Humanité’, An annual famous French communist meeting.

In 1994, Lavilliers released the introspective album ‘Champs du possible’, followed by ‘Clair-obscur’ in 1997. The latter being again a typical Lavilliers album, recorded in Jamaica and Brussels: the latin rhythms are present, as well as Ferré’s legacy: the album opens with his ‘Préface’. In 2001 he released the album ‘Arrêt sur image’ (‘Freeze for the picture’), on which he again expressed his discontent with the world: right and wrong, pain and evil, unemployment and violence. Again on a musical layer of reggae, bossa nova and Latin accents with modern electronic touches. In 2002, Bernard Lavilliers is rewarded the Grand Prize of the French song as creator and performer. ‘Carnets de bord’, released in 2004, was recorded in New York, Jamaica and France and shows us a more acoustic style. Guest stars include Tiken Jah Fakoly and Cesaria Evora.

In late 2004, the texts of the singer-campaigner appear on paper in a book in two volumes: "The knives of the city" and "The Curse of traveler "(Editions Christian Pirot), history recall that Bernard Lavilliers means not only openness to the world and mixing, but it is also an author committed to the texts. He went on tour and in March 2005, which took him to the stage of the Paris Grand Rex. This resulted in a live cd-dvd. ´Escale au Grand Rex´.

In 2008, Lavilliers released ‘Samedi soir à Beyrouth’, recorded in Memphis and, again, in Jamaica. The record is followed by a series of live performances. ‘Samedi soir à Beyrouth’ shows us Lavilliers at his best: sharp, critical observations of the world, of social and environmental abuse, combined with reggae and latin compositions, recorded with local musicians. It emphasizes Lavilliers importance for French music, together with Serge Gainsbourg he introduced reggae and latin rhythms to French music. In 2013 he visits the ruined island of Haïti, a visit that inspires him to go back to his roots on 'Baron Samedi". Following this more basic album he selects 14 of his classic songs for an acoustic rework in 2014..

On the web:

- Bernard's website: http://www.bernardlavilliers.com

If you like this, you probably like... / european counterparts:

Serge Gainsbourg (France)

Enrico Ruggieri (Italy)

What do we think:

DB: Outside France Lavilliers may not be a very familiar name. I presume his music is to rebellious for the average chanson fan who likes Aznavour and to French for the average Anglo-american music fan. They don't know what they're missing. Although at first impression he may sound less interesting then artists like Couture or Renaud fact is he isn't. Especially his feel for reggae and latin and capability of incorporating that into French pop is unsurpassed. In comparison he may come closest to Gainsbourg but is less poetic and more rock. And lets not forget, it was Lavilliers that introduced France to reggea, years before Serge would use it.

PR: It was not 'love at first hearing'. It took me a while to really appreciate Lavilliers. Now that I have, I have become a big fan of his work. He created his own, typical style. He has a nice voice and writes great lyrics. Despite his success he always remained loyal to his roots and his - quite left-wing - convictions. The razor blade sharp texts, put to reggae, salsa, latin and African rhythms, results in an extremely intruiging combination. Definitely worth discovering! 'Nuit d'amour' and 'Etat d'urgence' are good albums to start with.


Premiers pas... - 1968

♪♪- Les Poètes - 1972

♪♪♪ - Le Stéphanois - 1974

♪♪♪ - Les Barbares - 1976

♪♪♪ - 15e Round - 1977

♪♪ - T'es vivant... ? (live) - 1978

♪♪♪ - Pouvoirs - 1979

♪♪♪♪ - O gringo - 1980

Live Tour 80 - 1980

♪♪♪♪♪ - Nuit d'amour - 1981

♪♪♪♪ - État d'urgence - 1983

Rue Barbare, BOF du film éponyme de Gilles Béhat - 1983

♪♪♪ - Tout est permis, rien n'est possible - 1984

Olympia Live 1984 (live) - 1984

♪♪♪ - Voleur de feu - 1986

♪♪♪♪ - If... - 1988

Live on the road again 1989 (live) - 1990

♪♪♪ - Solo - 1991

♪♪♪ - Champs du possible - 1994

♪♪♪ - Clair-obscur - 1997

Histoires en scène (live) - 2000

Arrêt sur image - 2001

Carnets de bord - 2004

Escale au Grand Rex (live) - 2005

♪♪♪♪ - Samedi soir à Beyrouth - 2008

♪♪♪- Cause perdues et musiques tropicales - 2010

♪♪♪ - Baron Samedi - 2013

♪♪♪ - Acoustique - 2014

♪♪♪♪♪ = outstanding album, an absolute must-have
♪♪♪♪ = great album, highly recomended
♪♪♪ = nice album
♪♪ = be careful, requires listening before buying
♪ = best to be avoided


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