Corneille: From Tragedy to Triumph

April 2009 marked the 15-year anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, which claimed 800,000 lives in three months. Approximately 10,000 people were murdered daily. In the end, over one-tenth of the Rwandan population was wiped out. The stories that came …

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April 2009 marked the 15-year anniversary of the

genocide in Rwanda, which claimed 800,000 lives in three months.

Approximately 10,000 people were murdered daily. In the end, over

one-tenth of the Rwandan population was wiped out. The stories that

came out of the massacre were heartbreaking, including one of a young

man whose entire family [parents and siblings] were killed.

Corneille was born in Germany where his

parents attended college; he was six when the family returned to

Rwanda. The new singing sensation understands what it felt like to be

in the midst of one of the most horrific events in history. Though

alone, he had the fortitude, drive to escape the war torn country, and

through the pain push forward to a new beginning. He made it to

Kinshasa, Congo, then Germany where he completed college, before

finally settling in Montreal, Canada.

While in Canada, Corneille began to journey

down the path that he desired since a young boy, music. Eventually he

formed the band Original New Element [O.N.E], the group achieved a

little success, but Corneille was ready to stand on his own. In 2002, Corneille released his first studio album, Parce Qu’on Vient de Loin and currently it has sold over a million records. Les Marchands de Rêves, Corneille’s second studio album was released in 2005 and was successful as well.

As Corneille’s stardom began to rise, he

started ventures with Sony Music Japan, Universal Motown for the World

ex-Japan (SMJI), France (Wagram), Canada (DEJA) and Universal Music

Group partners in the UK. With that said, Corneille

is on a quest to spread his music all over the globe and his next stop

is the United States. Growing up listening to American singers such as

Nat King Cole, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson and many others, Corneille is more than ready to show us what he’s got! Alternatives spoke to the international superstar

about his tragedy, which turned to triumph, signing to Universal

Motown, his debut album in English The Birth of Cornelius and Africa in the eyes of Americans. Alternatives: When you were growing up when do you begin to show signs that you were into music?

Corneille: I can’t remember when

exactly, I know that around the age of ten or eleven I started humming

melodies and songs that I would come up with on my own.AHHA: Was a career in music realistic to you?

Corneille: By the age 16 or 17 it

was a done deal; I don’t even know how much of a dream it was. I’m

realizing that as I grow older, I’m actually more aware of the odds

that you have to beat to even start a career. From where it started

out, I was innocent and I basically believed that I could do it. There

wasn’t even a question in my mind, even though it took me a while. I

probably recorded my first demo at the age of 17, and I didn’t have a

record released until I was 24. So it took a good seven years and

during all that time, I guess for me those were steps that I had to go

through. I never looked at it like it as something overly challenging

to achieve; I’m realizing how hard it is now actually [laughs].

AHHA: Your family was killed in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda

and I’m sure that was a troubling time for you. How did that tragedy

mold you into the person you are today?Corneille: Those sorts of things are

pretty hard to rationalize and talk about how they might affect

somebody’s life. It’s so out of the ordinary and it’s hard to talk

about rationally. I would say that what’s really significant is what

was there before the tragedy and how I’ve dealt with the whole thing. I

was raised and surrounded by a bunch of very loving, caring people and

when they left this earth, I guess they left me with enough of love to

keep fighting. Coming out of that struggle, I sort of measured what

they had left me with, those lessons and things. I’m realizing now what

is really inspiring my music and me as a man in general. So I would say

it’s how I came out it that says a lot.

AHHA: What does it feel like when people compare you to great singers such as Sam Cooke?Corneille: Those comparisons are

more than flattering! I think I’m still way too young, those people

have left legacies and I can’t even begin to put into words the

importance of their legacies. We’re talking about people that we’ll be

talking about for centuries to come. It’s nice to know that those

comparisons are coming from Americans. I grew up listening to all the

artists thinking that the first record that I would record would be in

English. Life kind of took me to a different direction and I started doing

music in French because I’m French speaking after all, but that was

not the plan. I’ve always been sort of longing for the point in my life

when I’d be able to write and make music that was done in the same

language that made me love music in the first place. Obviously I’m

happy that I’m able to take this music to the country that started it

all, so when those comparisons are made its very nice and very

flattering. To the Sam Cooke’s of this world, Nat King Cole’s of this

world, Donny Hathaway’s and Stevie Wonder’s, all these people

influenced my music.

AHHA: You’re already a huge star overseas, how important is it to you that you have the same type of success here in America?

Corneille: I wouldn’t say that it’s

very important for me to have the same type of success in America, the

success that I’ve had in Europe or other French speaking countries has

been kind of phenomenal. I don’t think anyone in their right mind

target the US expecting the same type of success. As I’m getting older,

I’m realizing that my ambitions are a little bit more realistic I

guess. So what I really want is for my music to have a voice, to find its

ears and its audience in the US. That’s very important! It’s important

for me to know that my music is being understood and its being well

received by people. As far as the success goes, as long as I have an

audience, a life and a place as an artist/ musician in the US, that’s

all I want.

AHHA: How does it feel to be signed to Motown, which is such a big name in music? How did it come about?

Corneille: The story is my manager

back then who is now my manager for Japan, was going around to

different record labels making them listen to my records. Not many

people really got it, they wanted to put it in a box and say this is

Contemporary R&B, Adult Contemporary or Soul. It’s very hard to put

a tag on the music and that always throws people off. When the people

over at Motown listened to it, the General Manager got it right away.

That’s sort of what my life stories been!As far as my career, I’ve never had anything handed to me and I’ve

had a lot of rejections. When one person out of the thousand in some

way got me, it paid off, so hopefully the same story will be rewritten

in the US as well. Motown was at the top of the list of labels that I

wanted to go with, for the symbolisms of it and also because even today

its still one of the most relevant labels that have managed to expand

and they touch on all kinds things. First off, to have that Motown

catalog and to have artists like myself, Ryan Leslie, then to have Lil

Wayne and people like Busta Rhymes and that’s what the world is right

now. So we’re opening up our mind and Motown today is exact with its


AHHA: Talk about your album The Birth of Cornelius. Who did you work with?

Corneille: Actually, on this album,

well I usually write, compose and produce everything by myself. I did

that on this album with the exception of three songs. Two songs

“Liberation” and “All of My Love,” I actually co-wrote with my wife

Sofia de Medeiros. I co-wrote with another songwriter/producer out of

London Martin Terefe.

AHHA: Can you name one American artist that you would like to work with in the future?Corneille: When it comes to

collaborations, I have to know who they are and they have to know who I

am. There has to be a connection not just artistically but on the human

level because otherwise I don’t like that. One artist that I always

wanted to work with, on the top of my wish list, actually there’s two

of them, Quincy Jones and Babyface. That would be great wouldn’t it?AHHA: This year Barack Obama was elected President of the United

States and other artists of African decent are emerging, how do you see

the image of Africans changing in the eyes of Americans? Corneille: I think people are going

to start or hopefully start looking at Africans with a different eye.

So far, Africa has been that strange and foreign very far away place

where it seems to be somewhat god forsaken. Anything bad, any sort of,

you know like being famine, being in danger, child soldiers. Anything

that you can think of that the rest of the world sort of looks at and

thinks how low can humanity get or how scary can this world be seems to

be associated to Africa and that’s not all that Africa is honestly.Maybe with President Obama, Africa won’t be foreign to people

anymore. Africa is going to be that place that people will consider as

very important and very relevant place in this world, politically and

economically. I believe that the rest of the world is going to need

Africa very soon; it’s probably the only place in the world where

natural resources are still far from being exhausted.

The way that Americans look at Africa might change in a sense that

people are going to start thinking this is not so far from us, that

would be a huge change. Also, I think it will help more African

American people understand about there history and they’ll be even more

interested in their history. I’m not talking about just slavery; I’m

talking about the African history, as we know it today. What makes

Africa today, how’s that relation to African Americans all over the

world and Blacks all over the world. Not just Blacks, every human being

in some shape or form are related to Africa. Since we were talking

about music, most of rhythmic music comes from Africa.

AHHA: I read that you were saying in many African cultures,

a job in music or entertainment is not “typically,” approved, which I

would agree with. What advice can you give the many young Africans

around the world who want to go into music but may be afraid? Corneille: Music has always been my

thing, but I never left school just to pursue music. Education is key,

in whatever your passion or hobby is I would advise any young person

aspiring to become a musician to try to find a way to prioritize

education. In the mean time try to find a way, parallel that so that

you can still make music. From my experience, if music is in your heart

you can only do that. If you prioritize something else, you’ll find yourself making

music naturally and naturally finding time to do it. It’s just

something that’s in your blood, something that you have a passion for.

So as long as you keep that in mind you’ll have time for you to decide

what you want to do out of your life, but education is the key. If

music is your passion, you won’t be able to fight it anyway!

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