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.
This summer, the Pink Singers hosted Hong Kong based choir, Harmonics. One of its members, Alex, describes the opportunities the global LGBT+ choir community have opened up for him – and how his Pinkie experiences in London and Dublin have made him feel part of the family!
August marked the Harmonics choir’s first birthday. My choir and the LGBT choir culture here in Hong Kong is very young, and of course, I am very new to the choir scene. I am not trained in music and I joined the Harmonics just for fun.
Our first gig was a fundraising event for a local charity, AIDS Concern. The song we performed was Truly Brave, a mash-up of Cindi Lauper’s True Colours and Sara Bareilles’ Brave. I had only few rehearsals before the performance as I joined late. Boy, I was so nervous that night! Our music director Matthew Gillespie encouraged us by reminding us that the song had a message and it was up to us to share the importance of being true, heard and seen. I imagined the message being delivered to someone who really needed to hear it in the audience. So I gathered my courage and sang. The message was indeed delivered, and it turned out that the person who needed to hear that message was me. From that night on, I felt that our choir is about more than just singing.
Soon after the gig, I got more involved with the Harmonics and started to manage the choir, but it was not until Hsien from the Pink Singers in London reached out to us on social media, and Richard from the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus visited us, that I realised that there was a huge international LGBT choral community out there. They showed us what we could become.
It was exciting to be invited to visit Dublin and London. I had always wanted to see Ireland and had always loved London. I couldn’t wait to finally meet Hsien, a self-proclaimed choir geek with a collection of weird yet fashionable glasses and his short-shorts and heels-wearing, rather handsome, “dance-y” friends from the Barberfellas. I was also excited to say “hello” to the well-dressed, charming theatrical trio from Dublin’s the Homonics, but, I knew that I was on a mission. I was to meet with the choirs and to learn how they were run.
In order to stick with the oldest LGBT choir in Europe, the Pink Singers, during the trip to Dublin, I had to make myself useful. I was given the nerve-wracking job of page turner, images of me messing up the pages and accidentally elbowing the accompanist flashing in and out my brain. John, who later bonded with me over wine after a stage malfunction, is an experienced pianist. He is pale, calm and always has a subtle friendly smile on his face. He spotted the anxiety in my sweat at the rehearsal and said, “The worst thing a page turner can do is to hold the bottom right corner when they turn. I will nod when the page needs turning. You will be okay.”
It was a lovely evening with the Pinkies. They practiced about a dozen songs and sounded beautiful. John continued to calm and reassure me. Things got a little odd when they sang a song called Hand in Hand. People started to hold hands and some people began to tear up. “Oh my, these people are strange”, I thought. Later I found out that the Pinkies learned the song from the Orlando Gay Chorus 20 years ago. The Pinkies’ thoughts were with those who lost their lives in the recent shooting in Orlando. It was the most emotional rehearsal that I have ever been in.
My trip to Dublin was too short to say anything more than that the people were very proud and friendly, and the city gave a genuine vibe. They had the chattiest and friendliest taxi drivers in the world. I would love to go back to see Dublin and Ireland more.
The award winning Gloria is Dublin’s lesbian and gay choir and has about 60 singers. As I was listening to their chairman Richard telling the story of the choir, I learned that that homosexuality was decriminalised in Ireland in 1993, which was actually two years after Hong Kong. Gloria was founded in 1995, which was 20 years before us. On the verge of exploding with choir envy, I heard that the Irish President had invited Gloria to perform at a banquet he was hosting. Hong Kong has a long way to go for equality compared to Ireland: Ireland has a marriage equality bill while in contrast Hong Kong does not even have an anti-discrimination law to protect LGBT people. I wondered, “Is the success of an LGBT choir the cause or the product of equality? Let’s grow the Harmonics to find out!”
I was pretty good at memorising people’s names until the London Gay Men’s Chorus presented me with an impossible challenge. The LGMC is an entirely different beast from the other choirs. With over 200 men, it is raging on testosterone! They are unapologetically powerful when it comes to protest or marching songs and have a ridiculously long waiting list for new singers. It takes three years of waiting time for a baritone like me to join the chorus. This popular choir was featured at the Natural History Museum, one of my favourite places in London, on the historic day when the United Kingdom announced it was to leave the European Union. It was a sad day for many, but the LGMC left me rather positive. They sang Mister Blue Sky facing my favourite exhibit, the iconic Dippy, inside a magnificent building where nature was recorded and homosexuality was celebrated.
The highlight of my trip was getting to march with the Pink Singers at Pride in London. It was a beautiful sunny day. The Pinkies were in their pink or black t-shirts. Balloons, banners and happy faces painted with rainbows filled our parade. We sang as we marched and the crowd on both sides cheered and sang along, as though we were a group of marathon runners at the finishing line, the difference being that the ovation lasted for almost an hour. It was such an emotional experience and it was the first time I felt publicly celebrated for who I am. All I wished was that my choir could have been there with me to share that moment.
I was even given the chance to sing with the Pink Singers on the stage in Trafalgar Square after the march. The song was Together, the theme song of Pride in London this year.It was about being true and about our community spirit, an echo of the experience of the night of my first performance in Hong Kong. Again, I felt nervous about singing after only few practices, but again I was empowered and nurtured. “We are a community choir, so while musicality is important, we just value inclusiveness a bit more”, Hsien once told me. The Pinkies do practice what they preach.
In the end, I learned what I anticipated I would learn, and then some. I went from being very eager to become like other established choirs to realising that each choir has its own unique stories and challenges, strengths and charms. I am extremely thankful for what my choir has given me and I am very proud of the community that we build and the passions that we share. Our music director always emphasises how music bridges the gaps. It is so true. Music has brought us all together and now I have a group of friends in Hong Kong, London and Dublin that I call family.
In January 2016, we released an album of tailor-made arrangements and raised money for Diversity Role Models and The Albert Kennedy Trust. The Pink Singers’ fourth album, By Special Arrangement, showcases the performing and arranging talent that the choir has developed over its 33-year history.
We’re thrilled to have been able to make this album a reality, through the help of those who supported our Crowdfunding campaign in December 2015, which supported Diversity Role Models and TheAlbert Kennedy Trust. Both charities do tremendous work helping young LGBT people in need.
Arrangers & composers Chris Chambers, Richard Thomas, Andy Mitchinson, Michael Derrick, Naomi Berwin, Murray Hipkin, Simon Pearson
Artistic team David Baxter, Artistic Director Murray Hipkin, Musical Director John Flinders, Accompanist Damien Kennedy, Assistant Producer
Mark Winter, Johnathon Finlay, Ian Stephenson, Guy Keith-Miller, Jay Hirst, Paul Lenz, Colinne, Ivan Benjamin Roets, Helen Drew, Jeremy Donovan, Simon Pearson, Louisa Quinn, Oskar Marchock, Michelle , Gareth Williams , Gill, Nicola Swann, Tanya Wright, Ellie, Gary Davidson-Guild, Ian, Jana & Benjy xx, Sam Mason, Sally-Anne Smith, Caroline Allan, Martin Brophy MBE, Kate, Adrian Ryder, Angie Gayle, Jackie, Ragnar Veigar Guðmundsson, David, Emma Donovan, Cass, Frances Bowen, Claire Lawton , Carolynn BigMomma Briggs, Jessica, Naomi Berwin, Ruth T, Hazel Viveash, Julie Ann Pope, Michael Mann, Ian Faulkner, Jim & Carole Oliver, Zoe Johannes, Barry Dowling, cat tucker, IaconCity, Philip Welch, Zoe B, Alexander Clifton-Melhuish, Mina Candy, Timur Charles, Paul Rumbelow, Amy Wilman, Rachel D, Milton Jolin, Alex Rainford, Sonia Rumbelow, Bruce Chambers, Caroline Miller, Marcus Gomez, Mary Dunn, Rachel Sparks, Camilla.i, manarh, Eddie O’Sullivan, Linda Harley Gillespie, Peter Masters, Tracey Button, Oliver Gilbody, Georges & Charlotte, Simon, Ellie, Sigurlaug B. Arngrímsdóttir, Alwyn Tan, Claire-Lou Sankey, Susan Rudy, Ricky and Liz, Dave Cooper, Kate Sandars, Stephen and Julie Drew, Kelly Taylor, PennyFaith, Michael Mckenna, Adrian Scottow, Mark Donovan, Esther MacInnes, Matt Overall, Hilary Perchard, nicky, Jenny Cousins, Susannah Colgate, Yasi Mak, Rafa Vigata Solano, Tom D, Michael Dann, H. Swift, Simon Harrison, Philip Engleheart, Charly Milton, Karin Read & Lucy Barker, Paul Truesdale, Ali Doyle, David Baxter, Penny Langridge, Joshua Whelan, Iain Reeves , Chris, Jess Talmage, Pouneh Mortazavi, Chris Chambers, Liang Wee, Ben Park, Charlie Gadeken, Eric brown, Emelda Nicholroy, Julie and Jed Whelan, Tex G. Beck, Bill Majrowski, Simon Wilkinson, Roger & Kathy Wilman, Louise Thomas, Richard Greer, Mike Baxter, Rosie, Tim and Tony, The Stefan Magdalinski and Kay Chung Fundation, Jerome De Henau, Hsien Chew, Rod Thomas, Murray Hipkin, MCJ, Paul A Young, Kirsten Pulley, John Flinders, Robin Summerhill, Sue K, Graham & Anne Pearson, Stormy Bubbles, Lynne Michelle Nicholls, Jan Pimblett, Philip Rescorla, Cass