Pragya Pallavi

PRAGYA PALLAVI ON COMING OUT AS A LESBIAN, HER ALBUM QUEERISM AND SAME-SEX LOVE by ASJAD NAZIR There is a lot more to Pragya Pallavi than being the first openly gay artist from India to release a commercial music album. The talented singer, songwriter and musician is a unique voice smashing glass ceilings in a way not done before. Born in Patna and now based in Mumbai, she describes herself as a gender-fluid lesbian who wants to bring together Western contemporary and traditional Indian musical influences in a way that all types of people can relate to. This month she releases the album Queerism, which is the first by an LGBTQ artist since India legalised homosexuality. The nine-track album featuring English and Hindi songs, in a variety of musical styles, is dedicated to LGBTQI+ communities all over the world. She just released the fourth single from the album, Mama I Need You, which tells the impassioned story of a gay person’s plea for acceptance from her mother. Eastern Eye caught up with the rising star to talk about her musical journey, coming out as a lesbian, new album Queerism and future plans. What first connected you to music? I was born in a musical family and learned my first ghazal from my grandmother when I was two or three years old. She had a music institute, which gave me the opportunity to learn Hindustani classical music from a very young age. I also learned kathak dance, painting and began writing songs from a young age. I was encouraged to express myself artistically. How do you look back on your musical journey? It has been a mix of joy and struggles. I was lucky to grow up in a creative environment where I got to explore different forms of Indian music and experiment with various styles. I also got influenced by western music after listening to Celine Dion’s song My Heart Will Go On. I have learned many new things and techniques during my musical journey and I am still learning. What was it like coming out as openly gay? I found my first girlfriend on social media and we had a long distance relationship for about a year. Then she visited me in India and stayed with my family. They all thought we were friends, but we were lovers. She helped me come out to my family after she left for the USA and wrote a letter to my father, which mentioned our relationship. Me and my father had a big fight and I was almost ready to leave home, but my family started accepting and supporting me. I still remember my grandmother saying, ‘I love you and that matters the most’. Did coming out affect your music career? When I came out I lost a lot of gigs because they wanted me to look hot, sexy and super feminine. I used to get so many crazy remarks because I did not dress like a normal Indian girl. I lost a big bunch of my friends. But bad things happen and we have to fight. I didn’t give up and kept fighting. Has being honest about your sexual orientation helped you creatively? Yes, because I can write about my experiences or whatever interests me without having to censor myself. My journey as a gender fluid lesbian has been a very big part of my life and given me many experiences I would like to express artistically. Your superb single Lingering Wine got a lot of attention earlier this year; what led to that? I wanted a very romantic sultry jazz/soul number on the album because I like songs by Amy Winehouse, Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone. I wanted to create something in that style. Deepa Vasudevan wrote the lyrics about the desire and flavours of love. We decided to release this same-sex love song on Valentine’s Day as the lead single from the album. After the decriminalisation of Section 377, I think it was perfect to have a lesbian love song for people to watch and listen to. The music video for Lingering Wine is very daring. Did you have any reservations about putting it out there? Not at all. It came as a natural expression of this track, which is a sultry romantic song that is ultimately about kisses. Since I am describing myself as a queer artist and this song is about same-sex love, it would seem cowardly to not include kissing in the video. Luckily, my co-actor was also comfortable with it. How important was it for you to show same-sex love in that music video? It was super important. I am a lesbian and I wanted to express my feelings through the song Lingering Wine. The main line from the chorus is ‘your kisses like lingering wine’, so it would not be right to not show the passion of two women kissing, especially after getting our legal freedom. We were told we might have to change the kissing scene because the censor board would object in India, but, luckily, the Lingering Wine video is available online, so everyone can watch it globally. Would you say you are fearless? Yes, I am fierce and fearless. Tell us about your album Queerism? I wanted to create something different, meaningful and powerful. So when I started thinking about my first album, I found myself wanting to write about being queer and the experience of it. I wanted to share my experiences and dedicate this album to LGBTQIA+ communities across the world. Queerism is the first LGBTQIA+-themed album to release from India. It is a multi-genre album. The nine-track album’s lyrics talk about the struggles of queer people, celebrates the decriminalisation of LGBTQIA+ identities in India and addresses issues such as millennial feminism, social justice, global warming, suicide prevention and love. Tell us, what was the biggest challenge of putting it together? It was not at all difficult to write songs about homosexuality. I am happy that Section 377 got struck down, but even if it hadn’t, I was still going to release this album. I started working on it in 2015. I was thinking about releasing the single Mama I Need You, then thought let’s make a full-fledged album. We don’t have any record label backing us, so it is super difficult in terms of money, resources and marketing. Tell us more… It isn’t easy if you are not a part of any big record company. You don’t get proper air plays on big radio stations or crazy marketing to hit iTunes or Spotify charts. The whole industry is a big money game. We have a good product and really hope to get the right amplification and recognition for it. Tell us, how much are the songs based on personal experiences? Each song is based on personal experiences in one way or the other. All of the queer-themed songs like Lingering Wine, Mama I Need You and Queer It Up are related to my experiences as a homosexual. Girls You Rule is kind of a feminist anthem. Izzat De is a song, which is based on my beliefs and politics. Then there is a track about the environment and another titled Orange Sun, which talks about suicide prevention because I have lost close people to suicide. Who are you hoping connects with the album? Queer and trans people all over the world, millennials, women, south Asians and anyone who loves good and diverse music. You have a soulful voice, but what music dominates your music collection? It’s a very big playlist. I like listening to anything from old Bollywood, jazz, ghazals and Sufi music to EDM, disco, rock and hip hop. I like different kinds of music and can’t narrow it down. What is the master plan going forward? I want to touch as many hearts and souls as I can through my music. I want to grow and move ahead. I want people to recognise me for my art. We are trying hard to amplify the music album Queerism in whatever way we can and let me tell you, it is not easy. We would like Queerism to get the right kind of recognition, not just because it is the first LGBTQIA+ album from India or that it is an indie release, but because it is a good music album covering real issues. I would really love to tour and perform globally. Let us see how everything unfolds. I need support and love from everyone. What is your biggest motivation as an artist? I have had a very strong desire to be known for my music and to share it with the world since childhood. I am very intense about it and that intensity keeps me going. I also feel like I owe my family and loved ones, so that is also a very big motivation for me to make it. I want to achieve something so that I can support people who are struggling. How has life been like for the gay community since the Indian government legalised homosexuality? On one hand, there has been a sense of openness, visibility and freedom. That sense of freedom gives me confidence with my album and we see more queer and trans people participating in political processes. We see more people coming out about their identities and some say that the change in law made their families and friends more accepting of them. On the other hand, I know many people who are still struggling, being killed, committed suicides, jobless and rejected by their families. It is not enough for the law to change. Social and cultural attitudes need to change too. But, still, the legal victory is important and cannot be taken for granted. It didn’t come easy, and our fight is still on. You directed acclaimed lesbian movie Confusion, which has been viewed over nine million times on YouTube and won you an award. Is filmmaking something you will pursue further? Yes, I am already working on a new script for a feature film. Why should we pick up the new album Queerism? Because Queerism will entertain you and take you on a musical journey through a kaleidoscope of genres. I hope this album is especially meaningful for queers, brown people and across generations. I want people to believe that they can do anything. This album is my attempt at doing that. Why do you love music? The sole reason is, music is my life! Mama I Need You by Pragya Pallavi and her album Queerism are out now. Visit Facebook: @pragyapallavi2018, Twitter: @PragyaPallavi14, Instagram: @Pragya.pallavi and