Songs of pride

Published: Jan 23, 2019, 10:26 IST | Snigdha Hasan | Mumbai

A concert by India’s first LGBT+ choir celebrates freedom, and gives a sneak peek into an international album made in collaboration with a Swedish musician and activist

The choir members walked the London Pride in 2007. All pictures/Vincent Illiare, Hsien Crew, Qgraphy and Simon-Revilla
The choir members walked the London Pride in 2007. All pictures/Vincent Illiare, Hsien Crew, Qgraphy and Simon-Revilla

In the history of the Indian LGBTQ community’s movement for legal and social acceptance in the country, December 2013 was a particularly bleak period. With the Supreme Court overturning the 2009 Delhi High Court decision, which stated that Section 377 violates the fundamental rights to life, liberty and equality as enshrined in the Indian constitution, it essentially brought the community and its struggle back to square one.

But it was also a period of intellectual and cultural ferment, and ideas that had so far been in the crevices of the mind, began to see the light of day. That is what has now resulted in a concert called Aazadiyaan, which will take place this Sunday. It’s the brainchild of Mumbai-based Vinod Philip, who had been looking to be a part of a choir, and decided to form his own. And in the summer of 2014, India got its first LGBT+ choir, which he christened Rainbow Voices Mumbai (RVM).

Songs of prideThe choir in concert with conductor David Williamson (second from left)

It means that following Mumbai’s first Pride month after the landmark apex court verdict in September last year, the community has added reason to celebrate, even as the fight for social acceptance still has a long way to go. This celebratory mood, keeping an eye on the future, will be the theme for Aazadiyaan, RVM’s annual concert.

Songs of pride
Peter Wallenberg (center) with the choir members

"We are a young choir, and [the verdict] came very soon for us. But there is a lot of work to be done — the civil rights are pending, as is the anti-discrimination law. We want to take the fight forward through our music and normalise the conversation in a society where homosexuality is still looked down upon," informs the choir’s core committee member Ashish Pandya. "With the decriminalisation of Section 377, we’ll be talking about freedom, and plurality in freedom. So we aren’t just looking at the LGBT+ community, but other marginalised groups as well,” he adds. Without giving away the entire line-up for the evening, Pandya tells us that there will be foot-tapping dance numbers, a few jazzy numbers, a Freddie Mercury song, some of the most celebrated songs of 2018 including This is me, Hindi and Tamil songs, as well as Hindustani classical music.

Songs of pridePeter Wallenberg

For the past year, the choir has been working with Petter Wallenberg, a Swedish musician and human rights activist, who founded Rainbow Riots in 2012, a project where he collaborates with LGBT+ singers and artistes around the world, particularly in places where being gay is illegal or controversial. And the concert will also feature the India release of the international album called Rainbow Riots India, where the choir will present one of their songs for Wallenberg.

"In 2017, we collaborated with the Pink Fingers, UK’s longest-running LGBT choir. We walked the London Pride, performed at its stage, and had an independent concert as well. While we were there, I was invited be a part of a BBC show, and Petter was on it, too," says Pandya, speaking of the collaboration. "I thought it could be interesting to do a new project in India. At the time, same-sex relations were still illegal in India, so it seemed like a very important thing to do to advocate for equality. With music we can give voice to other people like us who don't have a voice. Right in the middle of this project, Section 377 was abolished and all Indians were free to love. It feels amazing to be part of this victory. The music we are making is the soundtrack of India's rainbow revolution," informs Wallenberg, who is in India and will be present at the concert.

He has also roped in other artistes from the community, including actor-singer and former Mr Gay India Sushant Divgikar. for the album. "Being a part of this industry has not been an easy ride. So it was beautiful to see an international artiste contact the Indian LGBT+ community for an album. I would have loved it if an Indian music director had reached out to us too," Divgikar shares.

ON: January 27, 7 pm
AT: G5A Foundation for Contemporary Culture, Mahalaxmi.

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