After rocketing to fame in the 80s with his hit single "Madrid Madrid", Nilda Fernandez established himself at the forefront of the music scene playing on his double French/Spanish identity. Over the years Fernandez went on to explore a wide variety of musical genres, performing extensively worldwide from South America to Quebec. An atypical 'star', he has always maintained his distance from the media spotlight and the world of French showbizz.
Daniel Fernandez was born in Barcelona on 27 October 1957. His family were Protestants from Andalusia - not a welcome combination in the Catholic-dominated region of Catalonia at the time - and when Daniel was 7 his parents decided to move to the South of France, where they settled in Lyon. Daniel's father, a sculptor by trade, encouraged his son's interest in music and the young boy soon went on to take singing and piano lessons. Later in life, Daniel would also take up the guitar, teaching himself the traditional flamenco rhythms of his homeland.
Daniel's heart was firmly set on an artistic career - the only problem was that the young teenager could not decide whether he wanted to become an actor, director or a musician - in fact, Daniel's list of potential careers was endless. But, ironically enough, when Daniel did take up his first job, it was not in the arts at all. He ended up teaching Spanish for a year instead! However, Daniel's passion for music remained strong and it soon led to him abandoning his teaching career and launching himself as a professional musician.
Daniel started out performing solo with his guitar, playing in bars, clubs and other small venues in the local Lyon and Toulouse region. It was a hectic, unstable life and some months Daniel barely earned enough money to pay his rent. But he determinedly stuck to his chosen career and in 1981 Daniel finally got his big break! He sent a demo tape - a simple recording, just straightforward vocals and guitar - to Pathé Marconi and the record company called him in to record an album.
In fact, the artistic director at Pathé Marconi was so impressed by Fernandez's simple guitar sound that he gave his new protégé 'carte blanche' in the studio. Unfortunately, Daniel Fernandez's début album did not turn out to be the great hit everyone was expecting. In fact, the album failed to make any impact on the French charts whatsoever. Daniel was severely disappointed but by this setback but it did not deter him from his music career. He returned to performing on the Lyon music scene, with his trusty old guitar in hand. Daniel managed to scrape together a meagre living on the local music scene, playing in bars and youth clubs, but on more than one occasion the singer ended up busking to make ends meet!
Fernandez Scores His First Hit With "Madrid Madrid"
However, in spite of all his financial difficulties, Fernandez soldiered on. And in 1987, after changing his name to Nilda, the singer went back into the studio to record a single entitled "Madrid Madrid". Released on the Dreyfus label, "Madrid Madrid" went on to prove a major hit with both French music fans and the critics. Indeed, Nilda Fernandez's distinctive voice - high-pitched, tremulous and almost fragile-sounding - was destined to turn him into an overnight star.
Fernandez did not return to the studio to record his début album until 1991 but when he did the album, entitled simply "Nilda Fernandez", proved to be another great success. Indeed, "Nilda Fernandez" - which included the best-selling single "Nos fiançailles", "l'Invitation à Venise" and a nostalgic ballad entitled "Entre Lyon et Barcelone" (Between Lyon and Barcelona) - went on to sell over 300,000 copies. Critics hailed the album as a triumph, agreeing that Fernandez's distinctive voice could not have been better suited to the melancholy poetry of his lyrics.
But it was on stage at his live concerts that Fernandez really came into his own. With his long dark hair and svelte physique, Fernandez looked like some kind of romantic modern troubadour, and his ability to switch between songs in French and Spanish only endeared him to his audience more. The singer's popularity continued to go from strength to strength and in July 1991 Fernandez was invited to support British pop star Sting when the latter performed a mega-concert at the famous Bercy stadium in Paris.
Fernandez soon went on to triumph at the "Victoires de la Musique" awards, where he was voted Best Newcomer of the Year. Shortly after receiving his award, Fernandez travelled up to La Rochelle to perform at the renowned Francofolies music festival in July 1992. Needless to say, the singer's vibrant live performance brought the house down. Then, at the end of the summer, hundreds of fans flocked to Paris to see Fernandez in concert at the Théâtre de la Renaissance (26 September - 9 October 1992). 1992 proved to be a highly successful year for Fernandez, for later that year he was also awarded the prestigious Prix de l'Académie Charles-Cros. Meanwhile, a Spanish version of Fernandez's début album was being prepared for release in Spain. And his classic "Mes yeux dans ton regard" would soon go on to prove a hit with Spanish music fans as "Mi amor en tu querer".
On 20 and 21 April 1993 Fernandez went on to triumph at the Olympia (the most famous concert venue in Paris). As the audience burst into a round of thunderous applause, Fernandez appeared on stage accompanied by a carefully-chosen group of musicians - Giovanni Pietro Cremonini (on double bass), Alejandro Barcelona (accordion), Jean-Luc Teilhon (clarinet) Stephano Genoves (piano) and, last but not least, Pascal Rolando (on percussion). After his successful shows at the Olympia, Fernandez resumed his hectic tour schedule, performing up and down the country. Following the release of his début album, the indefatigable singer had performed more than 150 concerts - almost without a break! In 1993 Fernandez was rewarded for his efforts, when the Sacem (the French Association of Songwriters and Composers) presented him with the coveted Prix de la Sacem.
In the summer of 93 Fernandez returned to the studio to record a new single entitled "Sinfanaï Retu". The single proved to be another massive hit, hovering around the top of the French charts for nearly eight weeks. "Sinfanaï Retu" also gave fans an interesting foretaste of the new material on Fernandez's second album which was released in the autumn of that year. After performing an extensive tour in South America, Fernandez returned to France in mid-October to present a show based on extracts from his new album. (The singer's second album was, like the first, given no official title other than "Nilda Fernandez"). Appearing at the Théâtre Impérial in Compiègne, Fernandez gave a superb performance, accompanied on stage by a full string section as well as his group of seven loyal musicians.
After bringing the house down at the Printemps de Bourges festival in April 94, Fernandez jetted out to Argentina in June to perform a series of concerts in Buenos Aires. Fernandez proved a huge hit with local music fans - especially when he teamed up on stage with the legendary Argentinean diva Mercedes Sosa. The following year Fernandez set off on his travels again, flying out to perform in northern Quebec. The singer became greatly interested in the region's Indian culture and, after his concert tour was over, spent several days staying in a local village getting to know several of Quebec's native Indians.
When he returned to France, Fernandez decided to branch out in a new direction. The multi-talented singer turned his hand to writing and soon published his first novel "Ça repart pour un soliloque". Then in 1996 Fernandez turned his attention to his music career once more. After flying back and forth to New York for a series of concerts, Fernandez decided to record his new album in studios in the Big Apple. His third album "Innu Nikamu" (which in the American Indian dialect of North Quebec means "Man Sings") involved a brand new collaboration. In fact, Fernandez teamed up with jazz pianist Michel Camilo from Santo Domingo, who looked after the arrangements and artistic production on the singer's new album. The songs on "Innu Nikamu", which was released in 1997, were, as usual, beautifully-crafted with a strong sense of poetry. As the title suggests, the lyrics were strongly influenced by the different cultures Fernandez had come into contact with in the course of his travels.
Fernandez appears to have nomad blood coursing through his veins, for shortly after the release of "Innu Nikamu", he was off on his travels again. This time round the singer came up with a highly original idea for his concert tour. He packed his musicians and instruments into a horse-drawn caravan and travelled through a series of villages and small towns, performing a series of small-scale concerts as he went. On 13 October Fernandez also stopped off in Paris to give a memorable performance at the Théâtre de la Renaissance.
Then, in true troubadour style, Fernandez ambled off in his horse-drawn caravan, slowly wending his way through the French countryside and delighting audiences with his simple acoustic show. He returned to the capital in January 1998 however, to perform three concerts at Le Casino de Paris.
Then Fernandez went back into the studio to record a Spanish version of his latest album (rechristened "Niña bonita" for the Spanish-speaking market). The Spanish version of the album was released in the U.S., Mexico, Argentina - and, of course, Spain. Meanwhile, Nilda was also busy in the studio recording a duet in French with the Congolese music star Sam Mangwana. (The song was featured on the new version of Mangwana's album which was specially re-released on this occasion).
Throughout his career Nilda Fernandez was fascinated by the work of Federico Garcia Lorca (1899-1936). Indeed, Lorca's poetry not only inspired many of Fernandez's songs, his life also inspired many events in the singer's career. When Fernandez set off on tour in his caravan, for example, he was reliving the experience of la Barraca, the famous Spanish theatre troupe which travelled the Spanish countryside in covered wagons back in 1935. Many of the main towns in Fernandez's itinerary (Barcelona, Paris, New York, Buenos Aires) also featured as important stop-off points in Lorca's life.
Given Fernandez's fascination with Lorca it was inevitable that the singer should end up recording a special tribute album to his hero. The album, released at the beginning of '99, was called "Castelar 704" (the number of the hotel room Lorca stayed in in Buenos Aires between October 1933 and March 1934). "Castelar 704" featured a collection of Lorca's poetry set to music by Fernandez and his talented musical accomplices (Mino Cinelu on percussion and Tomatito and Lucho Gonzales on guitar).
In September '99 Fernandez appeared at "Les Méditerranéennes" festival in Céret, performing a concert based on songs from the album "Castelar 704" (which, incidentally, proved to be a bit of a commercial flop).
Fernandez returned to the forefront of the European music scene at the end of the year with a new CD album. This album featured a selection of impressive cover versions, Fernandez bringing music fans his own innovative - and often surprising - take of 15 French classics including Joe Dassin's "la Fleur aux dents", Mike Brant's "Qui saura" and the Léo Ferré classic "les Anarchistes". Following the release of this album, Fernandez got involved in "Un bateau pour Cuba" - a project which was particularly close to his heart.
At the start of January 2000, the singer climbed aboard a cargo boat and set sail for Cuba, taking much-needed food and medical supplies to the embargoed island. Fernandez's band of faithful musicians joined him in Havana in February when he performed a special concert in La Plaza de la Revolucion with a group of local musicians. At the end of the year Fernandez embarked upon another extensive tour of France and brought the house down when he performed in Paris at the legendary Olympia on 8th December. Meanwhile, an album of his Greatest Hits arrived in record stores.
Fernandez has tended to keep a low media profile throughout most of his career, preferring to flee the glare of the showbiz spotlights and go off travelling in his horse-drawn caravan. Pursuing a nomadic existence, Fernandez continues to switch from one language and culture to another, building up a strong following of fans in the different countries where he performs. This talented singer, full of artistic integrity, is always in search of new adventures, new places and new faces - after all, they provide a rich source of inspiration for his wonderfully original songs.
2001: Departure for Russia
In early 2001, Nilda Fernandez set off for Russia for what he thought was going to be a short trip. The renowned Russian singer, Boriz Moïssev, invited Nilda to sing two songs in a duet with him, both of which went on to become hits. The Frenchman then set off on tour with his Russian accomplice, taking in not just Russia but Israel.
Nilda Fernandez was also at the root of an event starting in early November 2001, called “Saisons françaises à Moscou” (French seasons in Moscow), comprising a series of concerts by French artists like Claude Nougaro and Julien Clerc. The cultural happening was backed by the French embassy.
For almost five years, Nilda Fernandez lived in Moscow, where he learned Russian and gave concerts throughout the country. A die-hard traveller, he performed in a range of countries, including Cuba in 2006 at the request of the Cuban minister for culture, and wrote and directed a show called “Las noticias del mundo”, with an orchestra, choir, circus performers and dancers. The shows took place from 10 to 20 July in Havana.
He also played regularly in France, and finally returned to settle in Paris.
In April 2007, he published “Les Chants du monde”, which combined a notebook, travel log, a collection of his thoughts and sometimes his anger. On 20 June, he performed at the Petit Journal Montparnasse in Paris, accompanied by the Cuban pianist, Aldo Lopez Gavilan.
From 20 to 31 May 2008, he performed solo with his guitar at the Théâtre de la Gaîté-Montparnasse in Paris. That year, the author-composer Alan Simon, whom he had known for years, asked him to take part in recording the rock opera, “Anne de Bretagne”, playing the role of Ferdinand d’Aragon. He also devised and directed “Carmen Cita”, a flamenco adaptation of the work of Prosper Mérimée, presented in September in Paris.
Nilda Fernandez gave around fifty concerts per year in 2008 and 2009.
2010: "Nilda Fernandez"
After travelling all over the world, Nilda Fernandez came back in January 2010 with an original album simply called “Nilda Fernandez”, recorded in Genoa, Italy. The opus is a collection of songs written after his various meetings, travels and experiences. The first track is called “Plages de l’Atlantique”. The singer did concerts at Café de la Danse (Paris) on 26 January 2010 and la Cigale (Paris) on 12 April.