Through a music album, transgender singers hope to inspire others and assert their identity, reports Dhrubo Jyoti
“The moment I stepped out of the studio, I felt a new energy in me; I knew I could make a name for myself like everyone else,” says Ankur Patel, one of the nine artists collaborating in “Songs of the Caravan” – India’s first music album featuring trans people.
Produced by the Jeevan Trust in collaboration with the Planet Romeo Foundation, Netherlands, and the Abhivyakti Foundation, the album was the brainchild of Anubhav Gupta, director of Jeevan Trust. “People have a stereotypical conception of music by transgender people, pedalled also by Bollywood, where we learn to view them as comic relief. My views started to change when I started working with HIV issues,” Anubhav admits.
The album has a pan India feel with singers drawn from all corners of the country, including Bengal, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Manipur, Gujarat and Delhi. The songs too hail from myriad styles, from Hindustani classical to Pop to Carnatic classical and Rabindra Sangeet. The album also features self-composed poetry. Gupta has planned a gala release on August 10 in New Delhi. “I wanted to show that they are trained. Music has no language, belongs to everyone, and hence, no discrimination can be justified,” he says.
The name of the album was conceptualized keeping in mind the unique nature of the lives many transgender lead. “Most transgender lead uprooted lives away from their families with their own groups, tolis and/or find solace in organisations that are working with them. Songs of the caravan reflects these musings, dreams and desires, their happiness and their joys and sorrows in this journey. It is the journey of their spirit,” explains Gupta.
The singers hail from diverse backgrounds. Some of them are formally trained, like Amitava Sarkar from Bengal, others, like Kalki Subramanium from Tamil Nadu, aren’t trained but have grown up on western music. The album has been recorded in a unique fashion, with singers recording their songs in their respective cities.
Although some of the singers are transgender activists, they have found the going difficult, even with learning music.
“While I was young, I was forced out of the music class because the parents of other children were not comfortable with their kids learning music with me,” rues Akkai Padmashaili, who works with Sangama in Bangalore. Akkai performs the famous Lakshmi Stuti, Bhagyada Lakshmi Baramma.
Many of the singers faced a variety of hardships through their lives. “Discrimination against me started in school, as early as class 5. When we were taught about sexual parts in science, boys would tease and ridicule me. Even my teachers abused me sexually. My Visharad in music got stalled since I couldn’t find a job,” says Ankur Patel from Gujarat. The Vadodara resident completed her Visharad (music degree) later and has performed a self-written and composed song, which she says “reflects her life’s journey.”
However, some of the singers are still in the process of finding an affirming identity. “My current situation is difficult. I am in the closet. I am married and have children and yet I live a full transgender life in secret,” says Madhurima, a singer from Andhra Pradesh.
As we see increased activism from erstwhile marginalized sexualities, the initiative to let trans people express their selves through music has caught the imagination of the participants themselves. “People think if I am transgender I will automatically be ready to have sex with them,” says Rani from Delhi. “Through my music, I want to tell people that everyone should be respected for their differences.”
Amitava Sarkar, who received a degree in Rabindra Sangeet under the tutelage of Suchitra Mitra, performs “Jodi tor dak shune” by Tagore among her two songs in the album. “I chose the song to inspire my sisters towards moving alone if there is no one to help us,” she says. Her words sum up the experience of Caravan most succinctly, “Through my song I have to influence people around trans-issues and at the same time give a message to my own people towards raising their self-esteem.”
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