From getting inducted into the Recording Academy as a voting member to co-writing the lion’s share of Drake’s Billboard-topping dance album Honestly, Nevermind, it’s been a year to remember for TRESOR. The thirty-five-year-old Congolese singer-songwriter has come a long way since his debut album VII (2015), a long walk laden with accolades, influence, international reach, plus critical and commercial success. There is something poetic in TRESOR’s life journey, fearlessly travelling Africa with nothing but a pocket full of dreams in 2007. And now, in 2022, he’s got the whole of Africa in his pocket, and his musical strides are daring and more inspiring than ever.
We caught up with the SAMA-winning musician and discussed his latest partnership-cum-venture with Hunter’s, his involvement in Drake’s latest album, where African music is going, and his plans.
Congratulations on the launch of the Hunter’s x Jacquel Culture House (JCH). The initiative aims to ignite the next wave of African creatives. Can you share your thoughts about the initiative and how much of an impact you feel it will have on the careers of rising musicians?
TRESOR: Thank you very much. It’s exciting to launch the Hunter’s x Jacquel Culture House with the sole vision and purpose of empowering the next generation of creatives – African creatives. The vision behind it is being able to be the vehicle, tool, and platform that will discover and empower creatives early in their careers and get them ready for the world. And I do believe this will be such an impactful platform for creatives. And we’re trying to build it to be the number-one platform that will empower and take African art and creatives to the world. It’s something I’m passionate about. It’s something I hold dear to my heart, and I’m hoping to make a great impact and change a lot of the creatives’ lives with this project.
Being as ambitious as you are, the current workshops and talent search rollout of Hunter’s x JCH has to be only the beginning. Are there any other plans brewing to expand your reach in helping people in the arts with this platform?
TRESOR: Thank you. Most definitely. There are so many incredible things we’re planning to do with the Hunter’s Jacquel Culture House, and master classes are only the beginning. The workshops are only the beginning; there are so many avenues we’re going to explore. But everything is going to be centred around the creatives. I’m hoping to dabble into fashion, film, architecture, and visual arts, and that’s the vision, you know? So, I don’t want to have any limits or a box when it comes to this particular project. There are so many other exciting programs, although we’ll be starting with music this year and need to focus on different disciplines that will be able to help push the African narrative on a global scale, which is the end goal of this project.
Speaking of platforms, you recently had the privilege of producing and co-writing a bulk of Drake’s new album Honestly, Nevermind. Please share with us the experience and the lessons you have learned from working together in making the album come to life.
TRESOR: Thank you very much. Working on Drake’s album has been a great honour and a life-changing experience. Because, you know, they gave me this space and place on the table to create and collaborate so freely in a room that is so incredible, and I’m grateful for that experience and the opportunity. It’s an experience that has taught me a lot, most importantly, about boldness. And being true to yourself as an artist is something important. And I believe that’s what has gotten me into that room and so many other incredible rooms. And I’m just enjoying life, man. I feel, more than anything, that this experience has taught me to have a lot of fun with my craft and just have a lot of good time and enjoy.
With your decisive inclusion in Honestly, Nevermind (and your colleague Black Coffee in the same album), do you feel like the mainstream success of African musicians and producers like yourself abroad is slowly but surely trickling to others on the continent overall? Or do you feel more can still be done to achieve visibility?
TRESOR: I believe there’s a great time coming, and it’s an exciting time for African musicians. And I’m just glad to be part of the people, the forefront, helping push the envelope of what the African sound should be like when unboxed, unapologetic, and just really different. And I feel like there’s still more to be done, but I feel we’re on the right track. There are so many incredible movements for African pop culture and music, so it’s just exciting. So we just got to keep pushing more about it, man. We, I think, are at the best time. It’s the best time for African pop culture and music right now – the best it’s ever been. We’re at the most perfect and crucial time. We’re approaching the pinnacle of African pop culture and music globally, which is exciting. It is an honour to be at the forefront helping to push that narrative.
Your song “Last December” sounds like an ode of a lover desperately trying to hold on to the connection and love that once was. What inspired you to write the song? Was it one of those songs inspired by a special someone from the past or just something you woke up feeling?
TRESOR: “Last December”. “Last December” is one of my favourite songs I’ve done in quite a bit. It’s groovy, it’s fun, but also it’s like an ode of a lover trying to revive an old connection. And I think it’s a feeling I probably woke up feeling. But also, what I do a lot as a songwriter is capture moments, box them, and revamp them later in the form of a song. It’s definitely a feeling. There’s generally a feeling that I’ve had that I wanted to capture in a song, and I’m glad I did with that song because it’s different, but it’s fun and beautiful, and I love it. It’s one of my favourite songs that I’ve done in terms of cool African dance music.
You are nominated for Best Pop Album for Motion at this year’s South African Music Awards. You’ve already taken the gong three times for VII, The Beautiful Madness, and Nostalgia. How proud are you of Motion compared to your other SAMA-winning albums, and how did the creative process of Motion differ from the other albums?
TRESOR: It’s exciting and an honour to be nominated again for Best Pop Album for Motion. And, you know, at this time of my life, I’m not chasing any accolades whatsoever. It’s always an honour and flattering when you start as an artist. It’s a good thing for you to get the accolades because you need that approval from your peers. But then again, I’m in my unapologetic era where I’m just doing my thing. It’s an honour for Motion to be nominated and for all the other albums to have won.
The creative process for Motion was different. I wanted to create an album that would take me to a new level. It’s a bridge, you know? A sonic bridge. So wherever I go next as an artist, it’s just going to be something I’m doing because I’m just trying to create a whole new movement with my music. And Motion is the bridge between what I’ve been on as an artist since the beginning – since my first album – and what I’m about to introduce, which is the new era. A very important album in my career.
You were recently inducted into the Recording Academy as a voting member and made your Billboard debut on the Hot 100 Songwriters lists. What does it mean to you to be acknowledged by some of the most esteemed music platforms globally?
TRESOR: Being inducted as part of the Recording Academy’s voting members is exciting. It’s humbling, but also, I think it’s an important step because I get to help shape the future of creatives on a global scale and help celebrate incredible creatives from around the world, and it’s such an honour. And for me, the biggest highlight this year was being on the Hot 100 Songwriters list globally for the work I did on Drake’s album. And it’s been fascinating, it’s beautiful, and it’s amazing. You know, the collaboration changed a lot of things for me. Just being part of the list – being part of the Billboard charts – is just, like, a life-changing experience, but I feel like it’s the beginning. There’s still so much more to come. And it feels great; it has given me a lot of clarity and much-needed affirmation for my next phase as an artist.
Looking to the future, what can we expect from TRESOR in the coming years (or months)? Is anything new cooking?
TRESOR: For TRESOR as an artist, I’m listening. I’m watching and navigating myself as an artist. There are a lot of exciting things that are about to come. I can’t say much, but I’m hoping we get to build and create something magical that we will get to introduce to the world in the future. But I’m hoping it’s going to be something that will be able to amaze you and something that will be able to blow your mind, preparing for what will be my next phase, which I believe will be the most amazing phase of my career so far.
The next phase of my career is dedicated to the global takeover of African music, pushing boundaries, and creating something that is out of the norm and a whole new lane and energy of the music.