While some invent life-altering works and discover ideas that change the world, there are those who cause revolutions with merely a chord and a lyric to go! At the nexus of gender understanding and sex perception, the queer niche emerges with its own contributions to the art and music scene. Bingedaily spoke to a bunch of queer musicians who are changing the Indie music scene one beat at a time.
Gender non-conformity does shape the music scene
Alisha Batth strums her guitar. It’s another day in Punjab and this singer-songwriter has tunes that dive in and between folk-alt-rock which often are influenced by the 90s. With a confessional tone, her music revolves around themes like love, desire, walking through our fears and is deeply inspired by the forces of nature.
“Creative expression of any sort is integral to us,” she says as she speaks of music coming from a divine place within us. “It connects us to what we feel, reflect, revel in, are liberated from or dance to. It’s a deeper connection. Whether you are a music person or not.”
Gender nonconformity has in a way shaped Alisha’s music journey. Having listened to a number of queer artists at the onset of her career, their tones greatly inspired her. The 90s had a huge role to play in this. “As a teenager, I was amazed by the sheer manner of putting yourself out there without caring what other people thought.”
According to Alisha, the Indie music scene is definitely changing. She says in contrast to times of old, there is now a lot more space for artists and genres at the moment. Expanding across boundaries is what the music scene looks like, and Alisha is part of this.
Speaking of one release close to her heart, Alisha says it’s got to be ‘Language of Creation’. A single that released this November, it’s a prayer, a love song to a volcano. “It came at a point when I felt quite creatively out of sorts. Having always shared a deep connection with the Earth, it was magical writing it. For me, it was emotional and very close to my heart.”
Music is a time-machine for this queer musician
Music can do many-a-things. For Teenasai Balamu it serves to start a conversation on queerness, mental health and the important role that visibility plays in the career of a queer artist. “Music can make a huge difference to someone who is closeted. I wish to create a space safe from labels, judgement, and discrimination - a space for all the misfits. Growing up, I didn't find queer people who looked like me and often felt isolated,” says this queer Indie musician.
Cut to the present day where Teenasai has been featured in multiple media outlets like Rolling Stone, The Hindu, Deccan Herald, given TEDx talks on non-binary identities and is all set to release their new single 'Free' this December.
Meanwhile, 'Meant To Be Yours' which released earlier this year was the first openly queer song they ever made and released. “I love that I was able to get a horn section recorded for it!” They also recall another music video 'Wait For You', for which they ran a crowd-funding campaign. “The campaign helped us make a brown, queer, dance love story as a music video and it is close to my heart!”
While music resides in their veins, Teenasai says it’s a teleporter of sorts, a time machine, a stimulant. “It can make you feel things that cannot be phrased using mere words.”
A believer that the Indie music scene has grown in leaps and bounds in the last decade, Teenasai says the audience today is much more receptive and artists are able to connect with them in an approachable way. “It is refreshing to see new languages emerging in the scene. The sights are changing and as a queer artist, I am contributing to the discussion of the intersectionality of identities.”
If you’ve ever had the fortune to hum along to Teenasai’s music, you’d have identified their style. The stories they tell through their lyrics are relatable on a deeper level to other queer and trans siblings, thus shaping their music journey. “I want to be explicitly myself,” says this musician.
For this queer songwriter, music is a way of life
“Music is a path for me to express my emotions, let loose vulnerable thoughts that I may not speak out.” Smruti is a singer-songwriter based in Delhi, who has carried her gender-non conformity with pride, looking at it as standing out from the crowd.
Commenting on the indie music scene and the baffling rate at which it is changing, she says there are artists doing wonderful work. “Some are barely 16-17 years olds, and the way they come up with music if just mind-blowing! Digital streaming platforms have done their bit in enabling us to share our music with the world.”
While Smruti has had to hold back releases due to the pandemic, she says the one song closest to her is one she wrote a decade back. “It got an insanely great response and holds a special spot in my heart as I wrote it at a time when I decided I want to do music for the rest of my life!”
With the Indie music scene being driven by Bollywood it’s tough being an artist
For Sharif Rangnekar, after a checkered journey in Journalism and PR, he felt the need to move out and explore his interests in writing, music and human rights. Unsure of how life would shape up, he stepped out and started his own band: Friends of Linger, which went on to release two singles in 2018.
With his autobiography Straight To Normal - My Life As A Gay Man and a host of the Rainbow Lit Fest - Queer & Inclusive, Sharif has made his mark in the industry and turned the tide of the queer scene. “I almost eat, drink and sleep music. It is hard to imagine a day without music playing at home or in my ears through a head-set or in my head, thinking of tunes or creating some. To me, it is the soul of many things. Music is a form of expression, and if it remains independent, it reflects freedom!”
With its initial releases, Friends of Linger fell into the ‘gay’ bracket, says Sharif. However, now the scene for the band has evolved. “I am certain that politics has played out in what I write, compose or sing. The belief that we must challenge certain power structures or question aspects of society is now more at the core of what we do and what I wish to do or say. This is reflected in songs like Dignity - a track that addresses the rape culture and treatment women, which was sung and composed by noted vocalist Smiti Malik.”
There is a catch to what seems like the hip and happening music industry in town. Though queer folk are starting to create their well-crafted niche in it, Sharif says it isn’t easy being an indie music artist. “The music scene in India is overtly driven by Bollywood music, market economics and a certain kind of mainstream that is oppressive towards the vastness of creativity.”
“I have tried to talk more about Indie musicians and also tried to create collaborations,” he says while admitting that funds are a struggle. “I rarely feel that we’ve paid a singer or a musician anything commensurate with the joy, love and pleasure they offer.”
A same-sex ballad which not only got a great response but also won a battle against the CBFC, Miss You was a hit! “It was more about claiming our space as a community than only about the song. This was the reason why we weren’t okay with even a second of it being cut,” says Sharif.
Music and the ability to emote in all dimensions
Jay a singer-songwriter and a music educator falls in love every day with the tunes that turn his world around. In his opinion music is a form of expression of something he feels deeply, and the scene is changing every day, sooner than one would fathom.
For someone looking to connect with Jay, music is the way. “Whether it’s the use of pronouns in my songs, or how comfortable I felt sharing the inspiration behind it, music has a deeper connection. I believe I am still coming to accepting myself. And that will reflect in my music.”
“From stylist choices to the flow in songwriting and perception of people towards the music, the indie music scene is evolving and artists like me are agents in this process.”