Queer pitch


Musicians and academics try to understand and define music’s queer side

I am not musically literate, so to speak, but my day rarely goes by without a song playing somewhere within the peripheries of my living or working space. Naturally then, when I glanced upon an event in Birmingham Weekender’s itinerary with the mention of queer sound, my interest piqued. It was a fortunately warm afternoon in Birmingham and the gathering at the Lower Bar in the city’s town hall was no different. Organised by the Fluid Festival which aims to discuss and celebrate several aspects of queerness and gender fluidity.

Discussing queer

From R-L: Michael Wolters, Henry McPherson, Rolf Hind, Darryl Bullock and Rebekah Ubuntu

Five panelists took to the speaking area. Rebekah Ubuntu- a London-based electronic musician and producer, Henry McPherson- a composer and performer based in Glasgow, Darryl Bullock, an author and publisher from Bristol, CN Lester- a trans-musician and writer from London, Rolf Hind- a pianist and composer from London and Michael Wolters- composer and faculty at the newly opened Birmingham Conservatoire. Here’s the full text of what the speakers have to say:

Keep up with all the exciting stuff the Fluid Festival is upto here: http://www.fluidfestival.org/

Q.1: What does “queer” sound like? 


Rebekah Ubuntu:  98% of people studying music are men and about 98% of the student body studying and working on their voice are women. So naturally, the first question I’m asked is if I am a vocalist and that’s an unfortunate assumption. Queer in music, therefore, is about breaking down those assumptions. People are surprised that I know my technology and that I produce, mix and master. Queerness is more than your sexual orientation. Your music will sound like the components of your personality and queer is about dismantling structures that have handicapped our understanding of art.


Queerness is a call to protest, to resist. There is always something that has to be challenged – Rebekah Ubuntu

Darryl Bullock: Queer has been the sound of a century of people  lgbtweb-04making music. You have opinion leaders in each genre of music. Lot of people assume that homosexuality began in the 60’s and associate the history of queer sound also with that timeline. As a community, we’re making records for about hundred years now. We are creating music and empowering people.

Check out his book, David Bowie made me gay, here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/David-Bowie-Made-Me-Gay/dp/0715651927


Queer is empowerment and comfort. Queer sound is about someone putting an arm around you and telling you that no matter how shitty your life is, things will get better- Darryl Bullock


Rolf Hind: A lot of people who I happen to know very well in classical music questioned the need to have a discussion like this.  Music is often abstract so people wonder what’s so queer about that. The 19th century impression of western music is very structural and patriarchal in a sense. There’s an expression in music called feminine ending. We are trying to go at it bit by bit and break those structures.

So the question really is, Is there a way to make queer about the sound rather than the agenda?- Rolf Hind

Henry McPherson: Within our tradition, people don’t consider it necessary avatars-000204320981-be1o1x-t500x500to address queerness. Classical music has been used by politics, spirituality. But sometimes music written by a woman or by a queer person isn’t given as much importance for a number of strange reasons. Queer stands for silence within the classical music tradition for me. People at the top of music have invariably been white and men. And we hear people say, oh that composer is gay, we can make that out in his sound/music. So the challenge is to fight the system from within without coming off as abrasive. Discussing queer issues or other issues is considered distracting. “Why is it important to bring this in”, people ask. Our identities are obviously going to come out in your work, through your work and your gender presentation.

Queer, for me, stands for silence but hopefully not for long- Henry McPherson


Michael Wolters: I’m a gay German artiste. I think I can best describe queer for me, by looking back at when gay marriage was legalized. In the 60’s, we were fighting to be different. I haven’t been waiting for the moment for someone to allow me to marry. For me, it’s important to continue to say that what I do and who I am is different and not lose that narrative. My pieces were always different, the hardest piece in the set. That difference could be because of skill, or whatever else. I don’t like working with established ensembles because you don’t difference in structure. I find it important to challenge composers to find solutions that are not confirmed to rules and norms, to create new structures and constantly keep creating. Rigidity is an issue.

For me, it’s important to be different. I am not waiting for a moment for establishments to tell me that I am finally allowed to do something – Michael Wolters

CN Lester: The problems are particularly hard for trans artistes. The three barriers that Imaxresdefault1 can underline for us are: lack of foundational, educational support and structural barriers including societal policing. Trans men, for instance, were told that going for testosterone would be that you won’t be able to sing. That’s a myth. Societal ignorance has cost several trans musicians either their career or their identity. There’s always an experience of prejudice at various levels. I have been told that I don’t fit in classical music and i was completely dismissed. There was disgust. There are so many artistes who struggle through college and end up in conservatoire and are crushed by the rejection from their peers and end up becoming doctors or writers. You need a network to flourish. If your network rejects you, what does one do? For instance, at a recent gig, all musicians had to bring passports. Unfortunately for the trans people who arrived, their physical presentations didn’t match their passports so they were subject to a strip-search. They ultimately ended up not attending the gig at all.

To me the embodiment of being a queer artiste isn’t silence but to be silenced- CN Lester

Q.2 : How does one teach queer sound? 

Rebekah: I have been socialized explicitly and implicitly that music production isn’t for women. People can be patronizing and that socialization with men (that’s a whole issue by itself; let’s not go into that) needs a change. Your music school has a majority of men. It can be quite intimidating. At the workshops, often you have to silently find people like you to collaborate. Music doesn’t exist in a vacuum. You’re not disconnecting from structure or convention, merely finding your own way of fitting in.

I love classical music but I don’t feel represented by that music, especially in this country- Rebekah

CN: I do a little teaching myself. I have dealt with voice types that go against set traditions- like women who wanted to try baritone or men who wanted to try soprano. The challenge is to present it to people who have no knowledge of this presentation, especially when some cannot afford a mismatch in their presentations. Teaching queer sound is an ongoing process. There’s not too many solutions but it’s a very progressive process. One major problem, however, is lack of supply of teachers who you can actually approach and tap your identity and sound without affecting the other.

Michael: The world of composition is tiny, conventional and maybe even a little fascist space. There needs to be the space to discuss and improvise on pieces. The ultimate aim is to better the piece and that’s something we need to take forward.

Q.3: Where does money go in art grants? Where does queerness play a role?

Rebekah:I feel like things have aligned for me well. British institute of modern music has a very modern and liberal program centering around the interest and identity of the student. I’ve been doing research about the pioneers of African futurism. It brings today my gender fluidity with my blackness. I got a good budget, total creative freedom( when does that ever happen) and went around to do my thing. Because of colonialism and those structures, and subsequent white guilt, I just think a lot of people need to die off. Maybe then we will see some fresh air, see some existing structures being broken.

Henry: In Glasgow we have one conservatoire that is for the entire of Scotland. Despite the various identities, despite the intersectional nature of the body, there are still struggles. We don’t see where the money is going and don’t think student ventures are as well funded. The conservatoire has been quick to put its name on somethings and shy away from some others. I’m white, gay and they can handle it as long as I don’t talk about it. But others who have inter-crossing identities have it harder, including just getting access to that education. The queer scene has always been underground so how do you get it out for someone to associate their name and backing on it?

Q.4: Invisibility has been a survival tool for queers. Today, that’s one of the main barriers. How does one overcome it? 

Rebekah: There have been a whole host of underground queer and Queer of Color nights in London. These get a lot of media attention as well, so much so that Victoria and Albert museum and their associated media wings have also paid attention. So that’s a traditionalist imperial conservative power brushing shoulders with people looking to go beyond boundaries. I don’t feel isolated, personally. So I feel lucky. People need to make their own spaces but that happens only if they feel welcome to create these spaces. I had it easy but there’s a lot of work to do. Lot of festivals have empowered people. Those institutions didn’t make the people it’s vice versa. But we can’t rely on them. There is a constant need to keep creating.

Darryl: The internet and social media are critical here to make these kind of spaces. For more flexible musical genres, their own rooms and their own spaces are being used in ways like never before. Maybe people don’t have resources or confidence, but these platforms are making a difference and empowering musicians.

Henry: Social media can be great to connect but also completely isolating. Social media can be a huge force for good but it can also create alienating pockets. Everything can become exclusionary but the internet so far has been positive.



  • Almost every narrative of a queer artiste is so much about people who have a lot of power and influence deciding to give you a chance, besides other part of their struggle, and that’s as scary as inspiring
  • The queer concept moulded itself as a deliberately vague one where anyone who felt like they didn’t belong anywhere else, be it axis of impressions, politics or social scenarios would have a place to belong.
  • Queer became about going beyond categorical descriptions, binaries. Being queer eventually became about going against this sense of purity around structures, irrespective of the field in question.

From Calcutta to the world


In conversation with Santanu Datta and Pierre-Antoine Lasnier from the Santanu Datta trio post their first gig in the city

17758308_1002315649869176_2450204270676053441_oIt’s a usual long and sultry day in the city. The Eduardo Michelin Auditorium at Alliance Francaise just about begins to fill up and audiences have come expecting respite, some from a long day and others from the long drawn monotony in contemporary music. The stage is set, a classical guitar, a bass guitar and tablas taking their spots on stage. Soon enough, the air is filled with a confluence of sound- ranging from the age-old melodies of Europe to odes to love and rain emanating from the soils of Bengal. Essences of Mozart and Tagore make their way across the room as Santanu Datta, Pierre-Antoine Lasnier and Subhasis Bhattacharya from the Santana Datta Trio make the evening their own.

Santanu Datta 1Tracing his penchant for Indian classical music to his mother, Santanu’s tryst with music has been laced with academic prowess. With a graduate degree from IIT, he moved to Paris to pursue his true calling, spending five years learning the nuances of western classical music, adding to his already rich skill set. “What I am doing right now is not fusion, I am looking at ways to combine Hindustani classical with western classical, to try and make the tiny details come together,” says the classical guitarist and singer. We sense the hesitation to associate with the word fusion, a sentiment shared by various performers across the city. “Everyone throws this term around. What we’re doing here is focussing on the core concepts of different musical cultures. If you’re playing a raga, you need to maintain the melodic movement and at the same time try to find a way and harmonise it as well. It’s a technical task and it isn’t just about superimposing different music. It’s about finding a way to make everything work correctly and independently,” he adds with a giggle. Having been associated with Pierre for quite a while, Santanu was introduced to Subhasis by the latter, thereby paving the way for a unique musical association. “We have three people from different backgrounds- jazz, western classical and Indian classical. So I thought it would be interesting to see these cultures come together,” he adds. This, however, turned out to be the biggest challenge in the process of mixing styles, as Santanu points out. “Bringing our philosophies together was challenging. In western classical music, you can have a little rubato and a nice melody with a liberal tempo (which isn’t exactly acceptable in Indian classical). In jazz, you play in the moment; you go along with the harmony. I don’t work that way. My harmony is fixed, bass is fixed. So we had a lot to figure out. We needed to see how much each of us could be liberal and just how much and when exactly we could improvise without ruining the essences of our styles,” he reminisces.

A sociology project brought Pierre-Antoine Lasnier to Kolkata four years ago, a move that he calls life-changing.Pierre 2 Having begun training in western classical music at the age of 5, Pierre found a penchant for jazz by the time he turned 14.  Currently learning Hindustani classical music under Debashish Bhattacharya, the bassist points out, “Before coming to India, I had a very sketchy idea about Indian music. Coming here has opened me to this culture and it has brought me fresh perspectives. It opens some doors you never thought existed.” While Santanu seems visibly excited by the prospects of imparting a few lessons on contemporary classical music, Pierre is clear about staying away from the tutor’s seat. “To teach a subject, knowing the subject isn’t enough, you need to have the skill and propensity to be a good tutor. In that sense, I don’t think I make the cut,” he says with modesty, a perspective Santanu begs to contest. “Before you explain something to your students, you need to understand it in its entirety. One of the duties of being in this business is to pass on your craft. It’s a skill that needs to go through across generations. And to tell it well, you need to know yourself and your art and teaching helps fine tune that knowledge, not just for the student but for the tutor as well. In my opinion, it’s a mandate for musicians.” Currently working on a few film scores simultaneously, he is also quick to add, “Film music has brought down production value and quality of music in this country. The focus is on the story and on keeping audiences engaged without distracting them. In that frame, it’s hard for music quality to take centre stage. Director isn’t concerned about your musical language, and he has no reason to be. His audience is his priority. So it’s a little inevitable in some cases but some really take that for granted,” he rues.

Besides being busy with their tour with Alliance Francaise and independent projects, Santanu promises an album in the coming months as well as a tour to Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, a plan that’s still on the drawing board. As they spell out their plans, we wonder how hard it is to stay original and stand out from the crowd in the country’s musical space, to which Pierre responds, “It’s more a matter of communication. If you’re true to yourself, your history and your music, originality isn’t difficult at all. But that is the hard part; it’s easy to get swayed in the process.” As they take to the stage, Pierre sums up the constant process of creating music saying, “When a non-music oriented person asks what this whole ‘finding one’s sound’ is about, we equate it to happiness. It’s not a goal or an ambition, but a journey.”


Musical inspirations:

Pierre: Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Debashish Bhattacharya- my guru

Santanu: Johann Sebastian Bach, Rabindranath Tagore, Paco de Lucía

One style you want to incorporate into your music:

Pierre: Western classical music

Santanu: Jazz and flamenco

One musical style outside your comfort zone

Santanu: EDM, too mechanical for me, I am quite old fashioned that way

Pierre: I am familiar with techno because I have studied it back in university so I guess African music. The songs are amazing to listen to but are so hard to recreate.

One instrument you want to master

Pierre: Has to be the trumpet, I’ve tried and it’s not child’s play

Santanu: Piano, but the sad bit is, classical guitar requires me to grow nails which I can’t have to play the piano. Maybe, someday. Oh and the cello too.

PUBLISHED LINK: http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/chennai/2017/apr/02/a-jugalbandi–of-guitar-strings–tabla-beats-1589086.html


For something to stay relevant, it needs to update itself : Nachiket Barve


If you were one of the people seated in the enviable first row at the Amazon India Fashion Week, you couldn’t have missed a stunning black sheer sari complete with metallic embellishments.

Designed by Nachiket Barve, the sari was an eccentric creation of a designer who stays true to his roots but also strays beyond the rule book to create awe-inspiring originals for the ramp with his eponymous label.

Basking in the success of his Autumn/Winter 2016 line, Tulipmania, we gear up to catch the ace designer spell out his wardrobe mandates for the season at Phoenix MarketCity, as part of its beauty and fashion interactive session — Glam’d Up today.


Nachiket Barve’s x-ray sari for the Amazon India Fashion Week 2017

A familiar face in the city’s sartorial scene, Nachiket is excited at the prospect of heading back to the city. “Chennai women keep it real in fashion and are truly inquisitive consumers, sticking to tradition but always open to try something new,” he says. Unlike his dedication to tulips, evident in his last collection, his latest — Fiori dabbles with florals in general.


“I noticed that I was sticking to quite a sombre palette in my collections, so this one will see brighter spring colours and motifs, dedicated to no flower in particular,” he quips. While Tulipmania saw an extensive use of merino wool, a design choice for which he bagged the International Woolmark Prize last year, Fiori is more about breezier silhouettes and hues across other material as well.

“The fabric per se interests me, but I am not restricted to it in any way. I am looking to go beyond merino wool and it’s a constant learning process,” adds the Mumbai-based designer.

While he chooses to keep mum about the line until it hits stores here, one can certainly expect the quality and workmanship that have become synonymous with his label. “Workmanship and hard work are enviable attributes. Why wouldn’t you want that to show in your work? I like seeing the fruit of labour in my work. This is my USP,” he observes.

Getting back to the sari, we ask the 36-year-old if he prefers the six-yard wonder in its traditional form or with a contemporary touch. “For something to stay relevant, it needs to update itself and keep up with the times. Like I have always said, I strive to be timely and timeless in my work. I think this garment is also one that has the power to balance both. It all depends on what you like but to survive, everything must adapt.”

He does, however, lament about the wastage in the industry. “Rather than being bothered about what we’re making garments with, we need to see how we are using manufactured garments. Social media considerably contributes to waste in our industry with trends and fads going in and out of vogue,” he adds.

Big on reinventing and reusing himself, he heralds the age of upcycling and points out that each garment has a 100 ways of being paired and styled, propping himself as an example.

If you thought democracy was dead, Nachiket’s design philosophy will give you hope. Straying away from a sort of herd mentality that is common particularly in fast fashion, he insists that one mustn’t adopt a style because it looks good on a celebrity. “There may be something that looks great on Sonam or Sonakshi but may be a disaster when one of us wears it. The key is to style according to your body type,” he adds, calling for democratisation of size in particular.

Nachiket Barve at Phoenix MarketCity 13

He is also quick to warn designers to discard the propensity to play it safe. “We are a country of maximums and minimums, in terms of size, wants and needs. There probably is no in-between. So being neutral may not be the right way to go ahead,” he asserts. While he will share valuable styling hacks for that perfect summer ensemble, he chooses to fall back on designing despite it being the harder of the two. “The responsibility of creating something from scratch is daunting but there’s no thrill like it,” he smiles.


The summer mandate

One mistake people often make during summer: overdress

Colour palette for the summer: pastels, bright colours and deep evening hues

Silhouettes to add to one’s wardrobe: asymmetrical kurtas, flowy dresses

Any element that’s a strict no: no fitting or figure hugging clothes. Just not meant for the season

Fabrics to go for: ditch the regular cotton and check out others like linen and many other climate-friendly fabric

Your go-to summer outfit: For men, linen pants, a nice summer shirt, loafers and shades. For women, perhaps a lovely floral dress. I’d keep it simple.


PUBLISHED LINK: http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/chennai/2017/mar/30/trussing-up-with-drapes-and-wraps-1587484–1.html

It’s time we acknowledged our surroundings: Pooja Chordia


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A couple of years ago, a young commerce graduate from Stella Maris headed to Paris to pursue her longstanding passion to wield the camera. There has been no turning back since.

Ahead of her first ever solo exhibition, Africa-An Awakening, Pooja Chordia says, “I was planning a solo exhibition for a long time. Considering nature has been a passion and matter of concern right from school, my photographs of wildlife were the obvious choices for my first.”

The 27-year-old’s love for all things natural began from her days at The School KFI. “Nurturing our surroundings, appreciating natural bounty — these were ideals that were engrained in our daily lessons. Many of my classmates have ultimately gone on to pursue careers that involve giving back to Earth. It’s heart-warming, in hindsight,” she opines.

The spotlight of the three-day exhibition will be photos from her travels through the African subcontinent last year, covering a range of animals from big cats to tuskers and everything big and small in between, with renowned Sharad Haksar in attendance as the guest of honour. “The sun sets quite early there. When we were returning to our camps, we spotted a leopard; we suspected it was returning fresh from a kill. Ours was an open jeep and it was dark by then and we were patiently waiting with our camera and infrared lights. We were nervous but we wanted a shot of the leopard, and we got it!” grins Pooja.

This image, with the striking eyes of the big cat in focus, would go on to become one of the prints she cherishes the most from her collection. She is, however quick to share the tale behind another print, a charging elephant calf. “Tuskers are gentle but they are massive. No one in their right minds would mess with them. We had an encounter once when a herd, which also had adults and calves, crossed our path. We waited — quietly and patiently; we didn’t want to agitate them. Every single one passed, except this one last baby who came and charged at our vehicle. It was easily the most adorable thing we saw and we have a picture of that too,” she smiles.

Incidentally, Pooja headed to the African landscapes to aid Wildlife ACT, a voluntary organisation that works with wildlife tracking and conservation. “The idea of making these prints public is to urge people to acknowledge our surroundings. We need to wake up to the need of the larger community out there,” adds the photographer.

Flipping through some of the pictures she has chosen for her show, we see a largely monochrome and warm-tinted colour palette. The 33 photographs here will be canvas-framed and available for sale from Rs 3,500 onwards.

Pooja’s tryst with Africa doesn’t seem likely to end anytime soon as she plans to head back there in April this year. Besides her landscape and fashion photography work, she is also working on a project to document heritage structures in the city for Ashvita. “I love anything with a story behind it and history has always been a favourite. This is my city and discovering its story layer by layer is something I am really excited about,” she smiles.

Published link: http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/chennai/2017/feb/28/african-wild-in-pixels-1575452–1.html