Petter Wallenberg creates pop fusion with India's best LGBTQ talent

Updated: Jun 16, 2019, 07:34 IST | Aastha Atray Banan | Mumbai

In his new album, Rainbow Riots India, Swedish artiste Petter Wallenberg gets India's best LGBTQ talent together to create an unusual, pop fusion

Petter Wallenberg. Pic/Suresh Karkera
Petter Wallenberg. Pic/Suresh Karkera

The first song of Petter Wallenberg's new album Rainbow Riots India is Love is Love, featuring Mumbai's own drag queen, Sushant Divgikar aka Rani Kohe-nur, singing her heart out. The song, Wallenberg says, has made it to the pride march in Germany this year. "I wanted to make an anthem," says the Swedish artiste, who we meet in Colaba on a rainy afternoon. Speaking about the journey of this album, Wallenberg, the founder of LGBTQ organisation Rainbow Riots, says he had just completed a similar project in South Africa, when he chanced upon the Indian hijra dance group, Dancing Queens.

"That's when I decided to come to India. Two years ago, it was a great time to do that [make an album], as it was still illegal. It was a unique story to tell, because the community here, was on the cusp of something. There was change in the air — an undercurrent, a paradox. I did some research, and found these pioneers. It started as a protest, and turned out to be revolution," says the musician, who has written and produced the album as well.

The album, which released on June 14, features Divgikar, Dancing Queens, lesbian singer Pragya Pallavi, queer rapper Tropical Marca, and gay dance group, High Heel Hotties. "I wanted it to represent diversity. But, I also wanted real talent — something that would have international impact. It was not just about having some creative fun. It had to be of good quality that could compete with international music. The LGBTQ choir, Rainbow Voices, and Dancing Queens cover the spectrum, but also have talent. This is not just music, but advocacy, and tells a story too."

But, he has a soft spot for the Dancing Queens and the song Never Look Back, which tells us the story of dancing member, Paras. The video traces her journey from the slums to becoming the first transgender in India to get a job in a bank. "For me, what's beautiful about this song is that one is shining a spotlight on something that is marginalised and through music and pop culture, we are putting it on the centre-stage, so that everyone can see it."

Talking about the music in his album, Wallenberg says the genre hasn't been invented yet. The Swede, who comes from a country with a culture of dance music, describes it as a fusion of pop music — from India and from the world — with a splash of Bollywood and classical thrown in. "I have mixed Hindi lyrics, coming from my collaborators, with English music, and added Indian percussion, rap and electronic music elements. It's a big stirring pot of Indian and Western music at a big gay disco," he laughs.

The heart of the music and the album is the message behind it, and the stories of the individual artistes. "Love is Love is a campaign for LGBTQ rights. It's an anthem. Love at First Right is a activist song. It's not about sex, it's about the right to love." The most interesting song could be Ancient Rainbow, where Wallenberg looks into Indian mythology for LGBTQ references. "Indian Gods are very androgynous, there is a history. It's only the colonial rule that clamped it all down." For now, he is spreading the word about the album, but also prepping to take all the artists to an international stage. "They will be performing in Stockholm, where they will be headlining the pride stage in August. It's never happened before."

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