This year we are supporting London Friend. They are the UK’s oldest LGBT charity supporting the health and mental well-being of the LGBT community in and around London.
Throughout the year we will be raising awareness of this fabulous charity and the great work they do. We will also be collecting donations for them at our concerts and events, so please look for their donation buckets.
The Pink Singers ran a year-long project to highlight LGBT rights in India, in partnership with India’s first ever LGBT choir, Rainbow Voices Mumbai.
What were our goals?
In 2015, we made contact with a brand new choir in India, Rainbow Voices Mumbai (RVM). We heard about their passion for making music, how they work together and support each other, and their struggles in a hostile environment for LGBT people. We were inspired to reach out the hand of friendship.
As a charity the Pink Singers has worked with many LGBT choirs in the UK and around the world to support their work, to march together in Pride and to sing a shared message when words alone are not enough.
In India, section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalises homosexuality, with a version of the same law which existed in the UK until 1967. It was introduced under British rule in 1862 and to this day carries the threat of a decade in prison, and daily fear and discrimination. Individuals are blackmailed by the police so that, in exchange for money, their secret will be kept.
“This space, as a bisexual woman is a safe space for me. When we’re singing, it’s the only moment we feel ourselves.” – Manasie Manoj, member of RVM
So together with RVM, we planned a project to raise awareness about the reality of being queer in India; sharing music and culture by performing together in both our home cities. We aimed to:
Raise awareness about the status of LGBT rights both in India and the UK, encouraging communities from both countries to support equal rights and status for LGBT people.
Share music and culture of the Pink Singers with RVM, and vice versa, encouraging the choirs to develop and grow, to give LGBT people a space and a strong community to support vulnerable people at risk of isolation and harm.
Present joint concerts to generate positive press coverage in India and the UK, raising RVM’s profile, helping to establish their music as a vital part of the city’s cultural offer.
What we did
Part 1: Queer India Today Seminar
We organised a seminar featuring three academics from the School of African and Oriental Studies in London and members of the Pink Singers and RVM (by Skype!).
This helped us understand the similarities and differences between us, the language used, the history of section 377 being repealed and then re-introduced 4 years later. In the early stages of this work, this was important, to know just what the situation was in India, and how, if, we could help.
Part 2: Visit to perform and march in Mumbai
In January 2017, 39 Pink Singers visited Mumbai and finally met RVM in person. They welcomed us to their city, we shared stories and experienced Pride in a city without acceptance, where the participants were celebrating, but bystanders looked on, seemingly not understanding why we were there.
Our joint concert “We Shall Overcome” at the prestigious National Centre for Performing Arts was sold out, including emotional joint renditions of the title song, and “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga. The songs took on new significance in the context of our project. This was the first time RVM had organised a concert of their very own. Ashish told us:
“it brought out leadership qualities, creative and administrative abilities of choir members. We were struck that almost no families came to support the concert. One RVM member told how his parents planned to come, until they knew their son was singing with an LGBT group.
Below is a short video of our joint concert at the National Centre for Performing Arts in Mumbai.
We also joined hand in hand with Rainbow Voices Mumbai at Mumbai Pride, Queer Azaadi Mumbai.
“The Pinkies crossed the ocean to high-five and greet us like visiting family. They reminded us of the sublime words of John Mayer and Katy Perry, ‘You love who you love who you love’.” Read more on what RVM’s Siddhy had to say after reflecting on his experience following the Pinkies’ visit to Mumbai…
“Singing with and listening to the members of Rainbow Voices Mumbai was truly uplifting. Being able to spend time singing, listening, talking, and sharing stories and experiences made me realise that although we live many miles apart, we can still find common ground”. Click here to read Pinkie Claire’s blog.
“We felt accepted as we declared to the world, “I was born this way and I am not ashamed”. RVM member Aniruddha tells us about meeting the Pinkies for the first time, and feeling uplifted in the battle against Section 377, the law which criminalises homosexuality in India. Read more…
“The joint ”We Shall Overcome” concert was an emotional rollercoaster for many of us: every song sung by both choirs took on an added significance. When we sang an a capella version of “We Shall Overcome” together in English and Hindi, it was a moving show of defiance and solidarity from which I could not hold back my tears”. Pinkie Hsien shares his experience.
Part 3: Performing on stage at Pride in London, 2017
The final part of the project was the most complex, but in many ways the most important. After all the fundraising efforts, Skype meetings and long conversations with the UK visa office in Mumbai, we succeeded in bringing 11 members of RVM to London. Most of the group had never left India before so every aspect of the visit was new and exciting.
We hosted the choir in our homes, showed them the sights of London and shared Pride week together, in our city full of rainbows.
“The first time ever I flew across oceans and lands so far beyond my reach to explore freedom and equality”
It was a pleasure to bring Rainbow Voices Mumbai to the Pride in London stage in Trafalgar Square: where all of London fell in love with them too.
As a finale to the project, Rainbow Voices Mumbai also joined us for our summer concert at Cadogan Hall and performed to a packed audience of 800, receiving multiple standing ovations.
What was achieved through this work?
The UK partially decriminalised homosexuality in 1967, and since then we’ve come a long way in gaining acceptance, most recently with legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2013.
In London, RVM members could see how life could be, with freedom; it gave them hope to see same-sex partners living openly together. They gained renewed determination to improve the situation for their community in India. Two singers, Anand and Mak, sat in a restaurant in Covent Garden holding hands and talked about how in India they could only do this at home when nobody is around, for fear of being seen.
They saw the support shown across the city for our Pride celebration, with businesses and tube stations emblazoned with rainbows in support of our freedom.
“It is soothing to imagine those who’re free, liberating to meet them” – Siddhy
Working alongside the Pink Singers was a learning experience for RVM, in rehearsals and preparation for our summer concert.
“It made the singing more effective and everyone leaned towards getting better to share the stage with you all”. – RVM member
They have returned to India with new ambition: planning to grow the numbers in the choir, to perform at queer events and to be known for their music, to inspire others to use music as a tool to spread awareness and join in the fight against section 377. They want to do more to highlight LGBT rights and visibility in India, to make their country more diverse and inclusive of all.
Interviews with members of both choirs during London Pride, on New Delhi TV
We achieved our goal of raising awareness of this issue, with TV, radio and print pieces as well as online articles and blogs in both countries. Talking about the issues and their experiences boosted the confidence of choir members to advocate for their rights and hopes for the future.
“It has made me stronger; a firm believer and an optimist with regards to the support we can achieve. Despite all the hurdles we’re determined to be what we are and make a difference to the world in every possible way we can.” – Ashish, member of RVM
Reflecting on the project
The challenges we faced We aimed to bring every member of RVM to London although we encountered issues with visas, which meant that unfortunately not all members could join us. We countered this by including members left in Mumbai through a social group on Facebook and asking them to contribute to blog posts and media articles for the project.
What is the future of the project? After this experience, RVM are more well known in India and have been featured in a number of news pieces about section 377. They continue their fight to effect change for LGBT communities in India, with the Pink Singers’ support from the UK. On a local level, they plan to grow the number of people in the choir significantly over the next three years, to build their community and profile. They aim to inspire others through their music to fight alongside them for equality.
The Pink Singers will stay in touch with RVM, supporting when we can with the development of their community, and in their plans to achieve equality.
On behalf of the Pink Singers and Rainbow Voices Mumbai, THANK YOU for your support in making this project happen. We couldn’t have done it without you.
Want to support us financially on an ongoing basis? Please take a look at joining our Friends scheme.
‘Being Gay in the times of Section 377: India and the de/re-criminalisation of Same-sex desire’ – This talk will trace the recent developments in the legal struggle against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, highlighting the key issues facing men who identify as Gay in contemporary India in the context of the recent re-criminalisation.
J Daniel Luther is a Doctoral Researcher at the Department of South Asia in SOAS, University of London. Their Ph.D research focuses on tracing the History of Normativity in India through Indian literature and popular film. They are one of the co-organisers of the recently concluded Queer Asia 2016 Conference held at SOAS.
Jacquelyn Strey ‘Women’s Pride? Women’s voices and experiences’ – This talk will cover the particular issues faced by lesbian and other queer women in contemporary India followed by a brief discussion of the Queer Azaadi Mumbai Pride parade in Mumbai.
Jacquelyn is a PhD candidate in the Centre for Gender Studies at SOAS in London. Her work focuses on the everyday lives of queer women in India and uses queer theory as her main lens of analysis. Jacquelyn lives in London with her partner, Darren, and their dog Hugo.
Jennifer Ung Loh ‘Negotiating the “T” in LGBT: positioning “transgender” identity in contemporary India’–This talk will consider hijra, kinnar, and transgender identity,particularly investigating male-to-female ‘transgender’ identity in modern India by looking at identities and roles among the hijra community and current legal judgments concerning ‘transgender’ identity.
Jennifer Ung Loh is currently a Research Associate at the South Asia Institute, SOAS, University of London. Awarded her PhD in May 2014, Jennifer’s research is on constructions of gender and sexuality in contemporary South Asia, specifically investigating hijra and kinnar (‘transgender’) identity.
Vinodh Philip ‘Rainbow Voices Mumbai: making music in 377 India’ – Rainbow Voices Mumbai is India’s first LGBT choir. This talk will explain how the choir was formed (as part of his personal coming out story), and why, in the context of the fight against 377,prejudices and stereotypes in India, it tries to exist and make a statement. It will also focus on how Rainbow Voices Mumbai provides a safe space for its choristers.
Vinodh Philip is a founder member of Rainbow Voices Mumbai, India’s first LGBT choir. Vinodh has recently moved to Paris from Mumbai and is making it his home. He now works in Corporate Communications for a French multi-national company. He loves to sing, feels passionate about the environment, equal rights and breaking stereotypes about the LGBTI community.
The ‘One Night Only’ concert was alto Nicki’s first experience of performing with the Pinkies. Here she relives how she ‘popped her cherry’ and how being a part of the choir has transformed her life.
Performing with the Pink Singers on 4th June was my first concert in over 20 years and what a way to re-ignite my passion for music. All those years ago I studied piano at the Royal College of Music but I wasn’t one of the stars and unfortunately the experience sapped my confidence and with it my love of music. For the past couple of years I’d started to think about doing something musical and had thought about joining a choir, but I didn’t want anything too stuffy or serious. So soon after a friend of mine suggested that joining the Pink Singers would be a laugh, there I was auditioning.
The day of the concert itself was long, but I wouldn’t have changed any of it. We started the rehearsal and sound check at 12.30 and with only about an hour’s break before the concert we were already shattered and I can’t imagine how those of the choir who had built the stage beforehand were feeling. It must have been pure adrenaline that kept us all going. Just before the concert there was a ‘cherry-popping’ session where all of us newbies were given our pink rose – and we had the chance to get 1 of our 5 a day!
My first hurdle was getting onto the stage, which was alright on the night. Thankfully we had the rehearsal first and this was my opportunity to trip over the speaker without too many people seeing. When we finished the opening number and I hadn’t messed up the choreography and the audience broke out into hearty applause, I knew it was going to be OK. Despite several things going wrong in the run through somehow it all came together and between us we remembered all the notes and the words. The soloists and compéres did an amazing job, and one of my friends even said that no-one got the dance moves wrong. I’m not sure that’s true, but if the audience didn’t notice we’re not saying anything….
I had persuaded my mum and stepfather to come along on the night. My mum is very supportive, but bearing in mind that she is definitely not into choirs and got 9% in her school music exam I was nervous to know what they would make of it. I needn’t have worried though because I’ve never seen them so enthusiastic, and it continued for a good 30 minutes on the phone the following day!
So with the concert over and us all on a high it was time for the after show party. Although I’d only been with the choir for a few months I’d already been to a couple of the parties and I had an idea of what was to come. The play list had clearly been selected to include every choreographed song that the choir had ever done. At one point I found myself surrounded by about 50 people all swooping down around me as “Ain’t no mountain high enough” belted out of the speakers. I escaped early – at about 2am – because I knew I had to be up for the Pinkies brunch the next day. There’s officially no rest for a Pinkie….
So less than three years after joining I’ve made so many amazing friends, I’ve travelled to India and Germany with the choir, arranged a song, led a project to re-organise how the choir runs and set up a band with two fellow Pinkies. Three years ago I couldn’t have imagined how my life would have transformed. Thank you Pinkies you’ve made me very happy.
Philip, a longtime member of the Pinkies, looks back on a concert of some of our most special arrangements…
Our winter concert in 2016 showcased the diversity and talent of our members through their very own choral arrangements and compositions. Most pieces were specially arranged for the Pinkies by choir members, along with some iconic classical commissions. Well, we needed an excuse to sing Handel’s Zadok the Priest! Also included was a piece specially commissioned for our 30th Anniversary in 2013 from composer Richard Thomas: I, Choir.
The concert opened with an arrangement of the Electric Light Orchestra’s Mr Blue Sky by Michael Derrick, who joined the choir in 1987 and has been arranging songs for us ever since. Kate Bush has many fans in the choir and two of her songs were featured: Running Up That Hill (arranged by Simon Pearson) and This Woman’s Work (arranged by Andy Mitchinson).
One of our most prolific arrangers is Chris from the basses, who joined the choir in 2008. We sang his first ever arrangement for the Pinkies, Bob Dylan’s Make You Feel My Love, as well as Chris’s arrangements of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax and a new version of epic pop hit Chandelier by Sia. Soprano Naomi came up with a fabulous arrangement of Video Killed The Radio Star, while ex-Pinkie Fran composed some beautiful music to the poem Lake Isle of Innisfree by the Irish poet W.B.Yeats.
The concert also featured two talented home-grown small groups comprised of current and ex-Pinkies– the bubbly Barberfellas (www.barberfellas.com) and the high-spirited Gin and Harmonics (www.ginandharmonics.com). For those of you who missed the concert most of these pieces were recorded for our latest CD appropriately entitled By Special Arrangement.