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Haleluya Hailu Is Taking Up Space In All The Right Places

The Vancouver-based indie pop artist weaves a coming-of-age story about navigating school, relationships, and meeting expectations. 

by Ozioma Nwabuikwu

Photo by Simone Chnarakis

I first heard Haleluya Hailu when I saw her perform at the Red Gate Arts Society in Vancouver a couple summers back. Hailu stuck out to me, as she was one of two Black people on the lineup, but unfazed, she confidently charmed the crowd. Now, I see Hailu on Zoom, fresh out of bed, face framed by the same afro but a little lighter and fuller. Since that first encounter, she’s completed a diploma in Contemporary Music and Technology at Selkirk College, a central setting in the lore of her debut EP, eternally, yours.

Hailu originally wanted to attend school in the US, but after some persistent challenges, she settled at Selkirk College in Nelson, BC. She went from being a Black girl in a mostly white high school to being a Black girl in an even whiter small town college. The urge to fit in became even greater as she faced a toxic, racist and misogynistic social environment where who you knew was more important than the music. As she says, it was like “high school theatre times a thousand.” So, Hailu conformed, code switched and avoided conflict as much as she could even while being “terrorized.” Teachers tried to support, but the college’s “disconnected administration” left little room for change even when issues escalated. Amidst all this, a teenage Hailu navigated her studies (which she did enjoy) and all kinds of relationships. From those efforts, eternally, yours was born. 

Her new EP is a project that straddles multiple alternative pop genres with a sprinkle of punk and emo rock, delivering a deliciously nostalgic mix of youthful angst, misplaced affection, and self-realization. Its title is inspired by the cult classic Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a film where two exes decide to erase all the memories of their relationship — something Hailu can unfortunately relate to. “I dealt with all the bad things you can deal with while also having to be a post secondary student and God, sometimes I wish I could have some little bits of it erased.” 

The film also inspired the title of the project’s central song, “MANIC PIXIE PACIFIST,” based on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, which describes a quirky female character whose only role is to support the development of the male protagonist. The concept came first and the song followed quickly after, as Hailu recorded voice notes in her dorm room which she then sent to producers, Quinn Pickering and Jared Manierka. This was how most of the EP was ideated while she was away in Nelson. The song itself recounts a toxic relationship where Hailu felt secondary, a huge contrast to the whimsical, 70s-inspired music video featuring her band, The Fake Friends.

What’s the difference between a Manic Pixie Dream Girl and a manic pixie pacifist? Hailu says the pacifist label is a middle ground that indicates she’s aware of the role she’s embodied, but that she still has some work to do. “I was a huge pushover, I am a huge pushover, and I’ll probably still be a little bit of a pushover, but I’ve worked through the worst parts of that,” she says.

The entire project hinges on this vulnerability and self-awareness which Hailu says is a “hard rebrand” and uncharacteristic of her previous work. The last track and final single, “postal code,” is especially reflective as she realizes her problems aren’t fixed just because she’s moved away from Nelson and back to Vancouver. “I had all these problems when I left Vancouver and I still have all these problems now that I’ve moved back.”


“I had all these problems when I left Vancouver and I still have all these problems now that I’ve moved back.”

Haleluya Hailu

eternally, yours ends on a note of uncertainty, reflecting that there’s still work to do and healing is constant. “I imagine myself still working on myself at 80 years old…thinking about how I can make myself a slightly better version of myself so that I can be better to the people I care about,” Hailu says.

Haleluya Hailu is trying to have grace for herself as she figures life out. She’s not optimistic about the state of the music industry, which she believes is a reflection of her time at Selkirk College. “I don’t think the Vancouver music scene is ready for a confident Black woman yet,” she says. But she’s also not willing to make herself smaller anymore. Hailu has since received her hard-won diploma and is in the middle of headlining her first-ever cross-Canadian tour at the time this article is being written. “I’m here and I’m fucking kicking, this is just the beginning. It’s Haleluya’s world now.” 

Haleluya Hailu ‘s eternally, yours EP is out March 22 via 604 Records.