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Highlyy Nov 23 Guy Gooch1

On the Rise

25 January 2024, 09:00
Words by Kelsey Barnes
Original Photography by Guy Gooch

Drawing on her Congolese heritage and a family immersed in music, Highlyy's fluid take on Afrobeat is flush with ambition and self-discovery.

Highlyy is on the trip of a lifetime — both literally and figuratively. She’s just returned from a few days in Paris and a 20th birthday trip in Morocco, only just walking through the door of her home in London when she answers the phone to chat.

Describing the last year of her life a whirlwind would be an understatement: the singer from Essex had her big break one year ago with the Afrobeat-drenched debut “Soldier”, a collaboration with UK rapper Tion Wayne. In addition to amassing millions of streams and garnering Highlyy a mighty fanbase, it solidified her as an artist to watch. And now, with the release of debut EP +243, she’s doing what she’s always wanted to do: release a body of work.

Although just a year separates her debut single and +243, Highlyy can feel how much she’s grown in that time. “My sound has definitely changed, I feel like I’ve found who I am now,” she says. “Maybe it hasn’t so much changed but my sound has definitely matured. When I made ‘Soldier,’ I didn’t know who Highlyy was. I didn’t know what I wanted to sound like, so it was mosty trial and error. A year has gone by and now I know who I am, who I want to be, and what I'm gonna sound like.” Honing in on her sound and who Highlyy is was a difficult process at first. She spent most of her time at the studio, working five days a week and spending hours chipping away at creating until she felt like she solidified herself.


Before the studio sessions and collaborations, Highlyy was just a girl growing up in Essex in a very musical family. Her father and mother play guitar and sing, respectively, and always encouraged her and her siblings to lean into music. “My dad took all of my siblings to lessons to learn music,” she says. “From when we were young, he wanted us to master an instrument so we all had to learn. My dad took me to learn the piano. I gave up on it because I always found it so hard, but then my dad discovered that I could sing and he was so, so happy.”

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From then, Highlyy’s father lifted her — bringing her to her first studio session, owned by his friend, when she was around 7 or 8. Although she says her first track sounded terrible, it was a moment when things shifted for her. With music being her only dream career, she would eventually attend the East London Arts and Music. “I really, really didn’t enjoy sixth form,” she laughs. “I just wanted to do something I enjoyed. It wasn’t in the plan to go to music school because, at that point, I was already putting out music online and making videos. Going to music school was just the extra step, I gained a lot in terms of experience, especially in performing. Getting more knowledge to create who Highlyy is was great, especially since knowledge is power in the music industry.”

Having her family along for the ride has been a dream in the making, especially when she looks back on how far her musical lineage spans. “It’s been incredible,” she says when asked about her family seeing her thrive. “My dad watches my improvements every single day. He talks about how he came a long way and it’s surreal to share my family's dreams and have them come true through me. Once upon a time they were also musicians and I’m a product of that.”


As an artist with ties around the globe, Highlyy honours her heritage by singing in three languages — English, French and Yoruba — seamlessly. It serves as a way to bring together every part of her while also repping the Congo, a place that she says is lacking representation. “I just wanted to give back to them — give back to my community, give back to my country, and to give back to Africa overall. Growing up, I went to a Congolese church so a lot of the songs we were singing weren’t actually in English. English is my language because I live in the UK, but the songs that I was always singing were either French or the Yoruba. It's always been something natural within me while making music, so I just used that skill and put it into my music. It just sounds so much sweeter to me.”

While making the EP, Highlyy found that many people asked where she was from because of her decision to sing in many languages. As another way to uplift the Congo, Highlyy decided to name the EP +243 after the country’s code. Crafting +243 wasn’t exactly a lesson in baring it all, but a reminder that at least one person will have experienced something similar. “It's very easy to be vulnerable. It's very easy to just say whatever because someone in the world agrees with you or someone in the world has also experienced what you've experienced. I feel like being vulnerable is the most real way of telling your story and helps people connect to you.”

In turn, +243 is an amalgamation of stories that Highlyy has experienced over the past 365 days. She describes the process of writing it as one of discovery. “I was still discovering who I was,” she states, thinking back to the creation of the EP. “I was keen on just telling the truth in my music. Every single song on there, I wrote. Some I had help with — I worked with amazing producers and songwriters — but everything is coming from me. It’s why it’s a true introduction to Highlyy. I see this EP as a chapter closing and a chapter opening for me. After I drop +243, it closes and it’s onto the next — which is an opening to a new world.”

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“Honest” is a standout on +243, a track that anyone experiencing toxicity and tumultuous relationships will gravitate to. “It’s my favourite song [on the EP]. When I was making it, I didn’t know I was in a toxic situation. I was just feeling whatever I was in that moment. Everyone goes through that kind of situation once in their life and it’s the realest song I’ve ever made [...] I want people to know they are not alone.”

Critics and fans alike have flocked to Highlyy’s music, finding solace in her contagious spark and larger-than-life tracks. It’s something that Highlyy is still processing, unaware of her ability to move people in that way. “To see other people get touched by my music inspires and motivates me. When I experienced those things [on the EP], I was thinking that I was the only person in the world that's ever felt like this. Music has always been the thing that I run to whenever I’ve gone through something. That's how I get through situations and difficult times, so music is one hundred percent my therapy. We all do live the same life and we all are human. We all go through the same things.”

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Looking ahead, Highlyy has big goals — from hitting the Billboard Afrobeat charts to winning awards. What she’s most excited about is that aforementioned trip of a lifetime that music is taking her on. The next destination? Live shows. “I want to connect with people, I want to play shows and perform for others. Trust me when I say that I’m going to make my mark next year.”

The +243 EP is out now via House of Z/EMI

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