Congolese pianist, composer, and singer Tyson Meya is an artist we truly knew nothing about. But that is it: finding talent not on your musical radar is akin to finding ‘that’ elusive vinyl you had been hunting for years. And once you find that vinyl-it warms you with deep satisfaction. Tyson Meya is that ‘musical warmth’-we like him here at #itchysilk.
The thirty year old band leader seamlessly fuses afro jazz, with traditional sounds embedded in “the foundation of African roots and history”. Having worked with a plethora of artists like; Richard de Bona, Etienne Mbappé and Leon Lhouest he is a seasoned professional.
That seasoned quality evident in his latest digital 45 Kivu released on the Color Red label. While Kivu (produced by Mike Tallman) consists of just two tracks it is a rewarding release. Tyson Meya uses the socio-political history (and present) of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as the foundation. And while that foundation is mired in tragedy, emotively the songs are uplifting and hopeful.
We spoke to Tyson Meya about his musical journey and this current release.
We always like to get a bit of background on the artist so tell us a bit about your life and how it shaped your aspiration for a career in music?
I started to learn the piano at age fourteen. Unfortunately, I did not have a member of my family who was a musician, so it was very hard for me at the beginning. In fact, my parents wanted me to be a doctor. Regardless, they paid my fees to have music lessons at home. Later, music changed my life and the way of seeing things and analysing problems in my society. For me, music is medicine to my soul-it connects with many people around the world.
We know about the history and of course the present for the Congo. How has that shaped your opinions and the direction of your music?
My country has so much history and cultural, it is very diverse. There are more than 450 languages, and its richness cannot be found anywhere else. Unfortunately, it remains one of the least developed countries, but we have a major issue with armed groups killing people. In such situations, music is so powerful. I hope my music brings hope, courage, love, history, and engagement. Importantly there needs to be a message that the young generation must be the part of the solution and not part of the problem. This is a vital message for Congo but also this big and beautiful country called Africa.
We cannot lie we did not know you before so tell us a bit about prior work to this current release-what have you done, who have you worked with?
I really love my community and love to impart change however I can. I founded CAFE MUSIC SMILE in 2015. It is an organization helping to educate and train street children without access to school through the power of, music, painting, and photography. Over 150 children were trained and 20 of them went back to school between 2017 and 2020.
As an artist I have worked with many local and international musicians. Some of those musicians include: Innos Be, Koffi Olomide, Lokwa Kanza, Nathalie Makoma, and Jerry Leonide to name but a few.
Tell us about connecting with Mike Tallman Creative Director at Color Red for these two brilliant tracks?
Meeting Mike was magnificent and magical. I received an email from the cultural section of the US embassy in Kinshasa who wanted me to participate in a cultural exchange with his band Euforquestra, who were due to perform at the Amani Festival in East DRC. When I arrived at the place, the exchange had started. I was directly touched by their way of sharing the artistic experience, their knowledge, and the way they played and arranged their songs. The singer Kim and the whole band were magnificent—I saw myself in them. I was curious to ask some questions about their team, their music, their management, and the music industry they work in.
At the time he [Mike] me to play one of my songs called Bokoko. The song connected us spiritually and physically and a link that was established. Mike contacted me a few months later to work with Color Red to produce my music.
Tell us about the creative process behind the two tracks?
The song Kivu was above all an instrumental composition. It has some beautiful jazz harmonies. After my conversation with Mike about producing Bokoko, I decided to use the opportunity to share my opinion on the problems happening in the east of my country such as the despair of youth. I quickly contacted my artistic director Olivier Mbou to let him know that I wanted to write a song about KIVU.
I already had some lyrics, and we arranged the words with the singer Milongo lady E, who translated the lyrics from French into Swahili. Mike was very happy and excited when he listened to the track. We quickly went to the studio in Kinshasa to record the track and sent it back to Mike so he could release it with Bokoko for a digital 45.
Kivu features the brilliant vocals of Milongo Lady E how did that connect happen and indeed why her?
I am a pianist and composer, but I am a singer first. I had the chance to work with Miolongo who has such a versatile voice. When arranging Kivu, I had an idea to let her sing that song. I preferred a woman’s voice to launch this alert. Those cries of pains. In African ancient culture, it was the cries of the women who gave men the courage to fight when there were problems in the village. A woman’s voice can better express this situation. An adage says, “When the hawk comes to steal the chicks, it’s the hen that cries”. I am still inspired by the ancient African culture.
Tell us more about that message from Miolango.
“KIVU” launches a call for the awakening of collective consciousness. The message is clear: “it is time to stop crying for our dead, to conquer fear, to unite as a one people, to restore the image of a strong nation that flourishes—that nature has given, but attracts the jealousy of other peoples to kill, plunder wealth and rape women.” The cries of our ancestors call us to responsibility, unity, and peace.
Bokoko evokes such hope particularly with that opening piano.
In the first part of the song the music wants to express pain or sadness, suffering. The second part manifested joyous celebration with dance and percussion. It is about always dreaming, hoping, and working for a future.
Bokoko means the way of ancestor’s making—our roots, our sources, our identity. It is one of my best compositions meant to evoke a meditative, spiritual, and celebratory feel all at the same time. In today’s world full of technology, young people often lose their origins, values, and connection to their ancestors.
Our African ancestors were strong and powerful while their state of mind was disciplined and knowledgeable. Beyond all the limited knowledge of our days, we must draw on them. They are like the source of the ocean, where everybody must get clean water. They are the secret of all good music of the world, inventions, inspirations, and the sustainable and fundamental values of life.
Anything to add?
If I can add something, I would say that God has given me a gift. I have more music, history, and energy to share through sounds. I want many more opportunities to make my dream happen and perform everywhere around the world.