Photo: Marc Baptiste
In 1994, the normal life Corneille Nyungura lived with his family in Rwanda was shattered when the largest genocide in modern history claimed more than 800,000 lives—including those of his entire family. Nyungura managed to escape to Germany, adopted by friends of his parents, and became one of Canada's and France's most popular musicians. This is his story.
I was born in Germany, where my parents were studying, and moved to their homeland, Rwanda, when I was 6 1/2 years old. I was brought to "my" country a stranger. The culture shock was considerable, and let's just say I had a bit of a hard time blending in, being a dark-skinned, German-speaking boy.
To make matters more culturally confusing for me, my parents decided they were going to keep one foot in the west, speaking German at home, and make me listen to Beethoven, Mahalia Jackson and Johnny Cash. This partly explains why any other morning, as a young teenager, I could be found humming a Babyface tune instead of a Koffi Olomidé party anthem.
At 16, I started a band with three other kids from my neighborhood. My father heard and encouraged my undeniable passion for music. He even offered to pay for my band's first demo. That's odd, even to western cultural standards. I can still hear a friend telling me: "Your dad is so cool! I can't even tell mine I make music." That was my father.
My parents belonged to the minuscule westernized intellectual, and later, social elite. My father was an engineer, and my mother beat the odds even more. She was an executive at one of the top banks in the country, the only woman to occupy that position if I remember well. That was my mother. That said, Africa is socially structured in such a way that it allowed those of us who were interested to interact with the less socially privileged. This might explain why I remained so naïve and completely oblivious to the political/ethnic time bomb that was ticking all over our beloved country.
Ironically, one of my favorite songs to cover was Boyz II Men's "End of the Road." We should have seen it coming, but we didn't. Not me, not my parents. Even when evil materialized in grenade sounds and screams, clearly audible right next to our home, we stayed in denial. It cost me the lives of my entire family—my father, my mother, my two younger brothers and my baby sister. One night they came, armed to the teeth, and shot everyone in my household.
How Nyungura survived