Lil Halima texts me a blue heart emoji before we jump on the phone. Did she choose blue the same way she deliberately chooses colours in every other aspect of her life? “Lately, I’ve been using blue,” she says over the phone from London, where she’ll spend two weeks doing sessions. “I guess it’s a mood.” Actually, colours choose her. It’s not as extreme as, say, synesthesia, but Lil experiences colour in her music.
“I can just connect the music with colour and patterns. It’s just very visual to me,” she explains. “I know which colours I want together. It could be that a song, in general, feels blue, but I still know that the kick is kind of purple and the purple is going to fit with a snare that’s kind of more warm.” What does it mean to feel a colour? Well, what do you know in the world to be, for example, yellow? For Lil, the sun comes to mind, and so, feeling yellow to her means “purely happy.”
On Nov. 23, Lil’s debut EP titled love songs for bad lovers was released. The cover art sees the 20-year-old Norwegian-Kenyan artist wrapped in a yellow snake. You’d think, then, those love songs for bad lovers is purely happy, but no. “I was feeling very yellow, and then I got into this relationship. I thought everything felt very yellow, and then, it just turned out not too yellow. So, the yellow switched its meaning.” Each song on the EP has threads of different colours. For example, “Jasmine” is “very, very, very red” — evident even to the unknowing eye in the song’s music video, which opens with Lil in a red art studio. Another of the EP’s seven tracks is titled “Bother” featuring Safario, who happens to be her ex with whom she was in that relationship — her first ever relationship.
Before getting more into these songs and present-day, you need context. Lil Halima was born Lillian Halima Anderssen to a Norwegian mother and Kenyan father in Bardu, Norway — a small town located in the northernmost region of Norway with a population of 3,985 as of 2014. Without much to do, Lil focused on herself and her art. Growing up in such a unique community did wonder for her creativity. “Most importantly — I did have forms of role models when it comes to what I should be like and how to be kind to other people, but I had no one in my near surroundings that did what I really wanted to do that I could look for any inspiration when it comes to beauty and beauty standards,” she says. “When it comes to the creative things, there wasn’t really anyone being out there with their music or arts whatsoever so I kind of just really had to find myself and my path because I had no one to copy.”
She describes her childhood as generally “really good.” She can’t remember which came first: realising painting as an outlet or realising music as an outlet because it seems she’s been doing both her entire life. Most kids draw and paint, but Lil just never stopped. As for singing, she realised at a very young age that if she started to sing, people would gush over her, and she liked that positive attention. So, she kept singing.
If she has to point to one negative, it is the only mixed child in what felt like all of Norway. She struggled for a while not having anybody around who looked like her or shared a similar background. Eventually, she came to terms with it and stopped trying to fit in. It’s an experience she’s actually thankful for in hindsight because it allowed her to understand her limits, how much she could handle. “I’m just really happy I found the internet and saw other people doing their thing and realized that I can also do whatever they’re doing,” she says. “I guess that’s kind of what changed it.”
About two years ago, her now-manager, Marie, discovered Lil on Instagram. Around the same time, Lil was signed to Def Jam Norway. Without Instagram or social media, in general, the way it is in society now, Lil would still be painting and making music because she was always doing it merely to express herself. “The thing is everyone told me since I was very little that music should just be my Plan B because it’s so hard to make it and be successful as a musician,” she explains. “But then, I was kind of like, ‘What do you mean?’ because my perception of success has been different from what the people who told me I can’t make it.
“My perception of success has always been that I am happy with what I create and I get to create in general — period. While their success is going on tour and being discovered and getting signed by a label and earning money, blah, blah, blah. So, I feel like, without the internet, I would still be doing what I do. Maybe not in other’s eyes as successful, but in my eyes, probably as successful because I’m just doing what I want to do and just going with the flow. That’s kind of what success means to me.”
All of this leads back to Nov. 23 and the release of love songs for bad lovers. In Oslo, Norway, where Lil lived for about a year before deciding to move back home in September, people gathered to welcome the EP into the world — her friends and people she was most familiar with. She played her seven new songs, but the most gratifying part was when her friends sang her songs. In the future, she dreams of having her paintings and music together as an exhibit in an art gallery, but for now, on this night, she couldn’t have asked for anything more.
You didn’t forget about “Bother,” did you? No. “Bother” is the key to understanding Lil’s deep appreciation for art and love songs for bad lovers as a whole. She clarifies that having Safario on her EP actually has nothing to do with their previous relationship because regardless of their breaking up, she still really, really loves his art’s sincerity. They had always planned on doing a song together, just “maybe not in this way.” But that’s what artists do: adapt and capture life as it’s happening now, not as how you might have planned.
Without her relationship with Safario, and all its imperfections, perhaps love songs for bad lovers wouldn’t have come to be. In describing why she named her EP love songs for bad lovers, she says, “We were not really too good at it, I guess you could say, but it’s also kind of ironic because I feel like you would never tell someone they’re bad at something because they’ve never done it before. So it’s kind of ironic because you’re calling people who have never loved like this before bad lovers. We were not really handling the new being in a relationship thing too well, but at the same time, it’s like, who would do that with their first relationship?
“Basically, this whole EP is just young love and trying to figure shit out, but then I called it love songs for bad lovers because we’re all bad lovers in everyone’s eyes.”
The EP is decompression in melodic form. A state of being that Lil has mastered without even trying. Just ask her friends, who tell her, “You’re too chill. You need to stress a little bit.” Case in point: in London yesterday, Lil was trying on pants at a vintage store. Later on, she was frantically searching for her bank card. As she looked through pictures on her phone, she saw proof of herself putting her bank card in the pants she left at the vintage store. Instead of freaking out, she accepted it as fact and moved on. After all, this small-town girl had already lost her bank card in London several times before. She’d rather be back home in Bardu, in the dark season, staring at the Northern Lights.
Lil loves the Northern Lights, calling them her happiness for those three months out of the year. “You don’t even know what’s 10 feet from where you’re standing ever, and the only light we get is the moonlight, but then we also have the Northern Lights, which are amazing.” she gushes. “I don’t know. It feels like someone was like, ‘OK since it’s so dark for these people and we can’t really sort that out because of the placement of the earth, blah blah blah, let’s give them something to look at.'”
This is the reason she decided to move back home from Oslo. “My creative self is dying to be home when it’s gonna be dark all the time because I’m just blossoming when it’s getting darker outside,” she continues. “I just really wanted to go home and work on the creative part because I feel like when I was living in Oslo, I got to put myself out there and do a lot of things, but I didn’t really work too much on the base of it, which is me and my music and my art.”
“I’m just gonna see wherever this earth takes me,” she says. “I’m a really big fan of the law of attraction and manifesting things, so I got things planned. I feel like if I say all the stuff out loud, maybe they won’t happen. But I have things I obsess over, and I know they’re gonna happen because that’s just how it works. I just pretend that it already happened, and then it’s going to happen.”
For now, you can enjoy Train below: