“If you don’t tell your own story, someone else will tell it for you” In His Own Words. Ryan Koriya Exclusive! Image by Tanya Davidow
In 2016, Zimbabwean singer, songwriter and all-round creative Ryan Koriya began his #DIStour (Drowning In Space Tour), an International tour he visually documented, adding onto footage from his world travels dating as far back as 2013. One thing that immediately stands out from watching Koriya’s tour documentaries is his zest for life and his love for people. Living out of a suitcase and touring at least a dozen countries a year is a little much to fathom and yet Koriya, affectionately known as the ‘Soul Mechanic’, has shown that it’s possible. In fact, Koriya has a docuseries titled I’MPOSSIBLE proving that impossible is a word that doesn’t exist in the world of this self-taught cellist and guitarist.
Ryan Koriya’s childhood was nothing short of colourful. Think bold literary presentations in front of his peers and creative industry experts. The oldest of 3 children, performing was engrained in him from a young age.
Koriya’s teachers at Belvedere Junior School quickly picked up on his talent and advised his mother to nurture his skill.
“The teachers told her that she should enroll me for speech and drama because I was clearly a performer, being put into a school environment, they could tell, ” says Koriya.
True to form, he went on to participate in national creative events and thrived at it describing his stage performances as “…thrilling and an adventure”.
“[By] Grade two or grade three I was already on stage performing in the Allied Arts Speech and Drama Festival… by the time I was 11 years old, I was already winning Honours and was invited to perform one of my pieces in the special Honours Concert held at the prestigious Prince Edward High School” says Koriya.
Academically, Koriya was also a high achiever, scaling within the top three of his class, but there was no doubt that musically, he was on to something.
Koriya enrolled at Prince Edward High School in 1993 and his formative years at the school were marked by milestones of a rather luster nature, including teaching himself how to perform classical pieces such as Beethoven’s Für Elise on the school’s Steinway Grand Piano.
“I learnt how to play Für Elise by reading the music note by note and slowly going through it. I eventually learnt to play it by heart and I could play the entire piece.” he says.
With an inkling that the arts were tied to his life’s purpose, he made the most of his time at the musically equipped school which served as the perfect training ground for his subsequent international musical career.
Koriya lived and breathed music, sneakily putting in time to practice in some instances.
“Whenever we had practical lessons for Agriculture…and the teacher would say go to the garden…I would actually opt out of doing that and go to the music room and teach myself cello instead,” says Koriya
It paid off. Now, Koriya is a multi-instrumentalist who plays the violin, cello, piano/keyboards, drums, guitar, and the bass guitar.
“I credit my high school for all my musical success,” he says.
With a full colours blazer for astounding musical performance, a member of the Harare City Orchestra, as well as the Prince Edward School Orchestra and winning best national actor all at the age of 17, Koriya went on to graduate High School with a remarkable resume and the world took notice.
“I left school and I was immediately head hunted by Arundel [School]. The head of music said you need to come and teach,” he says.
Successively, Koriya was also headhunted to teach violin, cello and beginner’s piano at other private schools within the city, including the Harare International School.
During his 4 and a half-year teaching stint, Koriya sought avenues to go abroad in order to give his music career a fair chance. The process proved difficult on the backdrop of a struggling economy, but the stars finally aligned and he left Zimbabwe at the age of 23 for England.
“I knew that to fulfill my true potential, I had to go abroad and plug into an international market, ”Koriya explains.
Navigating through the international market introduced new dynamics that shaped Koriya’s outlook on life and complimented his extreme work ethic. Three months after his move, Koriya played the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, one of the biggest festivals for fringe arts where he received rave reviews.
“We played a daily show for a whole month that was amongst 1500 other shows… the one review said something along lines of … the music was good, if a little repetitive, but they certainly harbor some talent, most notably bassist Ryan Koriya, “ he says.
Koriya had only been a bass player for 3 months at this point and having just moved overseas on less than a shoestring budget, he was already outshining his contemporaries.
As his career began to shape up, Koriya faced other issues that echoed something he experienced growing up. Coming from a background of African and Indian heritage, Koriya constantly faces questions about his identity, but stands firm in it.
“I 100% refer to myself as a coloured,” he says. “I am very vocal about the fact that I am a dark coloured/(mixed race) and there’s nothing wrong with that”.
And yet people always want to dig deeper in order to comprehend his truth against their own understanding. This has contributed towards Koriya’s passion for “challenging people’s perceptions or the lines that they draw for themselves that limit creativity and limit understanding”.
Koriya also finds himself having to justify his music’s genre that has an experimental edge, with questions around why his music doesn’t sound African enough.
“If you look at the way I present my music, the rhythm, the essence, there’s Africa in there for sure but it’s not the main driving force because I am a contemporary artist, I love pop music” explains Koriya.
There’s no stopping Koriya’s reign. At 38, he has just launched an independent record label called Runway Vertical in Ibiza, Spain. He is also producing a documentary about his artistic journey as well as running a platform called Safe Space Zimbabwe, a closed Facebook group that serves as a platform to discuss issues deemed taboo in African culture including mental health. Mental health, gender equality, self-development, and mentorship are areas Koriya is particularly passionate about.
“We lose so many people as Zimbabweans to suicide and it’s really heartbreaking. It’s unfortunate and it is a mental health issue, “ he says.
Koriya has also launched the Afronauts Music Academy as an online forum to support and empower independent artists. Whether it’s the online academy or African Astronauts, a documentary-style series showing the world what it means to be African, Koriya’s projects all have a personal touch underlined by the idea of telling his own story.
“Someone has a narrative about you before they’ve even met you, they’re going to use the information they have and the preconceptions they have to decide who you are. So I’m encouraging everyone in the world to play an active role in combating misinformation by simply telling their own unique stories in whatever medium feels natural,” says Koriya.
RYAN KORIYA FUN FACTS
• FAVOURITE FOOD- Thai.
• WHY ‘SOUL MECHANIC’?- Part of Koriya’s life’s purpose is being a life coach. Over the years, he occasionally journeys with people through some of the most difficult phases of their lives, connecting with their souls and helping them bridge over towards a more positive outlook. In this, he coined the name ‘Soul Mechanic’.
• FAVOURITE SONG FROM HIS OWN MUSIC- Drowning In Space.
• CURRENT LOCATION- Ibiza Spain, his new home base.
• Koriya will be launching the next phase of his career under a couple of new artist names.
• Koriya is a one-man band who writes, produces and markets his own music. He also shoots and directs his own music videos.
• Koriya had aspirations of being a pilot from a young age and still plans to fulfill this dream.
Become part of the Runway Vertical family by signing up for the mailing list here, and receive a complimentary gift in the form of an unreleased Neo-Reggae track from Ryan Koriya’s upcoming album!
**Ryan Koriya is currently running a CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN for his brother Asad Koriya’s tuition. Asad, an Architecture student was scheduled to register for his third year at Cyprus International University on the 24th of September 2018, follow this link to learn how you can help.