For a city that’s always been a little outside the South African music industry mainstream, Durban has never failed to produce game-changing artists and genres – and 21-year-old Holly is no exception.
Over the past eight years, this singer, songwriter and performer has carved out a place for herself in the country’s flourishing House music scene, becoming a fixture at major live events and earning herself a place in the hearts of music lovers from Umlazi to Kwamashu, Inanda to Folweni, Joburg to Soweto, Pretoria to Nelspruit and more recently the Western Cape. Despite having achieved traction on a national level through radio play and TV, Holly has never embarked on a National Tour. Now, in 2017, Holly is gearing up to take her signature sound beyond KwaZulu Natal, into other areas of the country, the continent and beyond. That Holly is capable of substantially broadening her audience is evident in the journey she has taken since becoming, aged just 13, the youngest person to sign to a publishing deal with Sony ATV Publishing. Her debut came in 2010 with the independently-released Strawberry Skies – an Afro-Pop flavoured EP that easily showcased her precocious songwriting ability. As she moved through her teenage years, Holly set her sights on making music that pivoted off her deep love for the country of her birth – and her determination not to be a passive observer and consumer of the cultural context in which she lives.
In particular, Holly moved in the direction of Afro-House – the genre that has taken over from Kwaito as the soundtrack of a South African youth liberated from oppression and finding its own identity and sound. As her catalogue of releases, performances and collaborations powerfully reveal, Holly has proved herself no tourist in this scene. Her musical curiosity and appetite have seen her journeying into the underbelly of House, where she’s witnessed sub-genres and new genres making their appearance. Among these is Gqom, the Durban-grown, sparse, beat-driven sound that’s currently being exported around the globe.
“When I was sixteen, I was performing in venues that birthed the Gqom movement, connecting with the underground producers and artists who were creating the scene,” recalls Holly.
Connection is, in fact, something that Holly has become expert in over the years – working with musicians from Mozambique, Senegal, Congo, and Nigeria from early in her career and consistently seeking new creative partners to join her singular music ventures. Never 3 content to wait for opportunities, she’s got an intuitive feel for how to move her career forward through the multiplicity of connections she has made – and continues to make.
“When promoters would not book me because they did not understand a white girl wanting to be on the SA Afro House scene, I started performing in venues off the mainstream map, ” she says. “When radio stations would not playlist my music or put it on high rotation, I took my music to the taxis and the streets. This brought me closer to the heart of the House movement and allowed me to develop a solid following for my music in the outer suburbs of Durban and Pietermaritzburg and a respectable following on the South African underground.”
Alongside live performances – at everything from community-based Shisa Nyamas to big events like Ukhozi FM Nyosi Volume 2013, 2014, 2015; the 2015 Cape Town Jazz Festival; the 2015 and 2016 Umgababa New Year’s Picnic, 2016 Shisanyama Awards and the 2016 Durban Jazz Festival which all draw 30 000 fans – a string of releases have cemented Holly’s standing as a leading House artist. Among these is the track “Inhliziyo Yami”, which was produced and co-written by Mondli Ngcobo who she met in 2011 while touring with the Ukhozi FM Roadshow.
A three-track EP followed the release of “Inhliziyo Yami”, engendering interest from several local labels. Holly eventually issued her second single, “Bang Bang”, via Soul Candi Records and her album Vanilla House was released digitally through a licensing deal with Content Connect Africa. Recognised by MTN as among the most successful digital download newcomer artists in the country, Holly has already reached close to 400 000 paid tack downloads across several different digital platforms.
Over the past few years, Holly’s recorded output has gained momentum as she focused on releasing singles – both on her own and through collaboration. Holly’s open-armed approach to her music has also seen collaborations with DreamTeam (“No Wahala” for the Coke Studio project) and with South African House flag bearer, Shota. Titled “Sabela”, the video for Holly’s Shota collaboration has received airplay on Channel O, MTV Base, and Trace Urban, adding to a growing body of Holly’s videos that are regularly played on these and other platforms.
As 2017 unfolds, Holly is intent on recording and regularly releasing singles independently, along with honing her production skills through several courses (including one in Ableton Live which will give her the ability to handle her own pre-production).
Holly’s 2017 Tour is supported by With Concerts SA as one of the 2017 Mobility Fund recipients. She will be undertaking a national tour, playing Gauteng, North West and Limpopo in April and Cape Town in May. Concerts SA is a joint South African/Norwegian live music development project housed within the AMRO Foundation. Concerts SA receives financial, administrative and technical support from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, SAMRO, the SAMRO Foundation and Concerts Norway. Working with musicians, promoter, venue owners and audiences providing support to the sector through research 3 and skills development for music professional, the project aims to build a vibrant and viable live music circuit in southern Africa. It also aims to develop an interest in and appreciation of live music by showcasing music performances and conducting workshops at schools.