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African Music Spotlight: Tresor is Bringing African Music Back to its Glory Days

by Eva Rose Tesfaye on May 31, 2018

Tresor Riziki, (French for “Treasure”) is a multi-award winning, platinum-selling, African pop-artist. His unique style of music captures the shared experiences of those on the African continent. Tresor first discovered his passion for music at an early age back in Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he was born.

“I think I was about 7 or 8 years old and my parents took us to a local youth center. Actually, this was during the Rwandan Genocide and I was introduced to a lot of instruments at that time, mainly guitars and drums. I think for me I use that as the first time I had my first intimate experience with music, with instruments.  From there I developed love for guitars and drums and music,” Tresor told us in an interview.

Orphaned at an early age, Tresor, moved to Durban, South Africa, and began working as a car guard by day and a security guard by night. For readers who do not live in Africa, a car guard is a type of informal work that you can find at pretty much any parking lot. The person helps drivers find parking spots and watches the cars until the driver returns so that it is not stolen.

“Yeah, it was great! At that time, it was not fun but looking back I think it was an experience that I would never change for anything. It really taught me about people and human beings and also humility. It also taught me that there are not really any stupid jobs, you know? As long as you have a vision of what really you want to achieve, the end goal, I think, is always the most important thing. That’s really what I learned from the experience.”

Tresor never lost sight of his end goal throughout his time in Durban. He believes that his break was about 10 years ago when he started writing songs for the South African artist, Zahara. After that, he started writing for a number of artists, including those from the South African singing competition show, Idols. He honed his craft and entered and won a few competitions. Eventually, in 2015, his single became number one in Italy, and from there things took off for him.

Tresor never forgets his roots, however. Having made it big, he uses his connections to empower African youth. He also returns to Durban often. He went back last weekend for a show with East Coast Radio, one of the biggest radio stations in that region.

“The trip meant different. The love is really massive there. It’s always a beautiful nostalgic trip because I keep seeing the places where I used to work, my first 80 days, where I worked as a car guard. This time maybe being driven around in nice car or whatever. It’s always nice and it’s always mixed feelings you know. I always have doubts, a lot of happiness mixed with sadness. I miss living there but I spend a lot of time going back. It’s always good going back there and seeing people that I love.”

Like any great South African artist, Tresor does a lot of humanitarian work. He is an ambassador for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. He is also a High Level Influencer in the LuQuLuQu Tribe, a social movement to change the narrative of the African refugee, run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Tresor is passionate about these opportunities to help others. When asked why he takes part in these organizations he responded, “You know for me, it’s something that I feel like it has a little bit selfish motivation, a good selfishness. It makes me feel good, you know. Not of any praise whatsoever. It just builds me up being able to lift others up.”

He says that doing service such as this helped him discover the essence of who he is as a young man and as an African. When traveling to Malawi with LuQuLuQu he loved getting to sing with the kids as well as the reminders to stay humble.

“I think for me it was just a moment of reality. I also got to meet young people that were singing my music so we got to sing together. For me, that was a really beautiful moment. And just getting to share the music and the love. I also got to really learn a lot about what is it like again to always stay real and understand that there’s always someone out there either praying or wishing for what you’ve got already, so always to just stay grateful.”

Having grown up around organizations such as UNHCR in Goma, Tresor says that his perception of them has changed having now seen them from the other side.

“After the trip you know I think I got to really understand the core of what the organization was about. They’re doing great work.”

He was impressed by the Microsoft Center set up in a camp and the opportunities given to those who have been the camps their entire lives. Fluent in French, Swahili, and English he is able to connect with those people and understand their drive because his is similar.

On top of his philanthropic work, Tresor empowers African youth through his own music label under Universal Studios called Jacquel Entertainment. “Look, I’m very passionate about African youth and the whole end to be honest was to empower young African talent,” he says. He uses his connections to open doors for those he believes has musical talent that deserves to be heard. The company, although starting with music, will also eventually branch out into technology and philanthropy.

His other goal is to “bring back the glory days of African music,” which to him includes artists such as Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Papa Wembe, Fela Kuti, and Brenda Fassie. For him, current African music has “a lot of American urban influence in terms of like the imaging of it and how it’s packaged.” He points out that the last time an African artist had a number one was in 1967.

“There was a time where, as African musicians, we would not be compared to any musicians on the planet. Hence, like the expression of Michael Jackson ‘mama sa mama coo sa’ because it was just too powerful. For me that’s really where I really wanna take it back. It’s gonna take a while but I think we’ve really been on a great path”.

Although there are some artists doing this right now, such as himself, with his unique sound, Soul to Soul in Kenya, Fally Ipupa in Congo, and Colored Gold in Nigeria, he also believes that some of the kids that he is developing under Jacquel will be able to do it. Together, all these African artists can help “knock down that wall” and bring back that golden era.

“There is a really great response here around and I think I’m embarking on a journey soon because the sound I’ve been producing is very different here. But we’re getting as much recognition, getting as much place for album of the year or best pop album or best male whatever. We’re getting all those accolades just based on the music that has been purely authentic and original and different from the whole wave that is going on.”

Here are some artists, African and non-African, to check out that Tresor loves:

  • Papa Wembe
  • Koffi Olomide
  • Fela Kuti
  • Brenda Fassie
  • Yvonne Chaka Chaka
  • Chicco Twala
  • Hugh Masekela
  • Soul to Soul
  • AKA
  • Bob Marley
  • Phil Collins
  • Paul Simon
  • Coldplay
  • Bastille

Featured Image via Twitter

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Eva Rose Tesfaye
Eva Tesfaye has traveled around the world her whole life but thinks of Africa as home. She loves reading novels and watching plays (especially ones with people of color in them). She has a love-hate relationship with her big curly hair.
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