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.”