Monday, May 23, 2011

Corneille - Canadian Soul with Rwandan Roots

From Rwanda to Germany to Canada, Corneille's soulful sound has helped him rise to fame out of the ashes of a tragic past.

Born in Freiburg, Germany, Corneille spent most of his childhood in Rwanda, his parents' country of origin. He had a passion for music at a young age, and began to sing in an R&B group, where he learned song writing. However, his life took a dramatic turn after the Rwandan genocide of 1994. His father, Émile Nyungura, was the leader of a political party and as a result, his parents and some relatives were killed. Corneille fled to Germany, where some of his parents' friends took him in.

Three years later, Corneille decided to leave Germany in order to pursue his education in Montreal, Quebec. Music became is solace - a way to escape. He founded O.N.E., an R&B band, and one of the group's songs written by Corneille rose to first place in Canadian airplay. With this success, Corneille left the group to pursue a solo career.

Influenced by American soul and funk artists such as Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, Corneille's first album, Parce qu'on vient de loin, was released in 2002. The Canadian release did not make much noise, but the French version, released in 2003, quickly became successful, going on to sell more than a million copies.

With commercial success, Corneille felt it was time to focus on his past, instead of running from it. In March 2005, the singer participated in the concert Africa Live, which was organized to fight against malaria. This was the first time that he returned to his home continent since the genocide. With this powerful experience, Corneille knew it was time to use music as a means to express all that he had gone through.

“Music has been the place where I could go to hide and forget about the world. I couldn’t make sense of a majority of the things that happened to me, so I used music as a shield. But over time, music has become a vehicle to channel out everything that I’ve been keeping from myself for all these years. And the new album is definitely the most honest, real assessment of everything that’s happened in my life, because I’m not trying to hide as much.” (

He finished recording his first English language album, The Birth Of Cornelius, in July 2007. Along with using music as a means to express the pain from his past, Corneille continues to work with the Canadian Red Cross to raise awareness of children who are victims of war.

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