Corneille has nothing on his plate lately. No album or tour on the agenda. Free as a bird. “Writing my autobiography (Là où le soleil disparaît, 2016) taught me another way of using words, and I find it harder to go back to the songwriting format. I need a break,” he says.
His last album, Entre nord et sud, was released in 2013. It’s a marvellous, 17-songs deep work written by Corneille, in collaboration with French rappers Youssoupha, Kerry James and Soprano. “I love hip-hop, but I don’t feel I’m good enough to make some,” says Corneille. “Collaborating with those guys was a great way to incorporate some into my music.”
Back in Québec since March, after the European tour of the Rat Pack-like act dubbed Forever Gentlemen, in which he shares the stage with Garou and Roch Voisine, Corneille looks back with a smile. “Getting dressed to the nines night after night came very naturally to me,” he says. “I admire crooners like everybody else, so it wasn’t something new for me. I sing that repertoire in the shower, and as lullabies for my kids!”
After the tour, the singer-songwriter reunited with his wife and kids, hunkered down, and threw his day planner out the window. Except for one thing: a show during the Francofolies de Montréal, on June 9, at Club Soda. “That show will be an chance for me to do only my hits in acoustic mode, seventy-five minutes of my best material,” says Corneille. “It’s going to be a celebration!”
Five musicians and two backing vocalists will accompany the suave, soulful voice of the elegant singer. “The Francofolies invite me every other year, and this year, it was even easier to say yes to the programmers’ proposition: put on a unique and exclusive show to celebrate the 15th anniversary of my first album, Parce qu’on vient de loin, released in 2002.”
His first album, it’s worth remembering, was double-platinum in France and propelled this Rwandan-born Canadian to the upper echelons of stardom. His double-live album, from 2005, was certified triple-platinum. Stupendous figures.
Let’s take a quick look back. Corneille has released six albums and, as is well known, has an enviable career in Europe. The recordings have been peppered with various collaborations, notably Génération Goldman in 2012 (Quand tu danses) and GG2 (Bonne idée). He’s also done humanitarian work (Africa Live in 2005) and soul-pop (the Eurovision 2006, in front of a jury presided over by Charles Aznavour). As a result of all this visibility, he was signed to the legendary American label Motown in 2007, a fantastic break that, sadly, didn’t pan out.
Then, in 2014, he sat alongside Garou as a judge on La Voix (the French version of The Voice), in France. “I loved it,” says Corneille. “People might think that such a well-oiled machine means you lose the essence of things, but I saw it differently. France and Québec aren’t that different. I have two parallel careers, but I made it very clear early on, for both territories, that I would only do music that I’m interested in. I don’t separate my audiences. I do, however, get the impression there are more options in France when it comes to financial means, and the number of opportunities.”
And what’s Corneille’s take on the road traveled during those 15 far-from-boring years?
“I get bored really easily and I’m in a trade where it’s safer to have a certain artistic consistency in one’s choices, following a line that doesn’t confuse people and the media,” he says. “That’s why I don’t feel like re-visiting what I’ve done in the past. I think my six albums are quite different from one another. Otherwise I would feel like I can’t breathe. I’ve had albums that did very well, and others really not so well [his two English albums, notably, The Birth of Cornelius in 2007, and Sans titre in 2009]. As time goes by, I feel like I want to try everything even more! I dream of doing an Afrobeat album with African musicians. But I think my next one will be a covers album.”