Creative liberty with no boundaries: Why the indie music space spells comfort for queer musicians
Indie music space has always allowed musicians to stay ahead of the curve, not just sonically, but also helped them stay comfortable for who they are, express their own ideas and thoughts without getting bothered by big music companies or record labels, and their oft quoted mafia-like tactics, which were brought to light by mainstream popstars earlier this year.
That’s one of the primary reasons why the queer Indian musicians have, chosen (if not been forced) to stay indie, which has at least up until now, have seen them away from the mainstream limelight.
“I have always appreciated indie space more than anything else I have ever been part of. Because there’s so much autonomy in what you are doing, and somewhere the idea of expressing yourself probably gets diluted when you work with a big record label. You have to then adhere to norms of label. The expectations change, because they want to present a version of you, and then you feel caged. Rarely have I seen a big label conducive to the artist,” says Sushant Divgikr, who has been more popular in the mainstream space for his drag avatar of Ko-he-nur, ever since he appeared on the reality TV show, Bigg Boss.
If anything his 14-year-old career in entertainment industry in India has taught him, it is that people are yet to “normalise” queerness. “ It has more to do with the fact that they see you as a queer person first and a human being later. I mean, being called a gay singer or someone who writes gay music. Why does it have to be like that? You can’t box music, or any art form on the basis of the artist’s orientation or their gender identity,” he says.
“I remember one particular record label, which had approached me to sign a contract with them did not understand me for who I was. They kept saying, ‘But you are a man.’ I had to tell that gentleman that I was more man than him and more woman than his woman would ever be,” he adds recalling several such incidents, which convinced him that staying indie is probably the best way for him to express himself. “After a point you realise, that there’s no respect. As an artist, you want to be known for the art you create,” he says.
Divgkr is not the only queer musician who decided to stay indie after trying their hand at going mainstream or being part of the pop music industry. John Oinam, a gay musician from Manipur was part of a rather popular singing reality show, and was put off by them when he was asked to talk about his life story as a queer musician on national television.
“ I felt like they wanted me to play the victim card, and get some sympathy which will help them in getting more TRPs or more famous or things like that. I mean I was not comfortable doing that. I am out to my friends and my family, but I am not sure if I’d be accepted as a gay musician,” he says.
Despite the awareness, and change in the law decriminalising homosexuality, queer community in India still finds it hard to be accepted for who they are, and musicians from the LGBTQ+ community find are rather apprehensive of their music getting stereotyped because of their identity. “Expressing your identity is a very personal thing. I mean whoever I meet, I make a judgement call whether that person will understand me, my journey and my energy that way,” says a gay semi classical musician, who wishes to be anonymous.
“I am looking to make an intersex/ trans- choir group, and I have to do it in a sort of an insular space. I mean I can’t just do it out in the open, because it won’t be accepted. I reached out to a few music NGOs and a few educational NGOs but they weren’t up for it. So its extremely difficult and the only support you can get is from people within the community,” he says.
Perhaps indie space empathises with queer musicians, who have embraced the space. Teenasai Balamu, whose on stage moniker is GrapeGuitarBox, is an alternative / soft-pop musician who identifies themselves as a non binary individual. Balamu feels that indie space gives queer musician that space where they can choose to talk about their” experiences which are influenced” by their orientation and identity, but at the same time not be singled out or made to be felt different because of that.
“I mean if its a love song about two heterosexual people, you don’t really think about them from the point of their orientation or their identity, right? Why do you have to it when a similar song is written by a queer musician,” they ask.
Thanks to the pandemic, which has seen a shift in the listening habits and the subsequent growing popularity of indie music because of it, queer musicians feel its high time an example from their community can lead by example. “Of course there was no role model for people like us while I was growing up, and yes it wasn’t easy. But at the end of they day, I am not the one who will keep cribbing and do nothing about it. If you didn’t have a role model, then be yourself” says Digvikr.
“The West also has had such popular names like Freddie Mercury, Elton John or Sam Smith. And yes they only came out in the open after they became popular, but they weren’t afraid of staying who they were after that and didn’t stop creating music. Neither did the popularity dropped. As a queer musician one draws immense strength from such examples, which were never there while I was growing up in India. But things are changing now, and I can see a queer role model from the industry soon,” says Oinam.
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- Indian classical musician and Padma Vibhushan awardee Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan passes away at 89