Pragya Pallavi on releasing India’s first openly queer-themed album, ‘Queerism’

A month after releasing India’s first openly queer music album, Pragya Pallavi urges everyone in every marginalised community to make their voices heard

Updated - June 08, 2019 08:10 am IST

Published - June 07, 2019 01:43 pm IST

Pragya Pallavi

Pragya Pallavi

Much like the title of the first track, ‘Lingering Wine’, of her album Queerism , Pragya Pallavi’s voice is all rich and dark tones brimming with artful phrasing. The R&B/Soul number with Latino undercurrents is a earworm.

If you haven’t listened to Queerism yet, there’s no time like the present. The album art itself is one of Warhol-esque aesthetics complete with neon technicolour, designed by the artiste herself.

Pragya’s diverse musical background translates well into Queerism , with EDM, tropical, jazz and ballad-like melodies flowing through all nine tracks, reflecting the mosaical nature of the world.

The album coverart of ‘Queerism’ by Pragya Pallavi

The album coverart of ‘Queerism’ by Pragya Pallavi

She admits it took about three and a half years to bring out the album, explaining she was running a business in Goa in between. Last September, when Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was struck down, it seemed like the right time to get things back into gear. The album, which has nine tracks, was released on May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, and also features a spectrum of musical genres. Pragya wrote most of the lyrics with Deepa Vasudevan, queer activist and founder of Kerala-based NGO Sahayatrika, whom she praises.

The video for ‘Lingering Wine’ was shot in Kerala in Fort Kochi, and was released two days before Valentine’s Day, now accumulating over 1,31,000 views. “It’s hot, right?” asks Pragya, in regards to the video which narrates a steamy relationship between herself and Malayalam actress Kani Kusruti. But what really makes Pragya proud is the LGBTQIA+ diversity of the crew. “It’s one of the most important parts of that video for me.”

A month after the album release, the power of hindsight is real. Had she lived elsewhere, how would the album have been undertaken? She pauses then chuckles, “Honestly, the album would have been released 10 years ago anywhere else, right? Our community here faces so much dissent.” Pragya explains that it’s almost a blessing that she’s not attached to a record label.

She came out in 2011 and it was a difficult assimilation into a society not ready for her authenticity. She was treated differently, given odd looks and she overheard people betting on whether she was a girl or a boy. But being a millennial, she found the Internet to be her main resource for information about sexual minorities. Even after Section 377 was struck down, she knew some mindsets would not change or adjust so easily, and it certainly reflects in the music industry.

Looking back, she shares that she’s faced a lot of roadblocks in the form of occasional support withdrawal because of community bias; but she insists that these challenges actually add fuel to her fire. “In fact, I’m already thinking of my next musical projects, which I’m excited to solidify soon! I think that’s natural for creators, they have a drive like that.”

Queerism features lyrics in both Hindi and English, so we ask Pragya if she’d ever be down to have more regional diversity in future music projects. She exclaims, “Why not? That would be awesome. Having shot ‘Lingering Wine’ in Kerala where most of the crew was local, I would love to broaden my collaborations across different languages and cultures within India!”

Streaming services such as Spotify, Napster and Tidal democratically house Queerism and other queer music projects, as they should. But Pragya isn’t worried about the support from streaming platforms as much as the lack of support from the greater community. To this day, funding for LGBTQIA+ artistes is practically non-existent. “It’s tough enough as a woman in this world. You never know someone’s true views — no matter their fame — about the community. But we can’t let that stop us from creating our art.”

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