TRUE musicians hate to be categorised. Tresor Riziki is one of those musicians. Listening to his next radio single, Mount Everest, it is easy to understand why. It’s kinda Coldplay vocals meet maskandi guitar with low-level Afro- house beats and a smidgen of Caribbean cool and it is so, so sweet. The song is part of a collection of songs for his debut album, V11.
“It all goes back to my seven years living in South Africa,” he explains. “Plus, seven is a symbol of readiness and perfection in my faith.”
To understand the title you have to understand the story that is Tresor. He went from living in the Democratic Republic of Congo to hitching a ride through Africa and landing penniless on Durban’s doorstep to writing songs for Zahara and collaborating with artists like Beatenberg and Heavy K.
He was born in Goma which is a tourist and trading town on the border of the DRC and Rwanda. During the Rwandan genocide many refugees flocked to that town where many of them died from hunger.
“I come from a successful, happy family and it was cool growing up, until the Rwandan genocide. I was 8 years old and saw a lot of people die. My parents took me to church every day after school where I learnt to play the drums. They took me there because they did not want me to see the deaths. A lot of us children were messed up because we began to see death like that as normal. It was only when I was in South Africa that I realised it is not supposed to be like that.
“Music saved my life. I still had to see horrible things, but up until today music has held me together.
“No one in the world should live like that, in a war situation, running for your life. But I got used to it.”
After his parents died he decided to move to South Africa because he wanted to pursue his career.
“I have always wanted to introduce my music to the world and South Africa is that stepping stone. I call South Africa home. I love this place.”
He travelled via train and car through Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique. When he got to Durban, the person he was sending his savings to had disappeared. He got a job as a security guard by day and a car guard by night and found himself guarding cars for the trashed folk at Durban’s famous Bean Bag Bohemia.
“I had to humble myself. As a car guard some people treat you like nothing, but it was also an amazing experience because it showed me what it’s like at the bottom. I come from a good family and I have a good education, but I now had nothing.”
He taught himself English and while facing all these difficulties never lost sight of his goal.
The day after he arrived in Durban he discovered The Playhouse and, realising it was a theatre, he went inside and introduced himself to sound engineer Neil Snyman. Snyman took him to The Stables Theatre where he met Madala Kunene. At that stage Tresor was communicating with hand signals.
“All I knew was to say, ‘hi, how are you?’”
He then met musicians like Nibs Van der Spuy and the late Syd Kitchen. Each time he played his guitar and sang, people were inspired to help him – he’s that good.
He then became part of the group Maisha who opened for Eddy Grant, Johnny Clegg and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. But he had a dream much bigger than just Durban.
He signed an international publishing deal with Universal Music Publishing Group.
“South Africans don’t realise that there are opportunities to write for other artists. But once I made others aware, they started coming to me.”
This list included Zahara’s production team of Robbie Malinga and Mjakes Thebe which also led to him doing a 12-date national tour with the great songstress.
“I wrote Limbisa and Brighter Day for her because I believe she is the next Miriam Makeba. Limbisa is in Swahili.”
Inbetween he released two singles, including Complete which received high rotation on Trace and Channel O. The video is beautifully filmed in the Durban City Hall and its Botanic Gardens. The song also received radio play in Europe.
Throughout the interview at the former Bean Bag Bohemia – which is now called #Hashtag – Tresor plays his new tracks. There are songs in English, French, Swahili and Lingala, a language spoken in his home country.
Cachet is a song he sings in French and Lingala which, in the future, will have vocals by The Soil. A definite hit. He also plays a track which he intends recording with Khuli Chana.
On each track, his vocals are different, but one thing remains constant, the man can sing. And he is a great songwriter.
“People will start to recognise my brand because it’s about things that come out in my imagination. I make sure that I am real when I do music. I am diverse in the way I do my stuff. I love the beats of kwaito. I love the guitars in Maskandi. In pop I love the catchy songwriting. Music is not supposed to be put in a box.”
Watch out for Tresor. His star is definitely on the rise.