Encre rose

Corneille

Encre rose

From his very beginnings, Montreal singer-songwriter Corneille’s personal story of fleeing the Rwandan genocide has always dominated his message. But while his account of survival and resilience are deeply central to his music, his languorous R&B sound is just as much a focus. “It’s weird, I’ve always liked to address more serious, weighty issues, even if my music isn’t like that,” he tells Apple Music. “In fact, I just can’t make depressing music.” His quest for levity is pushed to the limit on Encre rose (translation: “pink ink”), an album in which he delves into the music of his childhood in Rwanda. “Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder, Shalamar, Kool & the Gang, The Gap Band, Marvin Gaye—all the music I played when I arrived in Montreal in 1997 and was just starting out,” he says. “I’ve always dreamed of immersing myself in that sound, but this is the first time I’ve allowed myself to go all out.” While there’s a lightness to the songs, Encre rose remains nonetheless true to Corneille’s modus operandi: He knows you can groove intelligently. “I’ve been writing with my wife, Sofia, for around 15 years now, and every project begins with our conversations, the questions we ask ourselves,” he says. “It’s clear that what we’ve just experienced, this whole collective reassessment, prompted me to imagine the world after all this, which I hope will be a better one.” Here, Corneille guides us through Encre rose, track by track. “Petit pas” “It’s the only track with this kind of instrumental intro, so it was the natural choice for the opening song, without having to even think about it. I wanted to talk about my son, but also about his generation, where everything’s so fast-paced. It may seem somewhat presumptuous to claim I can pass on wisdom at the tender age of 45, but I thought it was important to say that happiness comes when you slow down a bit and take your time. Musically, I was thinking of The Gap Band; their song ‘Outstanding’ is on my all-time Top 10 list. To prepare the solo, I sent my guitarist Hubert Tremblay a load of their tunes, including ‘Yearning for Your Love,’ which is the direct inspiration here.”
“Pause” “The whole album is based on existential questions, especially on what we pass on to our children. I’m optimistic by nature, but I realize that I’ve got to be careful not to pass on my anxieties to my kids. I’m obviously a huge fan of Earth, Wind & Fire. I like to listen to the different levels of the production, the arrangements. I try to figure out how their songs became part of history. There’s something that links this song to Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got to Give It Up’ to ‘September’ by Earth, Wind & Fire, and even ‘Boogie Wonderland.’ It’s subtle. I don’t use the same chords or melodies, but there’s a similar groove.”
“Le prix des étoiles” “The notion that an artist’s value is multiplied by 10, by 100, even by 1000 after their death has always bothered me. Whitney Houston is a classic example: She was dragged through the mud for years at the end of her career, and then the day she dies, she’s become a saint again and everybody wants to pay tribute to her. The question I raise is, ‘Why do you need to die in order to be immortal?’ and I conclude that I prefer to live. Musically, there’s a bit of a George Benson vibe to it and a lot of references to Thriller.”
“Encre rose” (feat. Dashny Jules) “It’s quite a festive tune. The song, and the album by the same token, was almost called Nostalgie [‘nostalgia’], for the return to that period when music defined who I am today, but that seemed too obvious. Encre rose was much more appropriate. As with the other tracks, the music was right there, inside me. We were working on the lyrics and all I had to do was open a drawer of my memory to find the most suitable kind of groove.”
“Rope-a-dope” “It’s an allusion to Muhammad Ali’s technique, which he used against George Foreman. That audacity, in such a high-profile fight, to be able to come up with something totally new. What stands out for me is that sometimes it’s not a question of a blow for a blow but more about learning to dodge the punches. Musically, I was thinking Gregory Isaacs: a slow, languorous reggae that’s heavy at the same time, with that seemingly endless snare sound. I had ‘Night Nurse’ in mind, which was released in 1982, the same year as [Musical Youth’s] ‘Pass the Dutchie,’ which most probably influenced me too!”
“Les hommes de ma vie” “There has been so much talk recently about the role of men; with this song, I wanted to try and understand the subject in my own way. I asked myself why I’ve never felt that violent impulse, that hatred some men feel towards women. It’s probably because there have been men in my life who have showed me that masculinity can also be a matter of tenderness, gentleness, kindness. I wanted to pay tribute to them and tell them I love them, which again is something we do all too rarely between men. It’s the only true ballad on the album. I sought inspiration in Zapp & Roger, in particular ‘I Want to Be Your Man.’”
“Rendez-vous à minuit” “Basically, I say that it’s going to take a lot of love to win the war. If we really want to live together, we’ll need to find the courage to reach out—or, at the very least, listen—to those we have issues with. It’s by going towards the people we don’t like that we’ll find the real solutions so we can all live together. The racists, the narrow-minded, they have dangerous ideas, but at least they have the merit of thinking clearly. Well-meaning people like us often have fine principles without realizing that they’re excluding a particular group. We need to reach out to others.”
“Nouveau monde” “Stevie Wonder was an inspiration here, especially ‘Part-Time Lover.’ And there’s a little something of Hall & Oates’ ‘Maneater’ about it. Like on the other tracks, there are musical references to the past, but the lyrics are very topical. We’re living at a time when the very idea of identity is being called into question, and I have a lot of empathy for people of a certain age—let’s just say boomers—who are faced with all the social changes we’ve witnessed recently, and who wonder how they’re going to deal with it all. With ‘Nouveau monde,’ I wanted to say that the die has been cast, that change is inevitable, and we need to find our own happiness in all this.”
“Bon voyage” “Here, I talk about separation and divorce, but in broader terms. How do we move forwards, put the past behind us without renouncing it? I’m convinced we need to find a way to keep that part of the past which shaped who we are today, even the darker moments, but without giving it the destructive power of anger. Musically, I thought first of Marvin Gaye, with ‘I Want You,’ but I also wanted to instill a bit of my love for G-funk with a few references to Warren G’s ‘Regulate.’”
“Nouveau pouvoir” “What message do I want to convey to people after this time we’ve just spent together? What I’m trying to say here is that our happiness can only come from within us. I think we need to find this ‘nouveau pouvoir’ [‘new power’] inside of us and stop seeking external validation. It’s inspired by ‘Jump to It,’ an Aretha Franklin song composed and produced by Luther Vandross.”

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