Beyond gender

Coming soon is a world music album comprising songs by nine transgender artists from across India

Updated - May 23, 2013 07:26 pm IST

Published - May 23, 2013 07:22 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

A message in their music: Tentative cover for the album.

A message in their music: Tentative cover for the album.

For many of us they are no more than mere gatecrashers, who land up at our doors post-wedding and post childbirth, entertain us with a song-and-dance package and then force us to part with some money. As that tradition wanes away, we now find them even on traffic intersections begging. Some of them operate as sex workers too. Since it comforts us a great deal to stereotype, we give them a definite definition and forget. A lot of work is currently on to alter this attitude of the society against the transgender community and it may take long to achieve that. But people like Anubhav Gupta persist. Anubhav Gupta’s Jeevan Trust, an NGO working for the underprivileged, in collaboration with Abhivyakti Foundation and their main supporter Planet Romeo Foundation, pushing for the rights of LGBT communities, will soon be releasing an album called “Songs of the Caravan”. What constitutes this album are the nine songs that have been sung by nine transgender artists from across the country. While five of them are trained in music, the rest are not but they all come together to create what Anubhav Gupta calls a “world music album”. “The idea is that transgender (artists) can appreciate music. They are not for us to get entertained. They are much more than street performers,” says Gupta, who has put together the whole project.

A meeting with Amitava Sarkar, a Kolkata-based transgender working on trans-activism, led to the idea. Trained in Rabindra Sangeet, she connected Gupta with other trained and musically inclined transwomen from her community. For the album, she has recorded “Jodi tor”, a popular classic by Rabindranath Tagore. “It’s by sheer chance that we got five classically trained transwomen but the remaining ones are not. Some of them are mediocre and amateur like Hansa who is from a modest background and runs a safety-pin business but what unites them is that they all have a passion for music,” says Gupta.

Bangalore-based Akkai Padamshaili, a human rights activist, had learnt music for only nine months before she was told by her teacher that she can’t teach her any further. “Other students felt uncomfortable in my presence and that’s why my teacher had to tell me to stop coming with great difficulty. I have always wanted to be a singer so I am now looking for a new teacher.” Akkai has penned and composed songs earlier but for the album she chose a Lakshmi stuti “Bhagyada Lakshmi Baramma” in Kannada penned by Purandaradasa many centuries back. “It has been sung by M.S. Subbulakshmi but my rendition is very different. While she sings in very low voice, I sing in a high pitch.”

Ankur Patil of Gujarat is another trained artist — she has completed Visharad in music — who has sung her own song “Hu pankhi banine udu”. Kanta Leisangthem from Manipur holds a two-year diploma in Hindustani Classical Music, and Madhurima from Andhra Pradesh, who sings a self-composed Lakshmi stuti in the album, also has a degree in Hindustani Classical Music.

People like Rani, Kalyani, Hansa and Kalki Subramanium form the group who aren’t trained. Auroville-based Kalki Subramanium has sung an English track which she penned herself. “I am not a trained singer but friends tell me that I can be an opera singer. I was in the leading role in ‘Narthaki’ in 2010 and I am now working in another film. I have an organisation for the transgender community called Sahodari Foundation. So yes, I am an empowered transwoman but I am one of the few privileged ones because of the education my parents gave me. Music has no gender and transgenders too are beyond the boundaries of gender.”

The album is 80 per cent complete with digitisation soon to take place. “We intend doing videos for a couple of songs. We plan to release the songs on digital and hard copy formats that will be available in various stores as well as websites like flipkart, etc. at the national and international level. We are hoping for an early August release but we have no funds for that. So right now we are looking for funds.”

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