Singing that changes the weather
Uganda-born Halima Namubiru (23), known on-stage as Hally Mubiru, smiles as she recalls her first memory that of singing, at nine years old and living in Bergen, Norway. ‘I was annoyed about homework. I ran out of my house at around 10 pm. I found a bench outside. I looked up at the stars and started singing. It was a song I just made up, and unfortunately, I don’t remember it now. All of a sudden it started snowing. When I came home I couldn’t sleep that night. I was sure that my singing changed the weather.’
Her childhood memories were formed in Kampala, Bergen, London and Oslo. She spent most of her childhood in a boarding school in Kampala, Uganda. It had strict curfew rules and regulations, but was also the site of other memories that she still cherishes today. ‘I had an American-Ugandan friend. She introduced me to Eminem. We would listen to his songs non-stop. We knew the song “Lose Yourself” by heart and performed for our friends. Imagine little schoolgirls in white and blue uniforms singing along.’
Halima started singing in small gatherings of friends and relatives. She didn’t sing in front of large crowds until much later. Almost three years ago, a friend of Halima told her about an open mic platform in Oslo and encouraged her to perform. Since then she has become an active member of Nordic Black Theatre/ Cafeteatret in Oslo, and likes to perform, to improvise and support other creative people.
She likes to sing mostly about relationships, heartbreaks and love. ‘Back in the day I liked to watch VH1 and MTV and listen to Celine Dion, Tupac, Whitney Houston and TLC. I wanted to be Tupac, because he spoke the truth about his life and struggles,’ she said. ‘I also want to make music that tells a story about my truth; music that can influence people in some way. I feel blessed when people come up to me and tell me that I moved them with my music.’
Even though today Halima speaks confidently about her path towards music, things have not always been that simple. The boarding school that she attended as a child had a very strong focus on academic subjects. Children mostly found their creative outlets outside. There was a lack of encouragement from her parents: ‘My mother is very open-minded and supportive, but she wanted me to be smart about my future plans, by suggesting that I do music on the side of my studies. My father is more conservative. He would rather that I played football.’ It was more practical for her father that she played football closer to home than go practice singing far away from home. ‘So as a result I neither did football nor music.’
She is currently a social worker, dealing with unaccompanied minor asylum-seekers, and an aspiring singer. When it comes to non-traditional career choices, especially within arts and music, lack of encouragement is quite apparent within the Muslim community in Norway. ‘I rarely see girls from Muslim heritage at platforms such as “Open Xpressions”. I know that they exist but personally I don’t know of any in my network.’ Halima said that many young Muslims and Africans are encouraged by their parents to choose careers that will give them a stable job and income. Both parents and children want a long-term financial security. ‘There is an underlying fear that we will end up on social welfare, but I also believe that youth these days are being realistic. The current economic state is the reason why young people are making smarter choices about their future careers. One of the reasons I became a social worker was for financial security, but also because of the realization I had about myself: that I like helping people. I like feeling that I am having a positive impact on people whether through my profession or through my music.’
Halima believes that another reason behind the lack of participation in arts in Norway is due to the lack of options in the educational system. The ability to pursue a degree consisting of a major and a minor topic is non-existent in Norway’s higher educational institutions. There are also unwritten rules that require people to fit in, which influence the career choices of young people. ‘I sometimes feel that Norway is trying to put people in a box.’ She explained that it is easy to ‘become fixed into a routine when if you focus primarily on financial security. The “Law of Jante” (a form of hyper-conformity associated with the Scandinavian states) is still embedded in Norwegian society, and discourages individualism. Any form of individual success and achievement is deemed inappropriate and is criticized.’
Despite this, she believes that things are changing rapidly as younger Norwegians are becoming more international in their outlook. ‘I like to be surrounded by well-travelled Norwegians. They are more open-minded and give me more room to maneuver. I think it is tough being an outlier in Norway. I applaud those who are. As I see people at my age doing incredible things in terms of entrepreneurship and leadership, I believe that Norwegian society has certainly come a long way, and is heading into a better path filled with innovation and forward thinking.’
On the subject of identity, she said that she identifies herself as Halima – a Ugandan woman living in Norway. ’I think my parents played an important role in creating a strong Ugandan identity, but I will acknowledge that Norwegian culture has made an impact on who I am today as well.’ She also spent several years living outside Norway so identifying, as a Norwegian does not feel natural to her.
In terms of her musical inspiration, she is highly inspired by British artists such as Adele, Sam Smith, Joss Stone, Emeli Sandé, Coldplay and Amy Winehouse. She is not greatly familiar with either Norwegian or Ugandan artists. ‘English is a language I grew up with, and I feel more drawn towards music sang in English,’ she explained. However, when she will make her own music, she wants to infuse her Ugandan culture. ‘I am open-minded. I recently got introduced to old school hip-hop and R&B, such as Mos Def, J Dilla, D’Angelo, Lauren Hill etc. I am listening to them and I like the music. It is the little things that matter. Sometimes all you need is to breathe and be grateful for what you have. I try to find the beauty in things around me. I like to stop and really look at what is around me. Appreciating the beauty that I’m surrounded by boosts my creativity.’
Halima performing at Open Xpressions at Nordic Black Theatre / Cafeteatret in Oslo: