Mukengerwa Tresor Riziki is a music superstar in South Africa whose roots is a refugee fleeing the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. He challenges to eliminate the harsh conditions of refugees.
Mukengerwa Tresor Riziki,
popularly known as Tresor,
is a renowned singer based in South Africa.
He was recently featured on a track
with international pop star Drake.
He is also a refugee from the war-torn
country of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
He uses his unique position to inspire hope
in people with similar backgrounds
and to highlight the whole future
in a united and prosperous Africa.
Tresor is a big advocate for such a unity
and believes that the arts,
and especially music,
could help bring people together.
Music Is the Firestarter
He has always been determined to
support people who are forcibly displaced.
through his music and social influence
after his personal experiences
in his home country.
What inspired me to
get into music has been really,
the experience, my childhood experience.
I grew up around a lot of music,
not really from my household,
but from the neighbours
as well as the local choirs
and it was such a way for me to
express myself as a young African kid
in a small town Goma, in Congo.
Be it Papa Wemba,
Koffi Olomide at that time.
And then I listened to
Phil Collins or Bob Marley or
and just... there was so much music
I think on radio growing up
and our neighbours and wherever I went,
be it a church you know.
I just got the bug very early,
I was very very young and that's
what inspired me to get into music.
Until the age of 17,
he lived in a small city of Goma.
It lies 13 kilometres below the active
and has been the site of many
social turmoil throughout the years.
This includes the 1994 genocide
in neighbouring Rwanda,
leading to the First and Second Congo wars.
During the period when the war was raging,
Tresor left Goma,
travelling alone through several countries
before arriving in South Africa.
I think my journey from home
was inspired by music.
I've always felt and believed
that my dreams were bigger
than me staying in my hometown,
which is a much smaller city.
Over time I've understood
it's the most amazing decision
I've ever made so far in my life.
It's always challenging.
The challenges of really surviving
when you leave your hometown, for everyone
doesn't matter who or how,
when you leave your comfort zone.
There's quite a lot challenges
one of them being of course
you're a small town boy
in a whole new big world, busy world
and trying to adapt to a whole new life,
and also trying to find ways to survive
because you don't really have
maybe the right education
or don't really know where to start off
and the challenge has
always been integration.
And the challenge for me first was
Survival meaning, doing small jobs you know,
working on the streets, finding ways
and means to be able to survive
still making sure the dream-
the musical dream doesn't die.
Early days for me were very crucial days
that really has helped me shape my character.
I think my early jobs in South Africa,
I arrived in Durban,
I got welcomed by a really kind,
warm Congolese community
and shared like a one bedroom flat
with like 10 other people.
You know, it gave me at least a good start
to start going out and look for jobs
and my first job was a car guard you know,
looking after people's cars,
getting a bit of coins.
Eventually upgrading on to being a
security guard and doing both,
and being able to make a living you know.
I think that time it was not
really much you know.
If I was making R2000
you know, per month
that was quite a lot of money
for me to be able to
pay my rent, you know,
have enough food.
I recorded my first EP,
which cost me I think 700 bucks
to record for the day.
I recorded it in like one hour,
on guitar and vocals,
as well as spend 50% of my income
on the internet cafe
trying to really connect with
a lot of people on the internet.
Any number that said "music"
or "label", "studio" next to it, I called.
And got my first publishing deal
that I got for like R10,000.
I actually found some number I think from a
facebook ad, for Universal Music I called.
I was lucky
the MD for Universal on that particular day
was passing by the front desk
He doesn't really answer.
I'm like "Can you sign me?"
He said "But we don't know your music,
can you send it?"
I'm like, "Yes, give me your email address!"
So I sent the music.
It was I think a Friday or
a Monday I got a call back
"We love your music,
we'd love to work with you."
And I signed with them 2010.
And I bumped into Zahara's producer, Mjakes,
at the airport this one time,
and I just pitched myself. I'm like
"Man, this is what I do."
I think I'd met him prior to that,
but for the first time I told him
"This is what I do, this is my music."
He's like "Well, I'm going to record Zahara,
you should come sometimes."
I went back home, and I did not pitch
for my waitressing job for a week,
and I just wrote these songs,
and eventually the songs made onto the album.
I had two songs on Zahara's second album,
which was a blessing.
And that was one of the biggest breaks
I had early in my career.
And that changed quite a lot of things for me
because I eventually joined her on tour,
and from there I won like a Rolling Stone
Songwriter of The Year competition,
or New Songwriter of The Year competition,
something like that.
And after the tour I managed to see
my family for the first time.
Tresor's activities are not limited to music.
His unique background
led him to become one of the first
high-level influencers as a former refugee.
He also became a High Profile Supporter
for the United Nations Refugee Agency
He uses his fame to highlight the struggles
for people who had to abandon their homes,
and he influences policy to help them.
He takes part in special campaigns
and regularly visits
different refugee camps in the region
to inspire people living there.
You know I don't like the word fame.
My music has given me a voice and a platform
and I think it's within my nature,
whether it should be within our human nature,
to assist where we can.
I don't shy away from being a refugee.
I'm a refugee and this is an example of it.
Like if a refugee gets given
time and a chance or an ear
it will turn exactly how I turned out
or how I'm turning out, you know, so.
The most important thing is to change
the perspective and the narrative
of what, how people look at refugees like.
And also be a voice, you know
and I think that's the most important thing
because I always want people to see
beyond the person as a refugee
because there's so much more to refugees
than actually that tag name,
you know what I mean?
There's talent, there's gifts,
and most importantly
there's such incredible
human beings behind that tag.
Yes. I am very proudly Congolese
but first and foremost
I am very proudly African,
You know. I think that for me is like,
before I am Congolese, first I'm African
because I love and carry this continent
so much in my heart
with whatever, everything that I'm doing.
I appreciate the culture
from Congo, Senegal, Ghana,
For people that have actually gone
and dug deep into my music
you will hear a lot of history South Africa,
you hear a lot of things
I pick from everywhere,
because I believe we are such
a beautifully rich continent.
I don't think we've really fully
grasped the magnitude of how...
we...the impact that
we've had on pop culture for years
without the credits, you know.
And I feel now we're finally
getting a bit of spotlight.
I do believe we're at the forefront.
We move the needle, you understand?
We move the needle in fashion,
in music, in art, in a lot of things.
And that's pretty much the mission.
And owning our story, you know,
like owning our story so at least
when future kids see
it's like been imbedded in history
that we started this thing,
we shaped this thing,
we've influenced and impacted the world.
cause I don't think Africans
always getting recognitions or... not it's...
Actually it does matter a lot for us
to get the lime light we deserve, you know.
being in our rightful place
of dignity pretty much.
Forgive each other.
Accept each other...
There is a lot of work to do
when it comes to refugees,
there's a lot of work to do
when it comes to stability on the continent.
And I wish and somehow
I will play a part in it in the future
and as well as our generation
will play part in it in the future
because I do believe we need fresh,
super fresh leadership.
If we don't have wars and crises, and
there wouldn't be refugees.
And I believe we do have enough on
the continent to be able to sustain ourselves
and that's where I stand.
Tresor launched an innovative
incubation centre called
"Jacquel Culture House" in April of 2022.
The centre aims to train
and support young people
to get skills in the entertainment industry,
empowering their creativity
with practical experience in music.
Look, these are things that we do
naturally the work of the youth, I think.
The youth being the main
or centre of like any society.
It's natural that we should be able to
put quite a lot in the youth, you know.
I'm really proud...
of course present the Jacquel Culture House
which is an innovative youth centre,
centred around music, film,
and just empowering youth culture really.
because investing in youth is pretty much,
you know, fueling the
back-bone of our society
and I'm just excited man.
I really am excited.
I think it's going to be something powerful
and I'm putting quite a lot of
my time and efforts into it.
And yeah, already naturally we do
quite a bit of shadowing and mentorship.
We have a lot of young people
working for us already
and we just want to
make sure it's like official
and running for years to come.
Mainly what I'll do is I record him
some of the other artists
who gets into studio.
I also do a bit of mixing
and mastering for him.
He's a super great guy as well.
He's like always looking to give
young people opportunities
and it's been incredible.
No, it's been like a fever dream
to be honest.
What he basically does is
basically teaching me how to, like,
work with the bigger artists,
and sound engineering platform.
So, as a young sound engineer it's kinda
scary to meet the person you look up to,
you know what I'm saying.
And you have to record him.
So, he's getting us in that field.
It's honestly just like shows like
what Tresor is all about.
He's all about giving back
and inspiring the community and uplifting
and yeah, that's all it tells about him.
What is Tresor's mission?
I think first and foremost, the first one
I'm trying to take a distinct African sound
to all corners of the world
as an artist,
and change the narrative of
how the world sees Africa.
This is like the best place on the planet
and I don't mean,
I don't mean that in a bad way.
It really is we have such incredible things
that I think the world will
appreciate experiencing, you know.
uhm, creating a lot of beautiful things here.
Like in a whole bunch of different industries
and just uhm, giving the world a
great privilege of experiencing them.
It's beyond music for me,
You know, it's... it's...
music is the firestarter
but there's so much,
you know. Like today or tomorrow,
like in 10 years time
if I'm not performing or singing anymore,
I'll be doing things as impactful
if not even more impactful, you know.
Uhm, yeah pretty much, you know?
Well, good luck reading that.
His missions are
To take a distinct African sound
to all corners of the world,
To change the narrative of
how the world sees Africa.
To create a lot of beauty
in different industries,
and give the world
the privilege of experiencing them.
The picture is clear of what it is that
I'm trying to take to the world.
Uhm, and that's my mission
and it's music; it's in art, it's in film.
I want to express myself in
as many avenues that I possibly can,
genuinely, you know.
And tell our stories, tell my story,
tell a glorifying story of our people
and just, and have a lot of fun
along the way.