A few months ago, I posted a video, “Back To Life” by Corneille. His album ‘The Birth of Cornelius’ dropped in March of 2009 and I’ve been hearing great things about so naturally I became intrigued about this artist and wanted to share his story with you.
About The Artist:
Corneille Nyungura was born on March 24, 1977, in Fribourg, Germany, to his parents who were completing their University studies there. He lived there for 6 years, until he was brought to live in his country of origin, Rwanda. He lived in a village for a short time, before moving to Rwanda’s capitol, Kigali.
At 16 years old Corneille made his first recording, and was selected as a finalist in a music contest sponsored by the state run television station in Kigali. Corneille’s childhood could be characterized as normal for a somewhat privileged youth brought up in a family with caring, highly educated parents.
Daily life in Kigali changed dramatically in 1994, when former President Habyarimana was assassinated, and the largest, most horrific genocide in modern history claimed over 800,000 victims including his biological parents.
Corneille developed an interest in music early on, and it was an interest his father supported and encouraged. His influences included Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Nat King Cole as well as Prince and other artists.
The release of The Birth of Cornelius doesn’t just mark the arrival of a major new artist on Motown Records. The album chronicles the latest chapter for a musician who has already had a remarkable career–and an extraordinary life. Though virtually unknown to an American audience, Corneille sells out arenas in other parts of the world. His albums have reached monumental, Diamond-selling status in France. And those accomplishments follow struggles and challenges in his personal history that are truly beyond comprehension.
He credits his father for nurturing his interest. “I was singing something in my room,” he says, “and my dad heard me, and said, `That sounds good, it kind of sounds like Tracy Chapman.’ And I remember thinking, `Oh, It’s OK for me to make music.’ That was a very unique thing because music is a big part of African culture, but we never considered it as a job option.” At age 16, he made his first recording, and was selected as a finalist in a music contest sponsored by the state-run television station.
When asked how surviving such an incomprehensible tragedy has shaped his outlook, and his music, Corneille is strikingly calm. “For a good ten years after the genocide,” he says, “I lived in a great deal of denial. But I managed not to get too bitter because I had parents who always made me feel special. It’s a sort of pain that you can have closure with. I know I’m not going to be able to talk to my family ever again, but they left me with memories filled with such love that I don’t have that much anger.”
Corneille began working on the songs that would become The Birth of Cornelius album. As he got closer to the tradition and culture that first drew him to music, his acoustic-based R&B sound began to come fully into its own. “When I allowed myself to write in English, everything was different,” he says. “I came up with some of the songs in five, ten minutes, because it was just pouring out. I guess I was reconnecting with the way I saw and understood music when I was little, and that was an amazing experience for me.”
After all this time, after all these travels and tragedies, Corneille and his music are finally ready to take on America. And he can’t wait.