In the past decade, the independent music scene of India has witnessed a hike in the number of artists representing the queer community of the country. When Jay Anand, a transgender musician curated a Spotify playlist highlighting music by other queer musicians on the occasion of 2020’s International Pride Month, it was evident that music had become a powerful medium for these artists to voice their opinions regarding India’s stance on LGBTQIA+ representation in multiple arenas. It was through music that they channelled their emotions, and opened up conversations about various issues affecting queer people of all ages in the country.
“Until I started making music and meeting artists from the queer community, I had not known the true state of queer representation in the music industry,” says Siddhant, a prominent musician representing the LGBTQIA+ community in India. “My heart swells to see so many queer artists doing so well,” he adds. Siddhant has brought out multiple singles throughout the past seven months with his latest being “Kalla Killah”. On being asked what he hopes to achieve through his music? “Revolution and global domination” he said.
Sagar Verma, another queer musician has also found his safe space in the independent music sphere of the country. After releasing multiple singles in a span of four years since 2019, the musician has evolved as an artist and an individual, owing to the experiences that he gathered throughout his musical career.
“It’s been an incredible journey full of ups and downs, and lots of new learnings for me. Every single release teaches me something about the artistic side of things, as well as the business side of things. I’ve grown a lot as a human being by merely trying to be a better artist- and I’m very grateful to be able to do something I’ve always wanted to do,” he says.
Interacting with fans who resonate with his music has also been a fulfilling experience for Verma. “I receive a DM every once in a while, from someone who heard my music and felt like the song really made them feel seen, or that the emotion behind the song made them cry- and it’s moments like these when I am reminded of how powerful music really is! I essentially write all my songs for myself first- because I need that particular song in my life- and to see the music have the same impact on other people as well brings me immense joy. It feels great to know that there are people, strangers even, outside of my home who are genuinely rooting for me,” he adds.
Writing and playing music has also been a cathartic means for singer-songwriter John Oinam, who had won the heart of the audience through his voice in the 11th season of the musical reality show Indian Idol, back in 2019. Eventually, he went on to release an EP titled “Weeds Are Flowers Too” under his independent project Blue Meadow, and a single titled “You and I” under his solo project. After re-discovering his voice in the indie music scene, Oinam opened up about how music played an instrumental role in helping him cope with some very difficult moments in life.
“Music is playing a vital role in my life and it has helped me when I was struggling with my sexuality and only thing that gave me zeal to live at that point of time in my life. I want to share my experience through my songs and it’s a happy place for me and it will always remain the same. It’s a medium where I express my emotions without any hesitation,” he says.
At the same time, it is important to note that although these musicians have eventually found stable ground in expressing themselves through their music, there still exist many predicaments that they still have to deal with as young queer artists trying to make their ends meet. From not getting paid enough to facing prejudice in live venues, they have to go through hell and back to make their voices heard in the scene. “I feel we could get more representation and paid a lot more,” confesses Siddhant.
“As a queer indie artist, the venues where we can perform our originals are very limited also those venues are inaccessible if you don’t have the right contacts and I wish there were more independent music labels to back us up,” laments Oinam.
He claims to have also felt discrimination as someone hailing from one of the north-eastern states of the country. “Being an artist from the north-east I feel like we are also neglected and I felt that strongly whenever I have released my music I really don’t see a support from the indie community the way I would have wished,” he adds.
Sagar Verma, on the other hand, has tried to view his struggles as an independent musician in a positive light. Although there have been innumerable challenges, he claims to see it all “as a part of the job”. “You find yourself a producer that you like to work with, figure out a way to bring your recording costs down, be consistent with the releases, shoot & edit DIY music videos and album artworks while being the most authentic and best version of yourself, and you continue creating meaningful content on the internet. Being a musician meant being able to swiftly make my way through all this chaos, bringing structure to things that need structure, and continuing to stay creative while I did all of that. It’s a lot to take in sometimes, but it can be a lot of fun too. Everything at the end of the day is part of your creative expression- and I strive to be better at all of these with the coming releases,” he explains.
Even though the independent music scene of the country has come a long way in the representation of queer people in its ambit, there still remains a gap somewhere or the other in accommodating them and validating their identities as artists. And with the onset of the global pandemic, it has become even harder for musicians and artists, in general, to win their daily bread and butter through the showcase of their art.
So, what can be done to support these artists? In Oinam’s words, “Support them by buying tickets for their gigs. Pandemic was really tough on all of us but the market for independent music has shrunk to a great extent and actually it will take time to revive again but I am hopeful that the time will change.”