Holly Holden is a prime example of a modem musician. She refuses to allow her music to be limited by international and cultural boundaries. In this piece, we explore her career and inspiration, discovering the driving forces behind her music.

It is difficult to uncover all of the musical talent that exists in this world. While most people focus only on the international superstars like Beyoncé, Kanye West, or Taylor Swift, there are those that seek to find the hidden gems in the world with a passion and talent that is driven by more than money. Holly Holden is more about creating artistic music than she is about making millions of dollars and seeing her face on the cover of magazines.

Born and raised in England, her music bears notes of Caribbean influence and she works to cross international divides to create a sound that is easily recognizable by people around the globe. Her young career has seen her perform in London, across England, and around the globe in front of Creole fans who appreciate the soul that can be heard in her music.

Holden’s Beginnings

Holly’s musical career was inspired, at first, by performers such as Amy Winehouse and Regina Spektor. As a singer-songwriter, the performances of Winehouse and Spektor pushed Holly to start writing her own music. During the early years of her career, she wrote music and performed at small venues while living in or visiting places such as Bristol, UK, Berlin Germany, and Ecuador. Her hard work resulted in a self-released acoustic album in 2012, “Feet on the Ceiling.”

Before these early steps, she was inspired by a trip to the theatre with her mother. As she notes in a blog post for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, she explains her early draw to music:

“When I was thirteen, my mother took me to see the documentary film “Buena Vista Social Club.” I remember leaving the cinema in silence, dumbstruck by the sounds, the smiles, the colour, and overwhelmed by a sensation that this magical world was where I should be.”

Over the next 12 years, she taught herself to be a citizen of the world. She learned to speak Spanish and dance salsa. She read books on music, listened to various genres, and memorized old trova songs. She would later sing some of those songs in jazz clubs in Berlin and birthday parties in Ecuador. She studied modern history, politics, and culture of Latin America and the Caribbean at the University of London.

Holly Holden  on The 2014  Port-au-Prince  Jazz Festival.  Photo:  JOSUÉ AZOR

Holly Holden on The 2014 Port-au-Prince Jazz Festival.
Photo: JOSUÉ AZOR

Holly Takes Off

Following her inspiration in a theatre and 12 years pursuing musical knowledge, her career gained traction in the summer of 2011. She was awarded a grant to travel to Cuba and research her Master of Arts dissertation. She explained what happened next in her own words:

“I was awarded a grant to travel to Cuba and research the phenomenally popular dance genre reggaeton, and the ways in which it revealed, refracted and sometimes even contradicted conventional ideas about race
on the island. The two-and-a-half weeks I spent in Santiago de Cuba blew me away. I had never been anywhere so noisy! Music was everywhere, bachata in the guagua, trova in the town centre, reggae in the barrio.”

Holly’s solo career took off following her visit to Cuba, but the time she spent there planted a seed in her mind. As she traversed the streets of Cuba, taking in the sights and sounds, the inspiration she received also presented her with a challenge. She wanted to replicate the sound of Cuba and the Caribbean, but she wanted to do so without sounding like she was cheaply replicating the soul and passion of the region’s music.

In an effort to solve this problem, she began collaborating with X Planet rapper Alain Garcia Artola of the rap trio TNT la Rezistencia in 2012. Together, the duo formed an Anglo-Cuban group that represented the best of the Old World and the Caribbean. It allowed Holly to achieve the balance she sought between quality music and soulful Caribbean sounds. They released a collaborative album, “Xistence,” in 2012 with the help of legendary reggaeton producer Kiki Pro in Santiago de Cuba. The album was well received on both sides of the Atlantic.

The release of her first solo album set her on the path to success, gaining notoriety for her in her homeland. She sang with Mala, a renowned South London dubstep producer, on tours throughout Europe during the summer of 2013. Her appearances with Mala were part of his effort to promote his “Mala in Cuba” album. Holly’s performances include festivals such as WOMAD, Worldwide Festival, North Sea Jazz, and Fiesta des Suds.

Latest Feats

Holden’s career continues to blossom as her international profile grows and her works cross international and cultural boundaries. Throughout 2014 and early 2015, Holly has performed across the United Kingdom and throughout the Caribbean. She began touring with folk singer Johnny Flynn in 2014. Flynn leads a band known as The Sussex Wit, and Holly sang and played percussion with the group during its headline tours of the UK and Europe, including festivals such as Glastonbury, Hurricane, the Cambridge Folk Festival, and Boomtown Fair.

She is currently performing around London as part of an electric trio that includes guitar, bass, and drums. The bilingual pop group includes catch, soulful melodies and tropical beats reminiscent of Cuba. The group performs as “Holly Holden y Su Banda,” and they were invited by the British Embassy to perform at Casa de Teatro during the historic Santo Domingo Jazz Festival in the Dominican Republic.

More recently, she was scheduled to make three appearances at the 2015 Port-au-Prince Jazz Festival in Haiti. Originally scheduled to perform January 18th and 20th , as well as appear at a workshop on the 20th , an illness curtailed her schedule slightly.

Holly Holden is a modern example of an artist who thinks beyond borders. A born-and-raised Briton, she constantly strives to understand the Creole culture of the Caribbean and replicate its musical harmony in a manner that is respectful, original, and representative of the region’s beautiful soul.