HEJ SØSTER X ROSKILDE FESTIVAL
af Maria Apetri
Lillian Halima, known as 20-year-old Norwegian artist Lil Halima, just had her debut at Roskilde Festival to raving reviews.
Growing up in a house in the middle of a forest, with no busses to take you away or friends around to hang out with, there was plenty of room for creativity and inner worlds to unfold. The winters there are a constant loop of darkness, the summers endlessly light.
With her roots solidly planted in the Norwegian soil and an intriguing wise-beyond-her-years air about her, Lil Halima is not one to be swayed by the music industry’s glittering allure. Because even when other people question who else she sounds or looks like to try and put her in boxes, Lil Halima herself knows exactly who she is.
Let’s get some background first. You’re from Bardu in the very north of Norway, and obviously that was a tiny town to grow up in. (population is 4000 people) Can you tell me a bit about growing up there?
It was weird in a sense, but it was my whole world. You don’t sense that it’s weird until you move away. You have a lot of spare time and you have to figure out how to entertain yourself. Most people do so by playing sports. The big ones are skiing and football and I hate skiing.
Yeah. And I also hated football, but I found out when I was very young that if you wanted to be popular you had to be good at playing football, so I got super good at it. But I still hated it. I did become popular though and I just thought ‘wow, this is whack’.
So, nobody was into music that much?
People were into music, but more so playing in bands or an instrument. I didn’t know anyone who were writing their own songs. That was very much a ‘something you do in your bedroom’ type of thing. I started playing violin when I was five and kept on doing that. We had a piano at home and I just played a lot of music at home. All of my family loves music. My parents listen to a lot of music, like Latin cause they dance salsa.
I read that your dad is from Kenya and your mom from Norway, so I imagine you listened to a lot of different kinds of music growing up?
Yeah, you would expect me to listen to a lot of African music, but my dad had MTV back in Kenya and really liked American Hip Hop. My mom also liked a lot of R&B and pop.
I’ve noticed that your music is described as R&B, but I hear lot of different influences in there.
Yeah, it’s not too much R&B actually. Sometimes I think that when they see me, they see that I’m a brown girl and think that I gotta be doing R&B, but if I was white they would probably say I was doing pop or alternative. There’s a few of my songs that are quite R&B-ish, but some are not.
The first song I heard of yours was Train, which is so lovely and there’s also a beautiful acoustic version of it, which to me sound like it could be sung by an indie folk girl.
Oh my god, that’s funny. That is actually more like what I used to do when I was back home, that indie folk type music. I just have all of these different influences and I don’t think you should have to stick to one. Some people get confused like ‘oh Lil, she hasn’t found herself yet’ and I’m like ‘yes, I have found myself in every single song, just in different ways’. People want to put you in a box, so they know what they get.
How do you feel about comparisons?
It is so whack. I am not Jorja Smith, just because I’m a mixed girl and sometimes have braids. When I have short hair, they compare me to Doja Cat, which is completely different. If I have curly hair, they say I’m like Mahalia. Especially with girls everyone has to connect you to another girl.
I was going to ask you what were some of your influences, male or female?
I am much easier influenced by producers rather than singers. I’m really into a guy called Monte Booker from Chicago. He’s super alternative and does production for Smino and Ravyn Lanae. There’s a whole group out there I really like. Also, since forever, I’ve been into James Blake.
I heard his first stuff and it was just so new. It really opened my eyes. He was so ahead of his time and he still is.
I find it really interesting how, like you said, people have to put you in a box. Even your press kit said ‘If you like Alessia Cara then you will like Lil Halima’. Why do they have to do that?
They do it all the time. Especially with other girls that do well, and people go ‘oh, girls are just out to compete’, but it’s not weird that you are competing when everybody are comparing you.
If people are always gonna compare you to someone who’s a little bit bigger and greater, then you’re gonna be angry. You see beefs between women, like with Cardi B and Nicki Minaj, and probably even before they met people have been constantly comparing them and they won’t like each other.
The media plays a part in creating that narrative, for sure.
Yeah. It’s so bad cause then they’re like ‘all women are so dramatic’, but people put it on them
I so agree. It’s insane. I saw that you collaborated with another female artist, Swedish ANWIN. How did that come about?
We met in Oslo at By:Larm and just kept in touch. I listened to her stuff and thought she was authentic, so I sent her the song and she jumped on it. We just performed it for the first time at Oslo Pride. I wanna collaborate with more females, also producers. I’m trying to find them, but people make it hard for them to even be visible.
When I was signed, I was sent out to do sessions, which I didn’t like in the beginning. But afterwards my manager would always ask me what I did in the session. I would sing, program some drums and play on the track. Her always asking me what I did felt really important for me as a female artist, cause at the end of the day I was co-producing my entire EP. But if she hadn’t asked me, I probably wouldn’t have been credited as a co-producer. I think that’s why the numbers for female producers are so low as well. There’s this big grey area of girls telling guys what they should do on the computer and then the guys sit with the files and feel like they’re in charge.
Yes, and then there’s also guys who don’t want to give credit to the women, because he was by the computer even if the woman orchestrated the whole thing and had the vision. In old days that guy would be an engineer pressing buttons.
I have two steps when I work with a producer I haven’t met before: 1) I ask for an extra chair so that we can sit together in the front by the computer and 2) I need to just touch their computer, and all of sudden they change. Even if it’s just once. First, they might feel like I invade their privacy, but then they like…
Now we’re equals.
Yeah, like I can also do this. I get that this is your computer, but this is our song.
Often there’s not an extra chair and you’ll just end up on a couch in the back.
I love that. It’s actually a really good tip you can pass on.
Just two steps. Get two chairs and touch the computer.
You paint as well. What came first?
All kids paint and sing, but for some reason they all stop at one point. I just never stopped and that’s how it came to be.
Did you feel very free to create when you grew up? Were you supported?
Yes. My mom used to do arts and crafts with us on Sundays and they drove me and my siblings to play music and showed up to all our little concerts. My sister was really shy, and I used to force her to perform with me and play the piano so I could sing.
So, what’s the dream thing you’d like to achieve in 5 years?
A lot of people in for example Oslo really want to be successful, but for them it means knowing famous people, going on tour, making money. Success for me is just making music I enjoy, so that I’m in charge of my own success. If you’re going to base your value on external things it will never feel stable. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, people can still not like you. When it comes to goals I just wanna be able to create bigger and greater things and have the means to achieve that. And when I’m older I just wanna live far away from everything and make music.
I am very easily over stimulated. My life for 19 years has been in a small place. We didn’t really travel, so my world was quite small. Sometimes I detach myself and go places and do stuff without being grounded. After I need to spend weeks trying to ground myself.
Seems like a very healthy way of thinking about it. Some people don’t have that insight and then go off and do crazy stuff.
I’m extremely introverted. When I’m around people I’m always drained. Not in a bad way. I just recharge when I’m by myself or back home with my family. I always feel so calm when I come back.
I have a final question. What do you think is the biggest difference between being a male and female artist in 2019?
There’s a lot. For example, with festivals this summer. There’s a Norwegian festival where there’s 22 male performers out of a total of 26. I talked to a male musician friend of mine and he said he couldn’t really think of any girls who could perform. And I said, ‘You can’t think of any girls because they don’t show you any girls.’
Maybe it happens unconsciously, because the festivals could very easily book more females. We need to make females in music more visible because they are so good.