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 South Africa’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, Johannesburg to Soweto, Pretoria to Limpopo and more recently in Qwaqa.Holly concluded a successful Three City Tour in April and May 2017. The tour saw her take her signature sound and live performances to ten venues across the borders of Kwazulu Natal and into Soweto, Pretoria, Johannesburg and QwaQwa in the Freestate. 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, broken 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 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 put my music 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 fanbase for my music in Durban and Pietermaritzburg and a respectable following on the South African underground House Scene.”Alongside live performances – from Shisa Nyamas venues and to big events like the 2015 Cape Town Jazz Festival, 2014 and 2016 Umgababa New Year’s Picnic (which draws upwards of 30 000 music lovers annually), the 2016 Durban Jazz Festival, Essence Festival and the 2016 Shisanyama Festival – 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. When asked, Holly jumped at the chance to work with the renowned producer and performer who has
worked with many of South Africa’s biggest names (Black Coffee, Oskido, Big Nuz, Khoze Khuse). 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. This single went to no 3 on the Traxsource Afro House Charts and No 10 on the Traxsource Urban House Chart. 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 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. Alongside “Inhliziyo Yami” and “Bang Bang”, are “Tambourine”, “Khula” and “Gumba”, together showing how effortlessly she is able to mix kasi flavours with soulful lyrics, jazzy elements and tribal undertones. 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 will release four singles as part of her first independently recorded EP. She intends to release a series of EP’s over the next two years while honing her production skills through several courses (including one in Ableton Live which will give her the ability to handle her own pre-production). As a Type One Diabetic Holly has become an activist for Diabetes awareness through her social media influence – and this is set to be more formalised with her new role as the face of Diabetes South Africa. She also plans to continue her Taxi 2 Kasi initiative, a project she started years ago which aims to take people from the inner burbs to the outer burbs of Durban on a quest to experience Durban House Music.Whatever direction her career moves next, underpinning everything Holly does is a genuine love for creating, and a sense of her place in the music industry as a new generation South African female artist. “House music is about love and I try to write music that challenges the traditional views of love and promotes a more empowered mindset for women,” concludes Holly.