Queer artistes in India are finding new ways to portray how they feel, experience, and engage with their identity. Music has been a great medium for them to express themselves, and these indie artistes are currently ruling the scene.

SUSHANT DIVGIKAR 

Sushant Divgikar is making music in style. Rani Ko-HE-Nur is his drag persona, and the artiste has often been recognised for appearing on TV shows like Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, Splitsvilla and Bigg Boss, but is now trying to become the queen of music.

 You were told that you were “too gay” to be pursuing music. What would you like to tell these people now? 

I have been told all sorts of things to degrade, demean, and demoralise me. I realised somewhere down the line that music has no gender/orientation, or religion. Music and performance art has no barriers, so it is very foolish for people to try and create these unnecessary hurdles for one another. All I can say to people who undermined me is that I’ll reply to them when they have a 4-octave vocal range. Until then, I’ll sip my coffee, do my riyaaz, and keep hustling and killing it. 

What are your thoughts on the representation of the queer community in the music industry in India today? 

It hurts me to say this, but there is hardly any representation of queer people in pop culture. Whether it’s music, films, or any other form of performance art. This needs to change to celebrate diversity, and let talent flourish in all its forms. 

You also do many live shows, but with the pandemic, we all have been stuck at home. Have you created any new music after Diamond? 

Sadly, nobody is even speaking of what artists are going through during these trying times. I have created a lot of music, and I plan to put it out in the near future. Fingers crossed.

MA FAIZA 

Ma Faiza, or Mother Of Electronica as she is famously known, first started DJing in India in the late 1990s. She plays progressive trance, dirty house, and techno or chilled ambient grooves. Last year, she was also a part of Vh1’s Virtual Pride Parade.

 It has been 32 years since you came out, and music has been a part of your journey ever since. How has music helped you in the process of telling the world who you are? 

Music is a universal language that can connect us all. When I connected to the music that elevated my spirit and body, sharing this music became my priority. I have always found music so healing, and I’ve been able to use my musical expression to gain more confidence in my own truths, and how I define myself. 

You were a part of Vh1’s Virtual Pride Parade. As you all could not meet in person, how was the experience? 

Being part of the virtual parade was still a lot of fun. It felt so good to see more queer visibility in India than ever before, and it was great to see our diverse and talented community on so many platforms. I saw such strong and positive people sharing their stories, and all that they are. 

What are your thoughts on the representation of the queer community in the music industry in India today? 

I feel that we have more exposure and visibility than ever before, but it’s still very less. We are still marginalised, and this will only change when new laws are made to give us equality and protect us, and people need time to open their mind, and embrace the changes that need to happen to make India a better place for the queer community.

PRAGYA PALLAVI 

Patna’s Pragya Pallavi is a classically trained Hindustani vocalist. Her new single, Celebrate Life, has been added to Spotify’s Editorial Playlist as well. Her most viewed video is Lingering Wine, with 196.8K views. 

Your album, Queerism, was a massive hit. What are you working on next? 

I have been releasing a lot of singles after the release of my album. I am exploring a lot of genres, and I might be coming out with a brand new independent album next year. If I could find a record label or funders to help, that would be great. Proper midscale marketing will let more people hear my music, but a lack of it won’t stop me from releasing my music. That’s the beauty of being an indie artist.

You once said that music gave you the freedom to explore. How would you sum up this experience now?

Music gives us the freedom to explore, and express the deepest part of who we are. As I said before, I write from my emotions, and whatever is going on with me or in the world at that time. During this COVID period, I’ve turned to my music to deal with all the trauma of this crisis, creating my music is what helps me survive, and hope.

What are your thoughts on the representation of the queer community in the music industry in India today?

Success in the music industry is more difficult for the LGBTQI+ community. Most of the people in the music industry who are known to be queer or gay, have come out after they have had some success, ranging from Elton John to George Michael, to more recent artists like Janelle Monáe, Kehlani, and many more. I don’t know how open the mainstream music industry is to LGBTQI + fresh musicians, especially artists like me who are writing songs about the community’s experiences too.

ALISHA BATTH 

Alisha Batth is a singer/songwriter who is heavily inspired by punk/folk, ’90s, love, and life in general. She has also sung a song, Gallan, for MTV Coke Studio’s Season 2, which has 97,760 streams on Spotify. 

Alisha Batth

How has music helped you become more vocal about your identity?

 I came out when I was 17. Music helped me understand myself in more ways than one. Expression changes as you do, as you move through your journey of life, but at the moment, my music isn’t necessarily queer, being queer is rather an aspect of me.

How has your music affected other people in the community?

 I do believe when I was younger, there wasn’t much of a queer representation in indie music in India. So maybe it did create a place of support for me to be expressing myself freely. Over the last few releases, I’ve had a lot of people resonate with the music. My song, Blue River, was written from a space of finding joy and letting go — I know it supported people in their own emotional space as well. I’m learning through my songs to be a space holder also in a way, and maybe that’s partly the purpose. 

What are your thoughts on the representation of the queer community in the music industry in India today? 

I think queer artistes have a pretty good representation, and it is ever growing. The music industry in India has a pretty niche space, but as people are more vocal and confident about who they are, their voices are creating the space.

TEENASAI BALAMU AKA GRAPEGUITARBOX 

Teenasai Balamu (they) is an indie musician hailing from Bengaluru. Teenasai released their first song, Run, as an animated music video, then Wait for You as an audio, and then a queer music video. They worked on a project for Tinder India, and then did a voiceover for Terribly Tiny Tales (TTT) and Tinder India.

You said in an interview that you didn’t want people to recognise you as a queer artiste initially. What changed your mind?

 When I said that, I also was still closeted. I suppose I saw a lot of queer artistes being tokenised, and from that position of being in the closet, I was probably afraid of both coming out, and also having one part of my identity shape how I was going to be viewed even before one heard my music. What changed my mind was when I seriously started planning the release of my own music. I realised all the queer representation that I had consumed and the queer community/people who supported me had helped me immensely in accepting myself and normalising my identity in my own mind. Seeing someone like me did wonders for my mental health. The second realisation I had was that as a queer person, all my experiences as inherently queer. I write most of my songs from experiences that I have. With these realisations, I didn’t really mind being recognised as a queer artiste.

What are your thoughts on the representation of the queer community in the music industry in India today?

 I feel hopeful about queer representation in the Indian music industry. Over the last few years, I’ve been seeing a lot more openly queer artistes and also events/venues inviting queer artistes/themes with open arms. Of course, these spaces do exist in privilege as well. So I can’t speak for the entire industry as there are many nuances to that. I would definitely love to see a lot more inclusion of trans artists.

KRISHNA K 

Krishna Karthikeyan aka Krishna K (he/they) is a Chennai-based artiste. He worked on Maayangal, the lead song from Tamil anthology/romance film Kutty Story, which is his most-listened-to song with 130,241 streams, and he will be soon releasing his three-track EP, titled Flower. 

Which artists inspire you to create music? 

As always, I’ll have to immediately say — Halsey. Ashley Frangipane (Halsey) got me through quite a lot with their incredible music. In the past few years, artistes that have been constant inspirations to me have been artistes I’ve had the privilege to know personally, listen to, and even perform with: Namratha, AKR, Pranay (Elaneer), Nicky.M, Anand Kashinath, Sublahshini, GrapeGuitarBox, the list goes on and on. 

What are your thoughts on the representation of the queer community in the music industry in India today? 

When I look at the indie music industry, I am actually delighted to see a lot of other out and proud queer musicians. Seeing other queer musicians releasing their remarkable music, sharing our stories and their experiences brings me so much pride. In terms of mainstream music and film industries, I do feel like we have a long way to go in terms of realistic, sensitive, and genuine representation. The music industry is a very gendered one worldwide, and I feel like that’s a convention that has to change