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 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 Corneilles 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 hes got!
AllHipHop.com 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.
AllHipHop.com Alternatives: When you were growing up when do you begin to show signs that you were into music?
Corneille: I cant 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 dont even know how much of a dream it was. Im
realizing that as I grow older, Im 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
wasnt 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 didnt 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; Im realizing how hard it is now actually [laughs].
AHHA: Your family was killed in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda
and Im 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
somebodys life. Its so out of the ordinary and its hard to talk
about rationally. I would say that whats really significant is what
was there before the tragedy and how Ive 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. Im 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 Im still way too young, those people
have left legacies and I cant even begin to put into words the
importance of their legacies. Were talking about people that well be
talking about for centuries to come. Its 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 Im French speaking after all, but that was
not the plan. Ive always been sort of longing for the point in my life
when Id be able to write and make music that was done in the same
language that made me love music in the first place. Obviously Im
happy that Im 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 Cookes of this world, Nat King Coles of this
world, Donny Hathaways and Stevie Wonders, all these people
influenced my music.
AHHA: Youre already a huge star overseas, how important is it to you that you have the same type of success here in America?
Corneille: I wouldnt say that its
very important for me to have the same type of success in America, the
success that Ive had in Europe or other French speaking countries has
been kind of phenomenal. I dont think anyone in their right mind
target the US expecting the same type of success. As Im getting older,
Im 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. Thats very important! Its 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, thats
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. Its 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.
Thats sort of what my life stories been!As far as my career, Ive never had anything handed to me and Ive
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 thats what the world is right
now. So were 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 dont like that. One artist that I always
wanted to work with, on the top of my wish list, actually theres two
of them, Quincy Jones and Babyface. That would be great wouldnt 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 thats not all that Africa is honestly.Maybe with President Obama, Africa wont 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; its 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 theyll be even more
interested in their history. Im not talking about just slavery; Im
talking about the African history, as we know it today. What makes
Africa today, hows 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, youll find yourself making
music naturally and naturally finding time to do it. Its just
something thats in your blood, something that you have a passion for.
So as long as you keep that in mind youll 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 wont be able to fight it anyway!