“I am still determined to fight” – Meet India’s first openly LGBTQIA+ artist Pragya Pallavi
Pragya Pallavi is someone who is not afraid to test the boundaries of anything, let alone her music.
As the first openly LGBTQIA+ artist to derive from India’s queer cultural scene, it is clear that her courage is reflected in her music, which spans from pop fusion with her new single ‘Mama I Need You’; to hip hop: a personal favourite ‘Izzat De’; to blues to acoustic power anthems…you name it she’s stepped up to the challenge. With four radically different but equally catchy and emotive singles already out, the countdown begins for the release of her debut album, beautifully named ‘Queerism’, which will be released on May 17th.
If you didn’t think that was enough creativity, Pragya also has films on her YouTube channel and is an independent artist in all respects of the word, releasing her art whether it be via music or film into the “big fat industry.” Being unsigned doesn’t stop her and it is her kind of strive and creativity that reminded myself and Chloe Lewis that there is a point to being out and proud and embracing your creativity.
It has to be said that we’ve gained a friend and Pragya will always be someone we love!
Eve-Marie: Are you excited for the release of your new debut album Queerism?
Pragya: I’m very excited about my album! It’s a very important album for me and we really worked hard on it. I really hope that this album gets what it deserves to get. It’s not a very commercialised thing, I’m not backed by a record label or anything like that. Being an independent artist kinda sucks. In terms of money, resources and everything it’s kinda difficult. However, we are putting it out together and we really hope for the best! Yes!
Chloe: Was writing and recording the album a long process?
Pragya: In 2015, some transgender bill talks were going on in India and it was all over the news because it was a very serious matter. During that time, I was alone in the flat and I thought that I should do something for the community. Then we started working on the first song, a coming out song, ‘Mama I Need You’. I was originally just going to release a single but after finishing this coming out song, I was involved in an accident and was bedridden for six months. This became a positive because I made three more songs in that time and wanted to release an EP. When we were travelling to Canada, I researched a lot about music and read a lot and there was a definite difference between being in India and travelling to a Western country. I was really glad to travel there, it is a very beautiful, open and free country that gave me a lot of new ideas. Then I wanted to do a whole album and we started working on the songs from there and yeah! We’re still working.
Eve-Marie: It’s really exciting! Is it okay if you talk through Section 377 which made sexual activities “against the order of nature” illegal in India and the significance of the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the subsequent rejection of Section 377 by the Supreme Court of India on the 6th September 2018?
Pragya: Well, Section 377 was a law that meant that we could not be open about who we are. You were not free to be yourself, they used to bully you. After the abolition of Section 377, I won’t say it has completely changed because my country is very rigid and has old-fashioned values. It is difficult to make people understand. Even though the law itself is good for the community there are still a lot of problems happening such as trans people being murdered and it’s very sad. Despite the decriminalisation, it does not stop these kind of incidents from happening. We are progressing towards something good but we are still seeing so many people who are having a lot of problems and facing a lot of discrimination. It’s very sad. There is a lot of struggle in India and we have a lot more to fight for. It’s just the beginning.
Chloe: Your upcoming album Queerism is said to encompass a lot of genres, what would you say you are influenced by?
Pragya: Yes that’s true. All the songs are from different genres like the first single ‘Lingering Wine’ is a jazzy soul song and the third track I’m releasing, ‘Izzat De’, is a hip-hop song. ‘Izzat De’ in English means “Give Respect.” That song is a very important song in terms of me myself being from India and seeing so many disparities – communalism, casteism, more than 80% of people being impoverished, the women being treated as second class citizens. ‘Izzat De’ is politically and socially strong and I’m releasing it around the time of the Parliamentary elections in India. Hopefully we can have less hatred in the world. A month back, my country and Pakistan were on the verge of war. I wanted to write a song that talks about things wider than the LGBTQIA+ community and the fact that we are all people, we are all human beings. I know I am a gender fluid lesbian but before that I’m a human being.
Eve-Marie: Of course. I love that message. Are you hoping the release of your album Queerism on May 17th will bring attention to the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia which is on the same day and the fight of the Indian LGBTQIA+ community to get to this point?
Pragya: I want that very much! I really want this album to get the kind of recognition it deserves. I know it isn’t a very high-end production but I feel that the content is strong. Being a woman, I think the art should be recognised, I should be recognised as an artist, not just an LGBT artist but a real artist. The album is going to be released on the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia because this album is talking about the whole LGBTQIA+ community and it caters to everyone. It’s an album which is supporting my community, it says “do whatever the f*** you wanna do!” We are creative people, we are gonna show you guys who we are and what we can do! Let’s make the world a better place.
Chloe: Do you feel that you are representing the LGBTQIA+ community on a worldwide scale?
Pragya: I think I am representing them but I don’t know if people think I’m representing them *laughs*.
Eve-Marie: What was it like for you growing up in India as a gay person?
Pragya: I came out in the year 2010 because India is a country that is very narrow minded. As a kid, I was quite good at everything, I was not thinking of myself as anything, just a girl. I used to have fantasies about my teachers, I was in an all girl’s school and my teachers were all women, older women. I had a lot of fantasies but I did not know what was going on in my head. There was no-one for me to talk to or tell. However, my Grandma told me there were lesbians and gay people and I was like “okay” but I was not thinking and didn’t see these people around me. When I went into college, I had a lot of boyfriends but I was not feeling any attraction to them, one of them even said that we were checking out women together! Therefore, I started to explore my sexuality and met my first girlfriend through the internet. She was American and I came out because she sent a very beautiful letter to my Papa. I had a lot of problems because my Papa was a lot more accepting than my Grandma and my Mum. It took me a month to convince them that I was still the same person. The sad story was that after I came out and everyone had accepted me for who I was, my girlfriend broke up with me. Whateverrrrr. I had a lot of difficulty coming out on social media, my friends began to unfollow me and I started losing gigs in the clubs. People would say, “why are you dressing like a boy?” Women were making bets about whether I was a boy or a girl. It was very difficult but now I don’t give a damnnnn. Accept me, don’t accept me, to hell with you!
Eve-Marie: That’s the attitude we all need to have.
Chloe: We love ‘Lingering Wine’ so much – what inspired that song?
Pragya: Thank you! ‘Lingering Wine’ is a song that talks about same-sex love. I’m a lesbian and I love women. I actually composed the song first and then made the music and then showed the music to my partner who is the lyricist. She was in Canada at the time on a winery tour in Montreal. When she actually started to write the lyrics, you can see that the use of ‘Lingering Wine’ is reflecting the romance and is in reference to her trip also. “Your sweet kisses, linger like wine.” I wanted to have the music be retro style, old school jazz and soul mixed together, an infusion of different things. It came out quite good I feel! The woman who is acting with me in the music video is a very famous actress and it was so nice because she was very ready to do the video and we were very free with what we did. The director was my partner, the camera person a lesbian, our makeup artist a trans woman and my brother helped with the musicality. I have an amazing group of people I feel.
Eve-Marie: We were listening to ‘Girls You Rule’ as well – how important do you feel Feminism and female empowerment in the environment you live in and the wider world in general?
Pragya: Purely by listening to the song and the lyrics, you can understand how important this is to me. Female presence and empowerment is so important! Leaders talk a big talk about women, but don’t know how to treat and behave towards them. Women are struggling a lot, in terms of having a job, there is not equal pay! Tell me any recognised female music producers? It’s almost impossible because there are always these monsters who are trying to subdue us in any field. This song actually came from that. Women rule the world. Without women you can’t exist. Respect women, respect what they do. They are the best!
Chloe: Marriage equality still doesn’t exist in India today. Do you think that is the next important step for the LGBTQIA+ community there?
Pragya: The poverty rate is too high. All these political parties make big promises to get the votes. They are for the rich people, they are never for the poor people. They get their funding from the rich people. These people cheat the poorest in society with big dreams that they will get jobs, their loans will be waived off…oh my how they fool people. I hope we can create a society where people can at least eat 3 meals a day and have a place to sleep and shelter that they don’t have to fight for. People die because of the extreme temperatures every day. Floods, earthquakes, so many things. I just hope that things can get better. I know that just by writing songs and singing I can’t change people’s mindsets but I can just try and inspire people.
Eve-Marie: Finally, how important do you think it is to celebrate love?
Pragya: Celebrating love is very important! Love is the essence of life. Live for love! Without love you can’t have anything. It’s as important as eating, breathing, the water around us, as everything in the world. It is one of the most important necessities.
We love you Pragya!
To listen to Lingering Wine go here
To listen to Izzat De go here
To listen to Mama I Need You go here
To listen to Girls You Rule go here
For Pragya’s official website, go here