Corneille – February 20, 2014 (Montreal, Canada)

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“There were these men who came to our house and sat us all down and started shooting,” Corneille revealed to me when asked to recall the details of that tragic April 1994 night in Rwanda. He was only 17.

“By some weird survival reflex,” he continued, “I jumped behind the couch. I was the only one who survived out of nine people. Among them were both my parents and my three siblings: my two brothers and my little sister. From that moment on, something in me died. Something definitely went into deep sleep.”

The powerful interview was my second with the Rwandan genocide survivor and international R&B artist—much more revealing than the first. Frankly, I was surprised that he agreed to give me the exclusive, given our first encounter.

Five years earlier I made the huge mistake of not doing my research as thoroughly as I should’ve before our interview at the RedKiva, a trendy Chicago nightclub. Instead, I spent way too much time trying to impress him about my many trips to his African homeland. “The people there are so great! The country is so beautiful! It’s my favorite! I’ve been there a half dozen times!” I bragged. It wasn’t until I heard him perform the haunting lyrics to his, I’LL NEVER CALL YOU HOME AGAIN that I got my first clue:

Last time I saw you
You were filling your rivers up with
Blood of your own

Last time I saw you
You were wearing fire and
Burning our souls to the bone

That’s how I remember you
That’s how I remember you

So please forgive me
If I never call you home again

Corneille despised his native Rwanda, best known for its genocide that killed nearly 800 thousand Tutsi’s and moderate Hutu’s in just 100 days— his family among them. What was I thinking? Clearly, I wasn’t.

I saved face my second go-round by mostly listening—rarely interrupting his stream of consciousness. I gave him a platform for the first time publicly, to share his experience in full detail from the moment he sprung into survival mode after getting up from behind the couch.

And though Corneille’s unfathomable journey was heartwrenching, what made our second interview most memorable was him bearing witness to how he evolved from never wanting to call Rwanda home again, to reaching a place of forgiveness.

“I recovered from it,” he shared. “ I’m still recovering from it. I’m not healed. Probably never will. But I’m recovering. And I found a balance between that part of my life and what I want to make out of my life. I do believe what happened was my path,” he said. “It hurt like hell but it was just my path. And maybe when I’m eighty years old, and I’m telling my grandkids about this interview it won’t be as strange to them. They’ll be like, ‘it was part of your path.’ Sometimes life will throw stuff at us that makes no sense. That’s what happened to me and it’s starting to make sense now.”

LESSON LEARNED: The second interview was better because I did my homework before the interview and learned that Corneille had evolved, and was likely ready to speak in detail about the circumstances that led to reconciling with his native Rwanda. I also chose to listen. Silence can be golden. It was in that instance I allowed him to just talk.

*Much more of my interview with Corneille is featured in the documentary, INTORE (Chosen), that I wrote and co-produced with Rwandan director, Eric Kabera. New material from my interviews with Corneille will also be featured along with other essays I’m compiling for my book, AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED?  For updates, subscribe to my RSS feed or visit:


Author: Shirley Neal

Shirley Neal is an author, journalist, TV producer, and certified ghostwriter/collaborator. Please visit her writer's website at and producer's website at