IN THE STUDIO WITH... HIGHLYY
INTERVIEW & WORDS BY BUEZ HADGU
Step into Highlyy’s world - Marking the release of her debut EP, "+243," blending cultural richness and authenticity in every note.
Hailing from Essex, aged just 20 years old, Highlyy’s energy exudes a perfect blend of confidence and humility. Sharing insights into the creative process behind "+243," a debut project that encapsulates her musical evolution and personal narrative, it’s evident that she is a real and true lover of music.
The EP, aptly named after the international dialling code for the Democratic Republic of the Congo - the roots of Highlyy's origin - serves as a musical diary that reflects her rich cultural influences and diverse experiences.
Her breakout single "Soldier" stands as a testament to her widespread appeal, having gone viral with over 20 million streams on Spotify, and amassing an impressive 6 million views on YouTube. These staggering numbers not only highlight the infectious allure of Highlyy's music but also showcase the remarkable resonance she has found with a global audience.
As her debut EP, "+243," takes centre stage, it's clear that Highlyy is not just an artist on the rise, but a force to be reckoned with, carving out a distinctive place for herself in today's scene.
Highlyy's journey showcases the power of social media platforms in unearthing hidden gems and offering a global stage to rising artists. She underscores the vital role these platforms play in amplifying diverse voices and fostering a sense of inclusivity in the modern music landscape.
The release of her debut project not only shines a light on Highlyy's promising career, but also exemplifies the ability of social media to accelerate the rise of young talents, forging new pathways to success in the ever-evolving world of music.
Having watched Highlyy’s house sessions, it’s clear to see that you love to sing, where would you say your love for music comes from?
I love it. I came from a musical background, my dad plays guitar, my mum was in the choir, so were my grandparents. So, yeah, music is pretty much in the blood, in the family, that's where it came from. My dad literally took me to my first studio session when I was probably five years old, I was in the church choir, I was even church leader when I was about ten, so it's crazy.
You’re from Congo - the title of your new EP is +234 - your culture is very linked to music and creativity, how much of an impact has that had on you?
Oh, a big, big influence. Like, there's not one song where I'm not dancing. It could be the slowest song in the world and I'm doing a congolese dance move at least.
When you made ‘Soldier’ you said you didn’t know you had a hit on your hands, do you feel like you’re better at being able to tell nowadays?
Yeah. I feel like with most of them, I'm like, this is going to go off. If it reaches the right people, it's going to go off. With Soldier, I made it in my bedroom so I recorded it by myself and it wasn't the same beat, it was more of a strip back type version. The vocals weren't even good because I recorded it by myself, I'm not an engineer, I’m not a producer.
How did the Tion Wayne feature come about, what was it like working on that with him?
With Tion, he just dm'd me, literally. He asked to be on the song. He knew my team, so they were going back and forth, it was pretty natural. He was very supportive of the song and he asked to be a part of it, so I let him.
Some crazy names were big fans of the track, I see Chris Brown posted it on his insta, you supported Oxlade at his show. So many crazy achievements so early on, what were those experiences like?
My first show was Oxlade, and honestly, I had no words. I was so scared at first because it was my first performance and I didn't know if anyone was going to know the song, but, the reaction to it was incredible and it was so surreal because it's my dream, so, chasing it and everything!
Summer was a busy period for you, Ibiza, Reading & Leeds - some really big festivals. What’s it like hearing so many people sing your music back to you on such big stages?
I can't lie, it's crazy. It's something I never thought I would get to experience so early and so quickly as well. It's just so surreal and I can't believe that it's happening, it feels amazing. Ibiza was fun, but I think Leeds probably wins set-wise.
Being just 18 and in the middle of such an uncertain time with Covid, how difficult was it to navigate the early periods of your career.
Honestly, I don't know, this is so funny. With Soldier, I just came out of school, I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life, my dad was telling me I should go work. I worked for two days and I quit. I was like, I have to blow. I have to make this music ting blow, because I am not going back to work. So, yeah, I just kept posting and eventually it picked up. Since that second day I've never worked, and it was a warehouse job as well. I said, yeah? No way! This is not my life, literally quit after two days and, thankfully my music took off.
What’s the songwriting process like for you, do you prefer doing it in the studio or as and when ideas come to your head?
Whenever ideas come into my head, I just tend to write music. I love writing in the studio because I create most of my music from scratch with the producer. Sometimes I’ll go on YouTube, find beats and then do stuff at home before recreating in the studio, but I prefer writing in the studio, it’s all you, your direction. It’s all about practice, literally doing it over and over again. Obviously, I didn't know what my sound was, even when I made Soldier, I was still discovering who Highlyy actually was. It was just about creating, creating, creating until it's solid I guess.
You were in British Vogue, talk to me about how you see fashion and what that was like?
Fashion is my other passion. I have a passion for fashion, period. But, yeah, no, I love it, I'm all for it. I'm congolese, in my culture, we have wild fashion! We drip or drown, we're all about fashion. It was crazy. I was in Paris for camp and British Vogue were like, yeah, we want to shoot. I came straight from Paris to London, shot, and went back to Paris the same day. It was incredible, it was so surreal as well, because my mum was a model when she was younger, so I brought her to the shoot as well and it was just like, wow. Doing everything that she was doing and wishes she got the opportunity to do more of, so, yeah, I'm living her dream, through me.
Collaborations are always an important part of music, being able to sing in different languages definitely helps, who have you already got some songs in the vault with and who would you love to work with in the future?
For me, I like tapping into what they do, hearing the balance and working as a duo. I like collabing with people I actually listen to, that’s a big thing. The people I want to work with going forward? UK wise, Dave. Come on, let's be serious. Central Cee, they’re the obvious ones. Worldwide, Burnaboy, Asake, Tems, Beyonce, Chris Brown, Drake, there’s quite a few.
With this body of work, what do you want to achieve, what will it tell the world about Highlyy?
I wanna be on Billboard Number One. Literally, that’s it. Nah, I’m joking! With the EP, I want people to know this is me, this is Highlyy. I feel like it's an introduction to the world, the first project is just discovery. I want people to be touched and motivated as well by my music. I feel like my music is very relatable as well so it will resonate with a lot of people. I just want everyone to be touched and inspired.
How does it feel to know that in such a male dominated industry, you’re someone a lot of girls growing up look up to as inspiration and representation that they’re also able to do great things?
It's crazy. Honestly, I'm just a girl. I'm just a girl trying to make it as well, so. I feel like 2024 is the year of the girls, especially in the UK. I feel we're about to dominate, not even just the UK, worldwide, there's a lot of girls that are coming through. So I'm just happy to be one of those girls that you know, have that stamp.