Cover Photo: Peter O'Sullivan

Since her 2020 audition on The Voice UK, this multitalented young lady has been making waves with her genre-bending musical style, inspired by her schooldays in Malaysia

Music has always been an important part of Claudillea Holloway’s life. From a young age, she was exposed to different genres, from the strumming of the sape in Kuching where she lived with her family from the age of two, to the classical repertoires performed by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra in Kuala Lumpur, where she spent her early teens before leaving to study abroad at 16. 

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“Malaysia is such a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities,” says Holloway, who performed at the Rainforest World Music Festival when she was just eight years old. “You have this unique, inclusive place where so many groups of people live harmoniously. Growing up in this setting shaped my life and music. It taught me that I could be many different things instead of just one, and that I could embrace different styles rather than confining myself to just one.”

Staying true to this notion, Holloway built on her classical training at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan and the Manhattan School of Music, experimenting with a fusion of pop and opera that she calls ‘oppop’. She soared to fame with this unique style after wowing Meghan Trainor and the other judges during her audition on The Voice UK.

Now based in London, Holloway will release her debut EP on April 8. She speaks to Tatler about being purposeful and inclusive in her musical journey and the women who inspire her most.

How did growing up in Sarawak inspire your interest in music?

Being part of the musical culture in Kuching and creating music together with friends was so important. Every Saturday, we would get together to learn the sape and sing these Kelabit songs passed down from older generations. There was such a rich history to them. Having learned and played Kelabit music that’s thousands of years old and also opera which is hundreds of years old, all this shaped a deeper appreciation and richer understanding.

What was the source of your confidence as a child?

Looking back, I was always confident. But I also had stage fright, and I still do today! When I get on stage I can feel my legs shaking for the first 10 seconds but as soon as I get into the music, it’s like I go into a different space, where I just connect to the energy of whoever is listening.

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What kind of positive impact do you want to make with your musical platform?

I’m mindful about working with more female creatives and non-cis white people here in the UK. Heritage-wise, I myself am a mix of different ethnicities, and what I want is for everyone to be able to see themselves within my music. We recently shot the music video for Controlla and there were two Malaysians in it. This kind of inclusivity is a big focus for me moving forward.

What do you miss most about Malaysia?

The food! The other day I had to pay seven pounds for roti canai and dhal (laughs). I miss the food, the sun, everything. My parents still live there and I haven’t been back since January 2020.

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What do you love most about what you do?

I’m independent and not with any label, which means I can play by my own rules. If I want to direct my own music video, I’ll direct it. Visually and musically, I’m in control. But it’s also a huge learning curve and I juggle so many different things. Sometimes wearing so many hats can get lonely.    

How so?

A lot of my days are just spent strategising, marketing, trying to create content for TikTok. I really struggle with social media, I don’t have a photographer following me around or someone taking videos of everything I’m doing. Recently, during the shoot for my music video when I was in a room full of creatives, I was like, ‘God I live for these days’.

Which artistes inspire you? 

Alena Murang. She’s not here in London with me, but she’s always a phone call away when I’m freaking out about something. She has such a wealth of knowledge about music and she’s always there to help. She's a huge inspiration. The artistes that I respect the most are powerful women that take control of their journey, like Beyonce. 

I also love Joyce DiDonato, an American mezzo-soprano who has always pushed boundaries within the opera world. She's inventive and you don’t see people in those spheres doing what she does.

Do you believe that classical opera can adapt and evolve in the future? 

I’m seeing a lot more young singers coming out of the music conservatory system and realising that there's not just one path but many that they can choose from. In the classical route, you think there’s only one path. You go to university, you do a young artists programme and wait till you’re 26 to be able to even get your foot in the door of an opera house.

But it's different now. There’s lots of different ways you can go about it. For me, it relates back to growing up in Malaysia where I learnt that there’s lots of different ways to do things, for different things to co-exist together.   

What keeps you grounded?

My family and friends who constantly remind me that in the grand scheme of things, everything will be fine. I’ve learnt that life is a journey, no one is truly in control. I can either be stressed out and upset and anxious about everything, or I could just say this is just a long journey in the thread of life that I’m trying to navigate. 

And I am more than just my music, right? It’s easy to fall into thinking that my happiness depends solely on my music. Music is a part of who I am.

Tell us about your debut EP.

I’m so excited for it. It’s a collection of five songs that are so different from one another. I remember listening to them and thinking, "They’re all so different, it’s not something that’s easy to box in and sell, which is what the music industry wants. It wants something easily packaged and easily consumed.

But I realised that these songs are layers of me. And my life is not perfect, there’s always a lot going on and it's chaotic, as seen in the EP's title, Chaos is My Friend. You can either choose to embrace the chaos or not. I believe the more we embrace our different sides and learn to accept what we deem to be different, the happier we will be.

What is your message to your listeners? 

The world is limitless. Whoever you are today, you can be someone else tomorrow. Change is the only guarantee in life, so embrace it.

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