Author, composer, arranger, director and singer, Corneille, whose real name is Cornelius Nyungura, was born in Germany to a Tutsi father and a Hutu mother. He was seven when his family returned to live in Rwanda. As a teenager in Kigali, he began his musical career by writing texts, composing music and founding an R & B group. His music-loving father offered him his first studio recording session, and his group won “Découverte 1993” from Rwandan television. The following year, the unspeakable occurred. On April 15, 1994, when Rwanda experienced a genocide against the Tutsis, Corneille’s family was murdered before his eyes. The only survivor of his family, Corneille made it to a refugee camp in Zaire, before being taken in by a couple of his parents’ friends in Germany.
At 20, he headed to Quebec, where his uncle lived, in order to pursue his studies in communications at Concordia University. There he met Pierre Gage and Gardy Martin (alias Gardy Fury), and founded the group O.N.E. In 2001, despite a promising start, Corneille wanted to begin a solo career and write about the drama he experienced.
He took part in the 2002 edition of the SACEF’s contest Ma première Place des Arts and released his first album Parce qu’on vient de loin the same year. The songs on the album are inspired by the profound tragedy that marked his childhood yet evoke hope and new beginnings. It includes the very popular Seul au monde. The album Parce qu’on vient de loin was a huge success in Quebec (150,000 copies sold) and in France (900,000 copies sold), where it was released the following year.
Splitting his time between Canada and France, Corneille was chosen in 2003 to write a song for the soundtrack of Taxi 3, the third film in the French filmmaker Luc Besson’s series. In 2004, Corneille really hit it big by winning three Félix awards, including the one for the most successful Quebec artist outside of Quebec and the highly coveted award for male performer of the year. On the other side of the Atlantic, he was a finalist in the category of album revelation of the year at the Victoires de la Musique in France, performing an acoustic version of Parce qu’on vient de loin during the gala and succeeding in bringing half of the audience to its feet! In November of the same year, Corneille obtained his Canadian citizenship.
In Spring 2005, he simultaneously released a double CD and a DVD of his show performed at La Cigale. The album achieved triple platinum status in France, proof of Corneille’s immense popularity there. In March 2005, Corneille participated in the Africa Live concert organized to help in the fight against malaria. It was the first time he had returned to Africa. Corneille also works with the Canadian Red Cross to raise awareness about children who suffer from war.
Les marchands de rêve, a more acoustic second album that mixes his influences was released in 2005. The following year, he participated in the song L’Or de nos vies for the association Fight Aids Monaco, presided by Princess Stéphanie of Monaco, to help people with AIDS. Also in the same year, at the request of France Télévisions, Corneille accepted to write both the words and music for the song to represent France at the Eurovision Song Contest in Athens.
Corneille signed with Motown in 2007 and released his first album in English, The Birth of Cornelius, inspired by his idol Michael Jackson. In 2009, he returned to the French stage with an album written with his wife: Sans titre. He was once again achieved wider success in 2011 with Les Inséparables, and in 2013 the album Entre Nord et Sud was released.
The same year, in France, he appeared during the third season of The Voice, la plus belle voix on TF1 along with Garou and his team. In Fall 2014, Corneille collaborated on the second volume of the popular album of covers of 50s crooner classics Forever Gentlemen. The European version of Forever Gentlemen (volumes 1 and 2) have sold more than 800,000 copies to date, and the Quebec version has almost achieved platinum status, with more than 80,000 copies sold. A major tour by the three gentlemen—Corneille, Roch Voisine and Garou—drove crowds wild wherever they performed, both here and abroad. Needless to say, the three Quebecers were heaped with praise and were a hit with audiences.
In 2016, Corneille published his autobiography, Là où le soleil disparaît (XO éditions Paris), a poignant story, in which, for the first time, he looks back at the genocide in Rwanda and how he miraculously survived.
Spring 2018 will see the release of LOVE & SOUL. Corneille, the singer had the pleasure of singing the songs he listened to as he grew up in Rwanda. With the creation of this seventh record, the dedicated musician, who wants to believe that a melody can change the world and soothe the soul, offers a selection of covers of hits from the 80s and 90s, including those from the timeless Tracy Chapman, Spandau Ballet, Cindy Lauper, Lenny Kravitz and Wham.
Since 2006, Corneille has been married to Sofia de Medeiros, Canadian-Portuguese model and actress. The couple has two children: a boy named Merik and a girl named Mila.