Between concerts, flights to New York and Los Angeles, his infant son, and impromptu coffeeshop performances, Ron Bultongez usually runs on three hours of sleep.
“People always say, ‘You never know with Ron,’” he says. “In two weeks, everything could change.’”
A self-taught musician, songwriter and aspiring star, Ron is rarely seen without a guitar slung over his back. He’s quick to sing if someone asks. In the two years he has been performing in and around Texas, Ron has gathered a group of loyal supporters and fans. But in the past two months, his career has taken a swift, steep climb.
When we meet, he hints at big changes on the horizon. MTV had recently featured a benefit concert he threw for Houston fans in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. He also had just been nominated for four Ghosty Music Awards, local awards for the music community.
Ron has hired two personal assistants just to keep up and they’re still drowning in work. After one Plano performance he spent over an hour signing autographs and with a hint of amazement, noted that concert seats weren’t just filled by his friends anymore but fans, many of whom he’d never met.
“When you’re playing guitar in your room you don’t realize what you’re getting into,” he jokes.
All signs point to Ron Bultongez hitting the bigtime—soon. He describes his life as a torrent of really cool opportunities and compromise. Every decision is critical.
“I want to say yes to everything,” he explains. “But I can’t do it all. And I have to make sure a project is right for me.”
Ron chooses his way forward carefully. There are some things he refuses to compromise on, like nudity in music videos or vulgar language in his songs, all of which he writes himself. He even declined a European tour because he wasn’t willing to change his persona.
“It would have been so cool, but they wanted me to have this choreographed dance and a Justin Bieber vibe going on. And I was like, ‘Man, I sing and play guitar, I’m much more mellow.’”
He has said it once and he’ll say it again: “I’m not a puppet. I’m an artist.”
A year ago, Ron’s life was very different; ten years ago, it was unrecognizable.
Ron was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Caught between warring parties, his family of seven fled for the States when he was entering middle school. Some of his earliest memories are soldiers breaking into his home. Every year his recollections grow a little more faint.
He remembers bits of the journey, “on speed boats, on travel buses that looked like Volkswagens and had like twenty people crammed in there, hanging off the roof.” With just a 13 percent chance of success, his family walked miles across whole countries to get to Europe and then America. Once there, Ron quickly embraced the entrepreneurial spirit in America.
“There are places where you are going to be a farmer, a soldier, for the rest of your life. But then you come to America. You can decide you want to make trash bags for a living. You can make the best trash bags ever and you can succeed. Logistically, economically, you can do so much.” In addition to performing, Ron also has set up his own production company as well as a concert booking venture for musicians. He seems to think of a new business idea every day.
His family settled in Plano but as he grew up, Ron began to face conflict with his family. Today, they have lost touch. Ron ended up homeless, one of many juveniles who rely on City House in Plano for shelter and food.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but for a while I struggled with suicide,” Ron admits. “We live in this world where it’s all about showing off your highlights, your success. There are a lot of things that people need to talk about but can’t.”
Despite his passion for music, it didn’t save Ron’s life. A seven-pound 14-ounce bundle of joy named James did.
“All these negative things kept happening and I’d started thinking it was the best solution,” he explains. “It gets to a point where the relief you’ll get from it outweighs everything else. I was getting to that point and I found out that James was going to be born. The day that I found out, I’ve never struggled with suicide since then.”
James was born in August and while he and James’ mother aren’t together, they’re both active parents. James changed Ron’s life. After his birth, Ron posted on social media, “I now understand what love is.” Even with his busy schedule, he makes a point out of seeing his son every day.
Today, Ron has a home in downtown Plano and is stable, supporting himself and his little family with his music. He’s very optimistic and loves sharing his story.
“I get really long messages on Instagram and Twitter about the impact my music has had and it’s so worth it. I have more fans of myself as a person than I do of my music.” His creed is: focus on the good and the important people in your life. Let the rest slide. He admits he doesn’t have the biggest following on social media or the most streams on Spotify, but the people who respond to his story drive his career—sometimes literally.
Once, a mentor and friend noticed he was playing a really cheap, old guitar. Out of the blue he gave Ron a nice Taylor guitar, saying, “You’re going to need this because you’re going to be a star.”
To hear Ron tell his story, he has more to be grateful for than he has to mourn. Ron’s EP, Thank You PLANO, and the accompanying concert were both homages to his hometown. In fact, the concert was held at Cox Playhouse in downtown Plano.
Even though he’s on the edge of his big break, being a famous musician isn’t Ron’s end goal. That’s just a step on the way. Ron’s real dream is Kick Hope, a nonprofit he plans to found. It’s his true life’s work.
Ron wants to go to underdeveloped places, build soccer fields and run tournaments for kids born into chaos like him. Ideally, he wants to bring a few celebrities with him.
“On one team, there will be some kids from the Congo and Kanye West. And on the other team are more kids and Taylor Swift—that’s a weird combination,” he laughs. “Maybe Adele instead. We’ll use the game to teach children about leadership, sportsmanship and hard work, working for the greater good and earning something.” With celebrity endorsements, Kick Hope would raise awareness and funds at the same time.
“I want to go to these places where sex trafficking is outrageous, where children are fighting wars that men have started,” he says.
Kick Hope’s motto is: kicking hope into the Congo one soccer ball at a time. He dreams of taking Kick Hope all over the world, from the Congo to Dallas.
As Ron believes, “The quickest way to save the world is for everyone to do their part.”
His other goal is to retire in Parker, Texas. Until then, he wants to spend his time doing as much good as possible.
Originally published in Plano Profile’s December 2018 issue