As It Happens·Q&A

From a refugee camp to the Eurovision stage, Tusse wants to make Sweden proud

When 19-year-old Tusse learned he'd made it to Eurovision's grand finals on Tuesday, his heart filled with pride for the country that's taken care of him since he was a child. The Congo-born singer is representing Sweden in Europe's massive annual song contest.

The Congo-born singer says it's an 'honour' to represent Sweden as he heads into the grand finals

Tousin Chiza, better known as Tusse, poses with a Swedish flag upon arrival at the Turquoise Carpet event of the Eurovision Song Contest in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, on Sunday. (Peter Dejong/The Associated Press)

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When 19-year-old Tusse learned on Tuesday that he'd made it to Eurovision's grand finals, his heart filled with pride for the country that's taken care of him since he was a child.

The Congo-born singer is representing Sweden in Europe's massive annual song contest, and will be performing his single Voices on Saturday to an international audience of millions.

Eurovision was cancelled last year because of the pandemic, but forged ahead in 2021 with restrictions in place, including regular COVID tests for everyone involved, and a reduced audience capacity at its arena in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The theme of this year's contest is "Open up."

Tusse, whose full name is Tousin Chiza, opened up to As It Happens host Carol Off on Wednesday about what Eurovision means to him. Here is part of their conversation. 

The Eurovision people were determined that they were not going to cancel again ... this year.... What are the things that are in place to, I guess, protect people to limit the spread of the disease?

I was curious about that too, because we want to, of course, participate, but we also wanted to do it safely.

What we've been doing is everybody is being tested before they enter the arena. So you have to have a negative corona test. And we've been, you know, keeping our distances and, you know, wearing the face masks.

But there have been some positive tests, right, for Poland and Iceland delegations? And so what happens if ... God forbid that you test positive? What will happen to your chance to participate?

We've been taping all the rehearsals. So what happens if I would, or somebody in my team would get COVID, [is] the tape from the rehearsals would be the one that they played on Saturday in the finals.

OK, so no matter what, you are going to be in those finals?


Tusse performs during the first semi-final of the 65th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest at the Ahoy convention centre in Rotterdam on May 18. (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images)

There's just so much to hear about your backstory, how you came to be in this contest, how you came to be in Sweden. You were born in [Congo] and ... you came as a child without your parents. Can you tell us a bit about your journey to Sweden?

It's a lot. I was born, as you say, in DRC [the Democratic Republic of Congo]. And by the time I turned five, there were armed conflicts in our town and there were rebels and it became really serious.

So we fled, me and my family. And in doing so, I got lost from my parents and my aunt took care of me. So we ended up in Uganda, in the refugee camp where we lived [for] three years. And it was really difficult. You know, she was 19 years old at the moment and she had to take care of me and take care of all my siblings.

When we finally got asylum here in Sweden, we were really happy. And we came here, the year was 2009, I think.

How long was it after that before you made contact with your mom and dad?

The thing is, by the time I got in touch with them, I think it was 2015. We'd already assumed that they were gone. So we actually thought they were dead.

So when we finally got contact with them in 2015, it was such a relief and such joy that they were still alive. I mean, I grew up thinking I was an orphan, so it was great hearing that they were alive.

And did they know that you were alive?

They didn't know that.

That must have been extraordinary when you made that contact.

Oh, it was. It was. There were so many tears of joy. And it was really special.

That's why it was so important for me to give my all up on that stage, because I know that I represent Sweden. I'm waving the Swedish flag. And this is my way of thanking Sweden, by doing a proper performance.- Tusse, Eurovision's Swedish representative 

But your mom has passed away since then, right?

Yes, my mother actually passed away the year after, and I didn't get to meet her again, which was quite sad. I was always hoping for, you know, a chance to go back and to visit both of my parents and to see where I'm from, but I didn't get that chance because she passed away.

Where's your dad now?

My dad actually still lives in Congo, in Goma. And so I still have the chance to visit him. But because of this pandemic, there's been a struggle … and I've had a lot going on since because I moved from different families at the time. So I couldn't just go down to Africa and visit. 

It's hard, but as soon as the pandemic is over, I'll get the chance to go back.

Does your dad know about your singing career?

He does. And he's really supportive of it.... He's always cheered for me, of course. But he always warns me, like: "It's a great hobby, but of course, you're going to be a doctor later, right?" So he's funny like that.

And what does he think of you being in the finals for this contest, this enormous Eurovision 2021?

He's so proud.... He's been calling me the last few weeks and he's been like, "My son, how can I vote?" And I'm like, "No, you can't vote."  And he'll be like, "Yeah, I want to vote." Because he lives in Congo, he doesn't have the opportunity to vote.

Tusse cries during a press conference in Stockholm, on March 13 after winning the Swedish Melodifestivalen contest, which determines who will represent Sweden at the Eurovision Song contest. (Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency/AFP/Getty Images)

And what kind of a home has Sweden been for you?

It's been the best home. I mean, I've gotten to grow up here and to get a proper education. And also, I've been taken care of by a Swedish family who I love.

I've had the best opportunity to become who I am today, which is so precious and I'm so happy for that.

That's why it was so important for me to give my all up on that stage, because I know that I represent Sweden. I'm waving the Swedish flag. And this is my way of thanking Sweden, by doing a proper performance. 

What would it mean to you to win Eurovision? 

To let alone just represent Sweden, is such an honour for me. 

What's your song [Voices] about? 

I was not a part of, you know, of the team that wrote it. So hearing it, I was just bursting into tears because it felt like this song was written for me. Every single line.

I sing about getting up whenever it's hard. I sing about forgetting the haters and about perseverance. And this song, for me, it means hope and it means strength. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Katie Geleff. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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