With songs such as “La Boheme,” “La Mama,” “She,” “Je m’voyais déjà,” “Hier encore” and “Comme ils disent,” Charles Aznavour has had a tremendous influence on French musical culture. The hundreds of hits by this artist, loved by the French and the French-lovers, resonate around the globe in a variety of languages. The “Grand Charles” is a living legend.
When one speak of Aznavour, one speak of high numbers: three marriages, six children, 70 years of career, 1,300 songs, nearly 300 albums, 180 million records sold worldwide, 80 films. And today, at 93 years old, the French author, composer, performer, writer, actor and diplomat is in the midst of a one-year world tour that takes him from the US to Moscow, via Hong Kong, Sydney, Beirut, Mexico City and Israel – on October 28 at the Menorah Mivtahim Arena in Tel Aviv.
However, his career had some difficulty taking off. Launched by Edith Piaf in 1947, Aznavour met with success
only a decade later, in 1957, when he played to full houses at the Olimpia theater in Paris. Since then, his honors and awards have numbered in the hundreds. The latest accolade is a star on the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame, inaugurated on August 24. An officer and commander of the Legion of Honor, he also received the Scopus Award from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2011 for his cultural contribution. His first contact with the Jewish state dates back to 1948.
“I think I am the first French singer to have visited Israel right after its creation,” he has said.
More recently, in 2013 and 2014, Aznavour triumphed in Tel Aviv
, thanks to Helicon. This year, producer Gad Oron, a lover of French music, is responsible for his coming here.
Oron, who produced [Gilbert] Bécaud in Israel in 1963, works according to his favorites. For him, this Aznavour show in the Promised Land was obvious.
“He is currently doing a major international tour. And this is probably one of the last opportunities for the Israeli public to see him on stage. At 93, he’s at the top of his career, but who knows if he’ll come back again,“ says Oron.
And since Aznavour – who once declared that he could live in Tel Aviv due to his mixed culture of East and West – “wanted to come,” the plan was put into action.
For Oron, Aznavour is a sure bet.
“He is part of this generation of French songwriters like Yves Montand, Jacques Brel and Gilbert Bécaud, who were very popular here in the 1960s. They were very well known and loved not only by French-born or French-speaking immigrants from North Africa but also by all Israelis. Today, Aznavour’s audience has grown older but has remained faithful to him,” says Oron.
According to the producer, that generation would be more than willing to come and enjoy Charles Aznavour on stage.
“These native-born Israelis of a certain age are looking for quality events. They are demanding consumers who know what they want. They are fond of culture and love what reminds them of their youth. Israelis are very nostalgic,” he explains.
Oron adds that the 7,000 seats of the stadium are selling – from NIS 295 to NIS 795 – like hot cakes.
For Oron, producing the show of a nonagenarian does not pose any particular difficulty.
“On the contrary, everything is going admirably well with the singer’s entourage, who are very professional. This is a relatively easy event for us,“ he says.
In Israel, Aznavour will present the same show he performs everywhere else in the world. He will be accompanied by nine musicians and singers, including his daughter Katia, with whom he performs a duet.
Some of his songs have been translated into Hebrew and performed by Matti Caspi and Achinoam Nini. But Oron insists, “All of his repertoire, all his songs without exception, are known to the Israeli public, who love his style.”
As for the possibility of Aznavour’s singing a song in Hebrew at the show in Israel, Oron doesn’t know.
“Some artists sometimes prepare surprises for their Israeli audience; but as far as Aznavour is concerned, we haven’t been told anything,” says the producer.
Loyal to his roots, Aznavour continues to support Armenia since the earthquake that ravaged the country in 1988. He is also its ambassador to Switzerland and its permanent representative to the UN.
A man of peace who is very involved in the humanitarian field, he doesn’t answer any questions pertaining to politics. Often asked about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, he always refuses to take a stand. Pluralistic at heart, he respects all peoples and religions and is proud of his “Benetton family,” as he calls it, referring to his Jewish grandson and Muslim granddaughter.
Loved by the public, Aznavour is also very popular among the establishment. Wherever he goes, he is invited to meet with high-level officials. During his previous visits to Israel, for instance, he met with then president Shimon Peres.
Once again this year, invitations are flooding in. But the instructions of the artist’s Parisian management are clear: Charles Aznavour does not want to meet with any Israeli politicians.
“We receive many requests for interviews from various leading institutions. We take note of them and pass them on,” says Oron.
When asked about possible pressures to discourage the artist from coming to Israel, the producer replies, “Yes, he may have received some messages of discontent, but today calls for boycotts are not what they were a few years ago. Artists who want to come, come. And as Charles Aznavour really wants to come to Israel, he cannot be influenced by anyone.“
The day after the show here, the indefatigable singer will take to the road and continue on his international tour.Charles Aznavour will perform on October 28 at the Menorah Mivtahim Arena in Tel Aviv. For tickets, call *8780 or go to www.leaan.co.il.