Singer Tre­sor’s jour­ney from refugee to Afro-pop star

Sama win­ner Tre­sor on his re­mark­able jour­ney, the artists who’ve in­spired him and what has made him the man he is to­day


THE walk to the stage was short – but his jour­ney to it has been long. The sounds of his child­hood, grow­ing up in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo (DRC), in­spired his mu­sic – es­pe­cially his lat­est and most per­sonal al­bum, aptly ti­tled Nostal­gia. Tre­sor Riziki (32), his eyes hid­den behind his trade­mark shades, ac­cepted his third Sama, for Nostal­gia, then thanked the peo­ple of his adopted home, South Africa. “Ten years ago I came here, as a refugee to Dur­ban, and be­ing here to­day, win­ning this award for the third time in a row is re­ally over­whelm­ing,” he told the crowd, who roared with ap­proval. “I’m re­ally grate­ful to South Africa for lov­ing the mu­sic.”

“This al­bum was very per­sonal and close to my heart,” he tells DRUM. “When I was mak­ing the record, I went back to my child­hood and imag­ined all the mu­sic we used to lis­ten to as kids, through my par­ents and neigh­bours. Brenda Fassie, Bra Hugh [Masekela], Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Chicco Twala, Yous­sou N’Dour, Phil Collins and a lot more – they all played a huge role in me find­ing the sound that res­onates with me the most.

“I trav­elled back in time and made a record that will show peo­ple why I am

the artist I am to­day.”

Nostal­gia won Tre­sor best pop al­bum of the year award at the cer­e­mony, which was held at Sun City ear­lier this month.

THE hit­maker cuts a dap­per fig­ure, and a tall one at that, in a pow­der-blue suit and funky kicks. His head nearly brushes the top of the door­frame as he en­ters the room. To­day he’s not wear­ing his usual dark sun­glasses – this pair is blue to match his suit – and his kind brown eyes match his gen­tle voice and in­fec­tious laugh.

His jour­ney to the top hasn’t been an easy one. In fact, it’s the stuff of movies, and would sound quite far-fetched if it hadn’t ac­tu­ally hap­pened.

Tre­sor, his par­ents, Eliz­a­beth and Jacques Riziki, and his sib­lings lived in the city of Goma, in the east­ern DRC near the bor­der with Rwanda. His par­ents man­aged a chain of phar­ma­cies and life, he says, was pretty good. “I come from a suc­cess­ful, happy fam­ily and it was cool grow­ing up, un­til the Rwan­dan geno­cide.

“I was eight years old and I saw a lot of peo­ple die,” he told IOL news web­site.

“My par­ents took me to church ev­ery day af­ter school where I learnt to play the drums. They took me there be­cause they didn’t want me to see the deaths. A lot of us kids were messed up be­cause we be­gan to see death like that as nor­mal.

“It was only when I was in SA that I re­alised it’s not sup­posed to be like that.”

Some years later, in 2002, vol­cano Nyi­ragongo erupted and de­stroyed parts of Goma. Tre­sor’s fam­ily “lost ev­ery­thing”.

Two years later his par­ents died, but their pass­ing is a topic that’s long been out of bounds for dis­cus­sion.

He speaks fondly of his par­ents, and how they raised him and his sib­lings.

“My par­ents, es­pe­cially my mother, broke down all sorts of bar­ri­ers and gen­der bi­ases. You know how in most African homes the girls’ chores are mostly in the kitchen and the boys’ chores are out­side? There was none of that at home.

“She would make sure we took turns wash­ing the dishes, cook­ing, clean­ing and gar­den­ing – there was noth­ing that was des­ig­nated only for the girls or only for the boys.

“And I’m so grate­ful for that up­bring­ing

be­cause it re­sulted in me be­ing the man I am to­day,” he says. Tre­sor com­pleted high school and in 2007 made his way to Dur­ban, by train, car and on foot. “When I took a leap of faith and de­cided to travel through Africa I nearly lost my life many times. I even crossed a crocodile-in­fested river and walked through crazy African wild parks. I was so young and this fire within was push­ing me to do things I didn’t be­lieve I had in me,” he wrote on In­sta­gram.

He ar­rived in South Africa un­able to speak English but de­ter­mined to make it as a mu­si­cian. He hus­tled hard, as a car guard by day and se­cu­rity guard at night.

In be­tween he man­aged to work his way into the Dur­ban mu­sic scene, net­work­ing with lo­cal mu­sic mak­ers at so­cial and mu­sic events, and quickly made a name for him­self.

He joined the group Maisha, who opened for Eddy Grant, Johnny Clegg and Lady­smith Black Mam­bazo, and hav­ing quickly learnt English, he turned his gift for lan­guage and mu­sic to writ­ing songs for lo­cal artists.

It didn’t take long be­fore he bagged an in­ter­na­tional deal with the Uni­ver­sal Mu­sic Pub­lish­ing Group, and the sin­gles and al­bums started drop­ping.

Seven years af­ter his ar­rival in Dur­ban he won his first Sama for best pop al­bum for VII in 2016.

HIS sib­lings have done well for them­selves too, he tells us. “I was so blessed to fi­nally be able to pay some of my sib­lings’ tu­ition fees. “My folks were pas­sion­ate about us go­ing to school and be­ing in­de­pen­dent in the fu­ture – and I’d say we’re well on our way; they’d be proud to see us,” he says.

His el­dest sis­ter, Deb­o­rah (34), stud­ied medicine, and his other sis­ters, Al­ice (33), Prov­i­dence (28), Grace (26), and his only brother, Joshua (24), are study­ing and work­ing too.

On the ro­man­tic front, Tre­sor is in­volved with psy­chi­a­trist Langa Mn­goma, whose sis­ter is singer and TV pre­sen­ter Nandi Ma­dida. “We met a cou­ple of years ago and we were friends be­fore we started dat­ing and de­cided to be a cou­ple,” the singer shares.

His bae’s work in the men­tal health field is par­tic­u­larly in­spir­ing. “I find that it is very im­por­tant, es­pe­cially in the black com­mu­nity where there are stereo­types around men­tal ill­ness. She’s amaz­ing and we’re re­ally, truly happy.”

But Tre­sor doesn’t want to delve too much into his per­sonal life. He’s happy to talk mu­sic. “I want to make more records that will rep­re­sent our gen­er­a­tion and re­flect the times. Africa has such rich sto­ries, and they’re cry­ing to be told. If not by us, then who?”

‘I was eight and I saw a lot of peo­ple die’

At the re­cent Sa­mas, Tre­sor bagged the award for pop al­bum of the year for Nostal­gia. It’s the third time the Con­gole­se­born singer has won the cov­eted award.

LEFT: Tre­sor with girl­friend Dr Langa Mn­goma at the Sa­mas ear­lier this month. ABOVE: A young Tre­sor with his late mom, Eliz­a­beth Riziki.

Tre­sor with singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka, one of the artists he cred­its with in­spir­ing his lat­est al­bum, Nostal­gia.

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