Holly Khan is a Guyanese British multi-instrumentalist, composer and music facilitator. Based in London, she is an exceptional emerging artist who was selected for Create’s Nurturing Talent Programme for 2019/20. Holly sat down with us to talk about her journey into music, the power of melody in community facilitation and how Create’s Nurturing Talent programme has developed her practice so far.
We are delighted to have you on our Nurturing Talent programme this year. What inspired you to become a musician?
I’m five years old and squashed in-between my parents at the Royal Albert Hall completely and utterly in awe of my older siblings performing with Harrow Young Musicians. I have a perfect view of the orchestra pit and something catches my attention. The strings. The strings are perfectly synchronised – their bows move simultaneously and I’m mesmerised. As I grew older I was also part of Harrow Young Musicians and had the opportunity to perform such a diverse repertoire of music, from Mahler to Mark-Anthony Turnage, Hans Zimmer to Handel.
“I had fallen in love with music and the power it had; it was very clear I could never do anything else.”
I loved being a cog within the machine, contributing to a greater whole. I love the immediacy of orchestral performance, how it transports its listeners back in time or to another place altogether. I had fallen in love with music and the power it had; it was very clear I could never do anything else.
Your music has a wonderful immediacy to it. The string instruments and the drums create a rhythm that seem to be addressed directly to the heart of the listener. How do you compose your music and achieve this emotional depth?
I believe music infiltrates us in a different way to other artforms. It penetrates right past our conscious thinking and that’s what I’m most interested in, how we listen to, play and feel music.
Strings are the closest instrument to the human voice. I think that’s why we connect so easily to them. As a string player my process always starts with melody. A melody for me is usually inspired by something as simple as watching someone on the bus. Using their rhythmic tendencies, their dynamics, their flair and style and translating it into a melody! As I perform live frequently I use loop pedals and other electronic devices to layer melodic lines over one another, creating a cacophony of sound.
You are half Guyanese and half British. How has this mixture of cultures influenced your practice?
It’s taken me a long time to delve into my Guyanese heritage and my interest in Guyana first sparked through music. As a composer and musician in my 20s, I delved into Guyanese music. It is such a rich fusion of so many different genres and this made perfect sense as Guyana is a big cultural mix. This spoke to me as I am a fusion – a hybrid, a mash of different cultural identities. I think without knowing it for years I was going about things the Guyanese way, being a magpie and collecting things that spoke to me and implementing them into my practice.
“I feel like I have a responsibility in my workshops to offer more than the white-British standpoint and to cover lots of experiences sonically.”
I feel like I have a responsibility in my workshops to offer more than the white-British standpoint and to cover lots of experiences sonically. Growing up I was not offered this exploration and it meant I didn’t know any Guyanese songs or South American songs. I want to use music to champion participants’ heritage!
Working with people through your musical practice is an important part of your professional journey. Why do you believe that creativity can help people experiencing disadvantages?
At the beginning of every workshop I ask the participants the same question “What is your relationship to music?” and every time I hear the most incredible stories. Everyone has a relationship to music and to this day I’ve never met anyone who is indifferent to it. Music allows participants to be equal and start on a level playing field. Creating something new that has never been made before forces us to be temporarily outside our comfort zone. There is a huge sense of togetherness when creating, a shared sense of ownership and agency and I believe this connection can go on to improve everyday skills. Being creative is sometimes seen as a privilege but I truly believe everyone has the right to be creative, wherever you come from, whatever your past.
“There is a huge sense of togetherness when creating, a shared sense of ownership and agency and I believe this connection can go on to improve everyday skills.”
You have been doing a diverse range of work with Create as one of the artists on our Nurturing Talent programme. What has been your experience of the programme so far?
Create’s Nurturing Talent programme has been an incredible opportunity for me. I have learnt from such a vast pool of artists with diverse backgrounds and met a huge number of participants! Being part of the Create family has made me see how beneficial arts are to the community, how powerful it is to collaborate and how shared experiences can be transformational. I will leave this year a more technical musician, a more experienced facilitator and, most importantly, with an absolute dedication to helping the vulnerable and disadvantaged members of society!
You have a packed schedule planned for the rest of the year. What should our readers be looking forward to?
2020 is looking to be a really exciting year! Ticker, a play that I composed the music for, has been confirmed for runs at both Soho Theatre and Northern Stage. East London Cable, who I am collaborating with to develop an immersive piece, shared an extract of the work at Tate Modern in December. The full show will be performed in Paris in March. I am also collaborating with participants to produce an album to mark Fairbeats’ 10 year anniversary! And finally, I am in the very early stages of developing my own social enterprise that looks at combatting loneliness and social isolation through music!
“Being part of the Create family has made me see how beneficial arts are to the community, how powerful it is to collaborate and how shared experiences can be transformational.”
Holly Khan is a workshop facilitator with Angel Shed Theatre Company, Ark Music, Moving Waves, GLUE and Tarka Beats. She has developed a young carers choir with Dreamarts and is in the early stages of developing her own social enterprise that looks at combatting loneliness and social isolation through music.