GLiDing, navigating self and art : A conversation with LilBirdLeii
Leila Lherisson is a twenty something Haitian songstress based in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. A vessel for the unconventional, Leila, also known as LilBirdLeii, breaks the rules, and sings her through the repercussions. With all the lessons she's learned and is still learning from life, she concocts projects raw in emotions, and as real as her experiences.
On September 13th, she released her very first EP, entitled GLiDE, which we've sat with her to discuss, in addition to her art, process and inspirations.
You released GLiDE on your birthday, and it’s your first EP, so it must have special meaning to you. Before we speak about the project itself, I did want to ask, above this project, - we know your M.O, and the symbolism in your name, you being a bird, free to fly where she pleases, and your songs are the tales of various places you’ve been perched. What made you want to call yourself that? It’s very different, and bold, especially you being a Haitian woman. Our freedom is very much defined, but being a bird, or portraying yourself as such, feels like aiming to fly towards other (forbidden) horizons. So, what inspired that?
- Before going for LilBirdLeii, I used my government name on my first feature, and that didn't feel right. someone who matters loads to me suggested i become LeleLhe because at the time people would call me Lélé as a nickname and Lhe was the first syllable to my last name. needless to say that didn't last, because it didn't come from me. i decided to stick to LilBirdLeii because of different reasons: firstly because i wanted to reclaim that negative portrayal of the term when used to describe sexually unattached and active women, secondly because yes, I aim to fly where i want to, and those horizons are definitely not ones i was grown to aim towards, as they are not conventionally applauded/accepted by our Haitian society. the Lil in front is both me paying homage to a dying trend and acknowledging my height and my beginner status.
In songs like Sharin’ (with AlCol), and Remember, you speak about sex, first with men, but also with women (notably “went to the club with my dude, to find a third…(..), which is very uncommon for women in our society, and beyond realness, and your art being a reflection of you, do you also consider your art, a form of activism, representation for (queer) women like yourself?
- YES. yes, all of that [chuckles], to word it better, growing up with this inexplicable (at the time) attraction to sex, it was always an issue for me that I was never able to hear a woman's point of view -let it be musically, or through any other form of art- on it. the Music Industry was over saturated with men's degrading and possessive lyrics on the matter, and i couldn't relate much. When artists such as Lil'Kim, Rah Digga, Missy Elliot, Tweet, Remy Ma to cite a few got to my ears, that was a done deal. i wanted to speak of these raw emotions i had just as much as these ladies did through their art. i had enough of the machismo, the sexism, the degrading. I wanted to claim my sexuality and be able to give women the beats and words to do so themselves. i understand because of the language barrier (English when more Haitian women speak kreyòl) my reaches to just a few, but that few is enough for me.
Have you every received backlash for how bold you are with your music and message?
- Of course. Ignorant and judgmental people will come at me at times to call me names and try and hurt me. [chuckles] I use to be very afraid of those types of commentaries, but a nigga is grown now, and understands a few things better, such as the lovely fact that people who curse you on how you live your life and how you practice your peace/fun are those who either wish they were as bold as you, or have nothing better going on for themselves and are focused on stuff bringing them no joy/money/knowledge. nowadays i claim the negative shit because... what about it? [laughs] what about it?
As far as style goes, I have taken it upon myself to go through what you’ve already released, and you’ve sang in English, and in French. But I do believe all artists, have a sound, even when they’re diverse in the genre that they experience. There’s always that thing that tells us, oh It’s ___ on that track. What would you say is yours? How would you describe your sound?
- I have been told that I sing to put people to sleep. honestly I feel like my true sound would be soul, but because inspiration flows in different genres (for me anyway..) I am able to cover different genre-grounds but I say soul because I often go for lyrics and a vibe that are more emotional and lingering than a hyped up dance-y upbeat mood.
GLiDE. As aforementioned it’s your first EP. Is it, so far, your favorite project?
- All my projects are my favorite projects. those released and unreleased. I will say that GLiDE is the one I am most proud of.
Why is it entitled GLiDE, as opposed to anything else, what is the picture being painted here?
- Be as light as a feather being blown by the wind through the skyline.. be like a bird gliding above all this buffoonery, do not let gravity be the master of you.
Do you have any particular anecdotes behind any of the songs? What were the messages behind each?
- [bursts into laughter] This specific project was inspired by true life stories.Breathe was written after an anxiety attack caused by me overthinking on growing older and not having succeeded in life (according to some social standards). In2U was written one night were i was fighting myself to stop thinking about this one love interest who seemed to have taken over my thoughts.Mistake was about this same love interest who was truthfully just a big.. what the title said [chuckles] and me realizing I sabotaged my own self by going in even when the signs were put up and I wasn't blinded by anything. The messages were in order of appearance : , relax, stop stressing; I don't get this attraction but I'm no prude bitch so you gon' know; [chuckles] you played yourself Leii, you knew it wasn't a good idea.
If you had to sum up, you and your art in one word, what would it be – and you cannot use GLiDE, LilBirdLeii, or any of the titles for your already released songs?
Are we going to hear more music in 2018? And when should we expect an album?
- YES, more music in 2018 yes, in 2019, all the years following til my last breathe on this earth, YES.an album [chuckles] we can speak about this one next year.
If you did have to come up with a theme for an album, what would it be?
- Revamping (downright correcting) the "feminist" discourses repeated to me by Haitian women, since its a foreign concept to some people in my entourage.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? And I don’t mean fame wise, but as far as what your message is in your art? Art should obviously grow with the artist, but I speak here of the mood, of the message, what do you think, or at least hope it will be?
- The mood will be less complain-y, more assertive, the message may vary (depending on the topic of the song) but it'll at the root always be about claiming your true self, being unapologetic and being the better version of yourself.
You seem to be very vulnerable with your art - are all your projects rooted in personal experiences? If yes, is there every discomfort in sharing that with the rest of the world?
- Most of my posted projects are rooted in personal experiences, even though sometimes I create personas and story lines. I'd say I'm a talker, a very expressive person, and although not all stories are meant to be shared, I always found that i loved narrating things to folks, things about myself, my experiences, my thoughts... and i was always ready for backlash concerning these shared stories, but it never bothered. I've learned to navigate through the discomfort of facing the backlash, it's there, but it hurts less and less the more time passes.
When you say “not succeeding in life" - to some standards anyway- what do you mean? Would you say your idea of success differs from the (Haitian) norm? What do you think consist of?
- I am not a model citizen, one who abides to the law and to authorities, one who knows her place as a woman, whose ideal is to marry and procreate and sit on all this money one slaved to earn. I do not stand out in a crowd by my diplomas and certificates, I have accomplished nothing but try and survive, which is what we all do somehow.
My idea of success is blurry, but it most definitely has nothing to do with material gain or fame or anything glamorous. if id have to define this idea, id have to define standards of success... and I cannot do that.
Could you describe your creative process, and how things flow in and out of you? How do we get the next single, EP, album?
- My creative process depends on a couple of things: if the song is my own or if i'm featured, if I enjoy the beat or not and if it's a pressing project or if i have time to create. when writing as a feature, i just follow, which makes it simple because I'm not the one coming up with the topic, so it's easier. When it's my own projects, I have to be at either end of the mood stick: either OG happy or at my lowest low, alone (very very important) and necessarily with a blunt, a pencil, a notebook and a voice recorder. I'll start humming melodies, then murmur a few words, find a topic in the midst of that, write down what I come up with... there's a lot of erasing and changing of melodies.. and either magic happens on the same day I began, or time passes and I finish the project eventually.. for example, it took me a year to create the song In2U from my EP GLiDE and 3 hours to create Breathe.
Your songs/covers as previously discussed talk about sex, and relationship, overall mental state, etc, do you think some sort of catastrophe or unfortunate event regarding these things has to happen for you to be able to create? If not, what other inspiration do you have?
- It's true that a lot of my projects seem like the result of unfortunate events, and it's true that, as I've said earlier, I’d either have to be really high or really low to create, so I won’t deny that pain contributes to my art, but is not the sole contributor. And if your question is do I speak of other things in my art, then the answer is no, not for now at least.
I am not sure if you have had to deal with the music industry, but what are some challenges you feel Haitian artists face, and what has been some that you've faced?
- The Haitian Music Industry is not really a topic I like to speak on because no, I am not part of it and also because, having had a glimpse of what goes down behind closed doors and having not liked it, I think my point of view on it would be taken as biased and bitter. But I will say that there is a lot of favoritism in the Haitian Music Industry, in my opinion, where it's not always about talent and hard work, but more about who you know, which makes it hard for underground artists to pierce through.
As far as bettering the industry for upcoming musicians, what do you feel we as a collective could do?
- I feel like Us By Us Collective does a lot already as a platform by giving underground queer Haitian artists from all medias a space to express themselves freely on topics they feel important. Please continue the good work and let me show all the support to the movement.