Monday, March 23, 2009

The Birth of Cornelius

"Music has been the place where I could go to hide and forget about the world. I couldn't make a 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."
Corneille Nyungura was born in Germany, where his parents, from Rwanda, were students at the time. At the age of six, Corneille and his family moved back to Rwanda, their country of origin. Corneille at first struggled to find his way. He notes, "When I went to Rwanda for the first time, there was a sense of going to the place where I belonged, but because my parents were very Westernized, I still felt like I didn't fit in."

Young Corneille's interest in music was nurtured by his father, something he has come to recognize was a gift in a time when music, although a significant part of African culture, was not seen as a viable job option for a young man. "I was singing in my room, and my dad heard me, and said, 'That sounds good, it kind of sounds like Tracy Chapman,' and I remember thinking, "Oh, it's Okay for me to make music."

So the talented young musician moved forward with his musical aspirations. And the future looked promising: when he was just 16, he made his first recording and was selected as a finalist in a music contest sponsored by the state-run television station.

But in 1994, Rwanda's President Habyarimana was assassinated, and Rwanda thrown into turmoil. The results of the political coup were staggering.

In all, over 800,000 victims were massacred that year--the worst incidence of genocide in modern history.

Among those killed were Corneille's family.

His parents and siblings massacred, Corneille alone managed to escape Rwanda and make his way, eventually, back to Germany, where family friends offered him shelter.

Corneille's music helped him through the next several hard years, in which, he says, survivor guilt warred with his own tragic personal loss.

"For a good ten years after the genocide, 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 may family ever again, but they left me with memories filled with such love that I don't have that much anger."

Today, somehow, Corneille seems to have found a way to find peace within himself for the tragedy that took the lives of his family and so many others back in Rwanda when he was a youth.

I never knew anything about Corneille, hailed as one of the "hottest new stars" for 2009 by the New York Daily News, until a new program known as Music Moms introduced me to his music and his story.

As a result, I was able to listen to his newest work, the album known, fittingly, as The Birth of Cornelius.

I found Corneille's CD's acoustic-driven R&B tracks--actually, yes, reminiscent of Tracy Chapman even today, at least in my opinion--soothing and soulful, and now, knowing his story, I understand why they have such a calming and uplifting effect on the listener.

Please follow this link for the website (note: at last check, it was still under construction, but you'll be redirected to the iTunes store, where you can sample tracks) for the new CD, The Birth of Cornelius.

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