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Get To Know: Highlyy

Despite the disbelief I felt when I sat down to speak to Highlyy on Zoom for New Wave Magazine, I found out that she was only 18 years old when she brought herself to attention with her debut single ‘Soldier’ featuring North London rapper Tion Wayne. The track currently has over 30 million streams but to Highly it “feels like a very long time ago.”

And, even though, it’s been a year since ‘Solider’ was released, now 19, she has fearlessly pushed on. She has supported the likes of Oxlade and Buju (BNXN) on the live circuit, as well as performed in Ibiza and then at Leeds & Reading Festival.

The Motown Records UK/ EMI signee is open and enthusiastic as we chat about the rapidness of the past year, new experiences and her debut project.

“Can’t lie it was crazy”, Highlyy said. “It was a bit unexpected, especially because I’m so young!” ‘Solider was made in Highlyy’s bedroom and was originally posted on the social media platform TikTok before going viral.

“I was getting attention from big artists that I always listened to, it was surreal.”

Highlyy grew up in a musical family, members of her family were active in the local choir, and she also cited her dad who played the guitar and regularly took her to the studio from a very young age. “My dad was pretty much the one who was forcing the music thing”, she says laughing.

“When we were younger”, she shares. “ With my siblings, probably when I was a toddler, my dad was always taking us to piano lessons, one of my brothers had to learn the guitar, the other one the drums. It was that serious.”

After the release of ‘Soldier’ Highly felt time was needed to master her craft and continue to develop musically, as well as personally. “’ Soldier’ was just, you know, a taster of who I was, and at the point I didn’t know what my sound was.”

Explaining further that she felt the need to experiment, “I was just in the studio every week for four times a week just creating new stuff, new songs and then that’s how my EP came about.”

She describes the project as a “mixture of flavours” and genres that contain Amipiano, chill Afrobeats and the “London flair”. Continuing, she says “I was pretty much trying to find myself find my sound that’s what my EP is pretty much about, discovering me."

The tone of the project is very positive and self-affirming, “I like to say positive things and make my lyrics very relatable and motivating so that everyone can feel a part of it but I do it for myself as well because everything is so very new to me.”

"I thought I finished my project last year”, Highlyy admits. “but we took our time with it and I’m happy because in that time I discovered myself, I fully know who I am right now and I know what I want to sound like.”

My creative process in the studio, is just, you know, singing melodies but I always like to start with piano chords, it’s my thing. Everything always comes to me when a piano is involved, and then I write my lyrics and the rest is history.”

One thing that distinctly stands out in the project is her fluidity in experimenting with language in her songwriting. “I’m Congolese so, I speak French, Lingala, English and Piggin, she explains.

Adopting different languages for expression is pretty in the moment rather than planned out for the Londoner, she explains “Every time I feel that something is missing in the track or if I don’t have lyrics for a certain part, I’m like cool let me add some French.”

One of the features of the project is her close friend and French artist RSKO, “he’s dope”, says Highlyy when asked about how they work together. The track is “very different, more afro-pop-ish but it’s a feel-good song. It’s a vibe!”.

Speaking about the only other feature on the EP is Jay0, which is according to the Londoner a “banger.” She goes on to talk about her influences. They "come from everywhere. I grew up listening to Afrobeat artists like Wiz Kid and Tia Savage but also in my own household I listened to Congolese and American music."

She lists Rhianna, Chris Brown Beyonce and Justin Bieber as favourites growing up as well as now rating Burna Boy and Askake. “I feel that I’ve taken inspiration from every single person I’ve listened to.”

Speaking about her latest music video, ‘Higher’, which is off of the EP. “I think this one is a big tune, it’s afro-apiano but it has a pop-ish feel as well. I feel like everyone will love this song, it’s going to make you want to dance.

“And in the video, I made sure to include the Congolese colours as well, because I want to give it back to the Congolese people so that they know they have a star as well.”

Her upcoming EP is out early next year.

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