Celebrating Our Experiences Through Music — How LGBTQ Indian Artists are Transforming the Music Industry

84.73% of Indian women and 80% of men say that music is a big stress reliever, while 79.70% of Indians turn to music to uplift their mood versus the 47% that prefer to talk to a friend, according to one survey conducted by HARMAN in partnership with OnePoll. For those in the LGBTQ+ community, listening to and even creating music can be the ideal outlet, whether you’re celebrating a special moment or going through a tough time. From inspiring artists who have channeled their feelings and experiences into their work to how you can get started in cultivating your own unique sound, here’s how music by queer artists is transforming the industry.

The sounds of Teenasai Balamu

GrapeGuitarBox, also known as Teenasai Balamu, is a Bengaluru based indie musician “known for their unique covers of popular songs on Youtube and Instagram.” Balamu started posting music covers on YouTube back in 2016, unsure as to what they wanted to do with it, though it took a few years (and live shows) for the musician to jump into the industry as a professional. According to a 2019 article from The Asian Age, Balamu had already been featured in Rolling Stone India’s 2011 list of upcoming indie artists to look out for, and had recently written ‘Out,’ which involved six tracks. 

“The title is pretty self-explanatory. I wrote the songs when I was heavily closeted,” Balamu said. “The songs talk about different types of love, queerness, the uncertainty of death, etc.” According to The Asian Age, the musician’s idea to sing queer songs came from discovering the artist Mary Lambert, a gay musician who had covered popular songs without changing the pronouns. “I really resonated with that because it was a way for me to make music that had a queer subject but didn’t compromise my sexual identity. So I started making similar covers myself,” Balamu explained. 

Singer-songwriter Alisha Batth

A Binge Daily article describes singer-songwriter Alisha Batth as having “tunes that dive in and between folk-alt-rock which often are influenced by the 90s.” The post goes on to describe the artist, noting: “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.” With gender-nonconformity having (in a way) shaped the artist’s musical journey, Batth has been greatly inspired by the music of queer artists, with the 90s also playing a role. “As a teenager, I was amazed by the sheer manner of putting yourself out there without caring what other people thought.” One of her songs highlighted by the Binge Daily article, called ‘Language of Creation,’ is one that’s described as a ‘love song to a volcano,’ and is a track that’s particularly close to the musician’s heart. “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.”

Hindustani vocalist Pragya Pallavi

Pragya Pallavi, a classically trained Hindustani vocalist, released India’s first openly queer-themed album titled ‘Queerism,’ in 2019, paving the way for the LGBTQ community. In 2021, the indie artist released Celebrate Life, which has been added to Spotify’s Editorial Playlist. In a 2021 Men’s World article interview, Pallavi said that she writes from her emotions, as well as whatever is going on with her or in the world at the time, referencing how music helped her during the COVID pandemic. When asked what her thoughts were on the representation of the queer community in the music industry in India at the time, she said “Success in the music industry is more difficult for the LGBTQI+ community.” After pointing out how many LGBTQ artists in the music industry came out after garnering success, Pallavi expressed her concerns regarding how she felt about those like herself in the industry, noting: “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.”

Creating your own sound

For those who are interested in creating music, there are plenty of reasons why you should jump in. According to Healthline, music “can boost memory, build task endurance, lighten your mood, reduce anxiety and depression, stave off fatigue,” and more. Whether you’re looking to create your own unique sound or simply use creating music as an outlet for stress, starting your own musical journey doesn’t have to be difficult — even if you’re a total beginner. With plenty of free resources out there, those that know nothing about music can easily begin creating chords, melodies, bass lines, and arrangements step-by-step. For instance, while apps can help in learning the hand positions for the piano, music production software can be of great help to those who are interested in digital production. The free trial version of FL Studio, for instance, allows budding musicians to learn simple FL Studio Beat Making tricks, allowing for the easy creation of chord progressions, melodies, drums, and more in just seconds.

Paving the way as an LGBTQ artist in the music industry can be a challenging endeavor, though there are many icons that have done just that with their own unique sound. From those that channel their experiences and feelings into their work to how you can get started in cultivating your own sound, both creating and listening to music can be a great way to reap a variety of benefits.