Remembering MS

A new voice, a new beginning

Music composer Shamir Tandon on 6 Pack Band, India’s first all-transgender music group

“There are a few things that you do that go with you to your grave, and then there are others that make your grandchildren proud,” says music composer Shamir Tandon, thoughtfully. His recent project, the first all-transgender band, 6 Pack Band, which he launched earlier this year, belongs to the latter.

While the composer, who is best known for his music in award-winning films such as Page 3, Corporate and Traffic Signal, has a multitude of projects, including albums, jingles, consulting work (for Universal Music Group), and more, in his kitty, the curation of the band was probably one of the most gratifying projects so far. “Our aim, at the macro level, was to change society’s outlook towards transgenders. They are sidelined as just people who either beg on the streets or are involved in the flesh trade. We wanted to change that,” he says, over a call from Mumbai. And they did, to an extent.

Today, the six members of the band, who earlier didn’t even have a home, are celebrities, especially in Maharashtra. They are invited to several colleges to perform, and asked for autographs. The band, which is backed by Y-Films (the youth wing of Yash Raj Films), was awarded the prestigious Cannes Grand Prix Glass Lion Award, and more recently, won nine awards at Emvies 2016, organised by The Advertising Club Bombay.

Shamir observed that this slow rise to fame built in them a sense of self-confidence. “Their lives have changed massively. One of them told me that she was shunned from her house when she was little, and now, after seeing her alongside stars (such as Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan and Sonu Nigam), her brother has gotten in touch with her, asking her to come and stay with the family,” he says. “Going forward, we want the Government to give them equal rights, give them loans and employment opportunities, because they deserve it,” he adds.

The road to such a future might be long, but Shamir is happy to see how far they’ve come. “Before the launch, we did not know how to make an announcement calling for participants. Unlike for bands like the all-girl band Viva, or reality shows like Indian Idol or Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, where you can advertise in the paper, radio or social media sites, in this case, we did not know if our target participants were net-savvy or even read the papers. So, we started organically looking for them,” he says. Shamir’s team went to remote parts of Maharashtra — railway platforms, traffic signals, and inside local trains — and when they found them, they stopped to ask: ‘Do you sing?’ The reply was usually a curt ‘Are you making a fool out of us?’ “These are people who were abandoned by their families at a young age, so the lack of trust is natural. Step two was to convince them that we were serious about the project,” he says.

After about nine months, and 200 names in the list, the auditions finally began. “Since they came from the lower economic strata, they had not had the luxury of getting trained in music. So, we just looked for gifted singers, and chose six,” he says.

The challenge came in more ways than one. “We found it hard to find a rehearsal hall. In Andheri, when we sought permission to rent a particular hall, the watchman said that transgenders were not allowed. This was disturbing for all of us,” he says. But the experience only cemented their will to bring out the album. The playlist includes an interesting mix — a love song, a dance number, a cover of Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’, and more. “There is one that conveys a beautiful message. It uses the verse ‘Awwal Allah Noor Uppaya…’ from the Guru Granth Sahib. It aptly translates as: God created all of us, the same light is shone on all of us. Then why demarcate us as good or bad?” he says.

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 2:03:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/A-new-voice-a-new-beginning/article14393255.ece

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