Following the Pink Singers’ recent trip to India, we’re bringing you not one, not two, but LOADS of blogs to tell you all about the amazing time we had – both from our perspective and Rainbow Voices Mumbai (RVM). First up, here’s a piece from RVM’s Siddhy, reflecting on his experience with the Pinkies.
“The first time I saw the Pink Singers, four of us from Rainbow Voices were carrying a piano, for our first event together at the American Consulate. We waved at them and then met each other mutedly as the event was about to begin. The Pinkies took to stage and joyously sang Nat King Cole’s ‘L-O-V-E’. I was stunned into happy tears. The playful, innocent choreography coming through the most age-diverse white crowd I’ve ever seen – and immediately fell for – pushed me to serious indie-movie sobbing.
One person from Rainbow Voices was in each taxi we took to reach the next place, to ensure our guests got there safely. It was an hour-long ride and by the time we reached the restaurant, Louise, Tracey, Giancarlo and I had traded coming-out stories and shared our professional lives. Giancarlo had switched vocations; Tracey recently quit her job to go travelling; Louise is freelancing fancy. All friends now, we went in, karaoke’d, bought each other drinks and danced.
During the pre-concert rehearsal the next evening, the Pinkies sang – among other lovely songs – Ryan Amador’s ‘Define Me’: a song about celebrating who you are and being free to love who you want. I’ve seen them perform it twice and each time I smile, feeling comforted.
Afterwards, over cheese garlic naans, we gabbed all through the night. I saw gay-gay and les-b-honest lesbian couples all around me like exquisite people that just stepped out from a novel. Tanya was showing me pictures of her gay daughter and nephew. Alessandro was gushing over his daughter while we cooed and aaw-ed, and for a moment I felt like my dreams were plausible and my hopes valid.
Our ‘We Shall Overcome’ concert was moving, and tinged with flashes of disbelief that we were performing at the prestigious National Centre for Performing Arts! Manasie, our ‘Ms Bisexuale’, turned 24 that night and the entire bar witnessed spontaneous performances from the Pinkies, all at their respective tables, some standing cheering, some holding Manasie’s hand. Like Aditya said, “it was so Pitch Perfect”. The bar management begged us to finally leave and everybody hugged everyone goodnight.
We walked together in the Pride March the next day, beaming at the crowds, dancing to drums and taking pictures. At the farewell party, we confessed gratitude, marvel and a million other things.
It is soothing to imagine those who’re free, liberating to meet them.
Sunday rehearsals with Rainbow Voices really help me – I can turn off autopilot and be my real self. I’ve made good friends who’re all colourful, compassionate people. We can breathe out.
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’.
Next up, the Pinkies plan to bring Rainbow Voices to London! We can’t wait to perform with them again and plan for them to join us at our next concert at Cadogan Hall on 15th July. But we need funds to help make this dream a reality! If you can help bring this wonderful choir to London (you can even come to watch them perform!) you can donate through our website www.pinksingers.co.uk/india2017or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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.
According to the Oxford dictionary (and thesaurus) there are 2,730 positive adjectives beginning with A and honestly I could use pretty much every one to describe the Pinkies latest jaunt to Amsterdam for the AmaSing festival.
As an Aussie, it is very exciting to travel interstate to perform. Travelling internationally to do so is always a dream, and – as a part of the Pinkies – I’ve been fortunate enough to do that twice now. Firstly, Dublin and more recently, to Amsterdam – not just to sing anywhere but in one of the best concert halls in the world, the Concertgebouw.
The trip officially started off with registration at Het Scheepvaartmuseum (National Maritime Museum) where a few pinkies started to congregate. I don’t think you really appreciate your friends until you haven’t seen them in a while, so there were lots of hugs all round. The organisers then put us on a great canal cruise which allowed us to see Amsterdam from the water and helped get our bearings in this horseshoe city.
The cruise dropped us off at Het Amsterdam Museum for our official meet-and-greet which really gave us a great feeling for what was to come. With all the recent hate crime in the world, it was incredible to get together with 600 of our LGBT+ family to chat and to sing.
After a great afternoon, most of the Pinkies retired early to prepare for our big day of performances (which turned out to be of epic proportions).
Friday saw the first of our performances: a 15 minute outdoor set and a beautiful set inside the Conservatorium Hotel. Both were greatly received with a request for more from the patrons of the hotel; however, these gigs were just the warm up for the night to come. Later that day, we had a quick sound check inside the Concertgebouw, which reduced a chorister from another choir to tears. He said, “Our opening of ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ gave him shivers and made his eyes well up”. (Wow, we only sang 16 bars)!
The pinnacle of the festival was the main concert in the spectacular Concertgebouw. The acoustics of this hall are world renowned (it has a reverberation time of 2.2 seconds, for those playing at home) and was certainly a spectacle to behold – for a full 6.5 hours (!!), as the concert inevitably over-ran… It’s definitely the first time I have finished a concert the day after it started.
The organisers of AmaSing had hired a park on the banks of the canal where all the choirs could leisurely watch the parade from. They even provided lunch (!) and we all sat around chatting with our new choral friends and enjoyed the stunning day that celebrated everything we believe in (and of course there were impromptu performances from various choirs as well…).
Amsterdam is synonymous with taking mind altering substances 😉 and the Pinkies’ excursion to this wonderful city certainly left us on a high.
A huge thanks must go to the AmaSing team for a brilliant Europride event and to basses Gary and Paul for organising the trip from our end!
Following our recent visit from Rainbow Singers Across Borders, Pinkie alto Sarah tells us a bit more about the day, why the choir exists, and the shocking reality of Hate Crime both at home and further afield – and how, together, we can work for a brighter future. If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning, I’d hammer in the evening, All over this land, I’d hammer out danger, I’d hammer out a warning, I’d hammer out love between, My brothers and my sisters, All over this land. If you’d have been passing the Pink Singers rehearsal several weeks ago, these are the words you’d have heard ringing out on to the street from the studio below. I’ve been singing with the Pink Singers for five years now, clocking up about 200 rehearsals (gulp); of all those occasions this was definitely one of my favourites. We invited the Rainbow Singers Across Borders to come and sing with us: a choir made up of members of a voluntary self-help group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender asylum seekers who are fleeing from the persecution of oppressive homophobic and transphobic regimes. We kicked off with a fantastic performance from our guests of some traditional African songs. Later Herbert Bulindi, musical director of the Rainbow Singers, led us all in singing the beautiful Swahili song Malaika. You can hear a previous performance here (spot Sally-Anne from the Pink Singers moonlighting in the video!). To finish we sang a song together that was familiar to us both – If I Had a Hammer. Great fun, great music and most importantly, some great people. To end the day we all piled into our local haunt of choice, the New Bloomsbury Set – where it must be said the bar staff did a sterling job of dealing with our larger than usual number of drink orders! As they said goodbye we were generously treated to a parting gift from the Rainbow Singers of another of their favourite songs: a perfect end to a lovely afternoon and evening.
Many of the Rainbow Singers Across Borders have come to the UK from Uganda, where in 2014 the widely supported Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act – which originally included a death sentence for certain acts – was only dropped on a technicality. Hate crimes and abuse apparently soared around the time of introduction and under the act those who reported any attacks or discrimination based on their sexuality could, instead of finding protection, find themselves arrested. Whilst this law was overturned, a new proposed piece of legislation has been accused of seeking to make any form of LGBT organization illegal, potentially cutting off community support for those who desperately need it. In the face of this, the fact that the LGBT+ community of Uganda has managed to celebrate Pride in the last few years feels, to me, nothing short of remarkable. In contrast, in the UK today – due to the incredible campaigning efforts of our community heroes – we now receive public funding towards Pride, celebrated the legalisation of gay marriage in 2013 and have had legal protection from discrimination and harassment from the Equality Act since 2010. From 2005 any attack on an individual motivated by their sexuality was legally defined as a hate crime, allowing for tougher sentencing. We chose October to join the two choirs in order to mark Hate Crime Awareness Week – hate crime being an issue we felt united both of our choirs. Whether our laws define it as a crime or not, hate is something the LGBT community sadly sometimes finds itself faced with. Tracey Button, from the Pink Singers shared her experience with us: “In July 2008 I was on a night out with friends at a bar in London and I ended up kissing one of my female friends. Another person in the bar began hurling homophobic abuse at us. A friend told us we should stop what we were doing because not everyone agreed with it. My friend and I just laughed it off. At closing time I remember the door staff holding us back; they advised we wait until she left before we did. Once she had gone we began walking to the bus stop. Unfortunately, our abuser reappeared and following an attempt to snatch my friend’s phone, I was called a disgusting lesbian and then she attacked me. I don’t recall a huge amount of what happened next, but I ended up on the ground being punched and kicked in the ribs and head. I remember a man walking by during the assault and I begged for help, but he told me he “didn’t want to get involved.” My attacker eventually left and shortly after the police arrived. She was arrested and charged with ABH but only given a Caution. Thankfully I only suffered cuts and the fairly substantial bruising healed in a few weeks, but the psychological damage has taken a lot longer to recover from. I was offered counselling by a LGBT liaison officer from The Met, but I turned it down. I felt so ashamed by what had happened and wanted to forget the whole incident. I went into denial about my sexuality and it was another five years until I finally accepted that I was gay.”
Tracey’s experience was from 2008. LGBT rights in the UK have grown markedly stronger since then, yet hate crime reporting is on the increase according to Stop Hate UK; this may mark confidence in reporting or show something more sinister. Stop Hate UK still estimate that in the UK hate crime related to sexual orientation is a daily occurrence and are confident that gender identity hate crimes remain significantly under reported. Race, Ethnicity and Nationality related incidents were the most commonly reported Hate Crime strand this year. Hate Crime Awareness Week is over now, but it’s important that we always remain vigilant and challenge persecution, hate and oppression where we see it. It’s important that we carry on raising awareness and campaigning for the right support for those who become a victim. We must support those in our community who need it and welcome those who need a community. My life has changed dramatically since I joined the Pink Singers, having access to such a warm and supportive group, with countless strong role models mean that I’m now able to feel confident about my identity in a way that I don’t think I ever was before. I’m so pleased knowing that the Rainbow Singers Across Borders are able to offer that same sense of community to those newly arriving in the UK who have had to abandon their homes to escape persecution. I am pleased that we have been able to welcome them in our community and I hope we continue to make joyous music together.
Simon Harrison, Tenor, summed up what the experience meant for him: “It was such a pleasure to meet the Rainbow Singers Across Borders. It made me aware of something very important: that it takes an effort to reach out and welcome the stranger – our instinct might be to turn to the familiar and not risk a potentially awkward moment that comes when two worlds meet; but the risk is worth it! We are changed and enriched by our contact with what appears to be “different” and it stretches our sense of who we are. As Herbert led us in learning one of their songs with his warmth and generosity and the two choirs mixed together, I could feel hearts softening, smiles broadening, and souls opening. I hope we all find safe places where we are welcomed and in which to grow and prosper.” So, if the Pink Singers had a hammer what would we do? Building bridges and creating those safe spaces seems a great place to start.