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Collage of eight pictures of eight different people. The photos show them in different poses: smiling, singing, or simply posing for a passport photo.
CategoriesMusic Dance and SexualityVoices

Songs of the Caravan…Journey of the Spirit : India’s First Audio Album Sung by Transgender Women

Music is a universal language. It has no gender. It belongs to everyone. For certain communities’ music has been a way of healing as well finding some joy in their otherwise struggle-ridden lives. Transgenders or trans women, are largely ostracised and demeaned in mainstream society. People know them as community artistes to sing and dance at weddings and other functions of the ‘mainstream’. They have been used extensively as comic characters in films with very little identity of their own in society.

Over the last ten years, many people including the influential ones from the transgender community have been fighting for their rights with substantial success. From a transgender former mayor in Bhopal, to a radio jockey in Bangalore and an actress in Pondicherry, trans women have come a long way to free themselves from social misconstruance. It is a well-begun journey to empower and establish respect for the trans people within ‘mainstream’ society. From organising Kinnar games to constituting ‘transgender welfare boards’ in each state as well as including trans people in the ‘Other Backward Classes’ under the ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India, small steps are being taken to assist the community.

One of the primary challenges that still remains is to dispel the widespread false notions about the community and create acceptance at social and political levels.

It is to create this awareness of them as independent, talented and empowered women that we at the Jeevan Trust planned the ‘Songs of the Caravan’, a unique album, where for the first time nine transgender people from all over India have come together on a professional platform to sing, celebrate and establish their voices not only as professional artistes and singers but also as bold and spirited individuals.

The journey to create the album was a roller coaster ride. The album is sponsored by Planet Romeo Foundation, The Netherlands, an organisation that works for promoting the rights of sexual minorities the world over, in association with Jeevan Trust, a non profit organisation working to promote socially responsible media and Abhivyakti foundation, India working on issues of HIV and sexual health. Jeevan Trust has been working on mainstreaming the issues that have so far not been given their due like disability, gender etc. Working with these participants was an eye opening experience and we have got some wonderful recordings done from all over India. We hope people will appreciate everyone’s effort.

From initial queries about the motives of producing the album, to the distribution of finances, revenue and whether we are exploiting their cause for personal gains, every query of the selected candidates was answered in the most cordial manner. We learnt that many participants in the past have been duped or mistreated by people who wanted to cash in on their cause. Everyone came on board after a thorough discussion.

We were fortunate to get in touch with Amitava Sarkar, a transgender woman from Kolkata who is also working with the community at a national level. Her support and guidance through this process was very valuable. The artistes were encouraged to choose copyright-free songs of their liking in a language of their choice.The recordings were done at the state level and all artistes were fully compensated for all expenses and training for the album. The recordings were then mastered at New Delhi.

Many participants shared their stories of discrimination they experienced while growing up. Akkai Padmashali said, “I was told to leave my music classes as the teacher got complaints by parents of other kids, that the kids are not comfortable studying with me”. Kanta from Manipur who has sung 2 songs in the album said, “I was rarely given acceptance by friends or family. But I have stuck to what I believe in”.

The album has 13 songs from nine states in India, including Manipur, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, giving the album a pan-India flavour. The songs include folk songs, love songs, devotional and ‘badhai’ songs. Self-written and composed songs are also part of the album. The songs have been sung in Carnatic music style, Hindustani music style, Rabindra Sangeet, and jazz and blues genres have also been incorporated. The songs include the popular Rabindranath Tagore song ‘Jodi tor’ and a popular Kannada hymn in praise of Goddess LakshmiBhagyada Lakshmi Baramma’.

The songs in the album have been graciously reviewed by Mr. Shamshir Rai Luthra, radio veteran and host who has been in the music industry for the last 25 years.

In spite of the initial hurdles, the singers were finally very happy to be a part of the album. Amitava Sarkar said, “It was a wonderful experience to record for the album with all the other trans sisters. I have taken five years’ training in Rabindra Sangeet and have always felt that trans people deserve many such platforms and people need to change their perceptions”. Ankur Patil from Gujarat added, “I have done five years in Hindustani classical and want to thank Jeevan trust and Abhivyakti foundation for giving us this opportunity, it is a wonderful initiative and more people should come forward to support the cause of music”.

The other participants were Akkai Padmashali from Bangalore, Kalyani from Mumbai, Hansa from Rajasthan, Rani from Delhi, Kalki Subramaniam from Tamil Nadu, Madhurima from Karnataka and L. Kanta from Manipur. “I have sung for the first time and I think I found my voice!” says an ecstatic Kalki from Pondicherry. Kalki has adouble MA in media and international relations as runs a very successful non-profit organisation, Sahodari.

The album is being launched with the support of the United Nations Development Program, UNDP on January 17, 2015 at Delhi. This is a collector’s item and is available for sale or can be downloaded from our Internet store.

For more information do log on to www.songsofthecaravan.in

Pic Source: Songs of the Caravan

इस लेख को हिंदी में पढ़ने के लिए यहाँ क्लिक करें।



Article written by:

Anubhav Gupta is Delhi-based media professional and founder of Jeevan Trust. Having done his Master’s in media from India’s leading media institute at Jamia Millia Islamia, he has worked with print, electronic and cyber media both in regular and freelance capacities. He also enjoys anchoring and editing novels. A published poet, avid traveler and photographer, Anubhav opened his non profit Jeevan trust in 2010 to promote socially responsible media, having worked extensively on gender and a rare genetic condition called albinism.