September 16, 2020
Rainbow Voices Mumbai (RVM) is India’s first and only LGBT choir. With members from all over the country, the group’s super-talented singers are frequent performers at LGBT events, charity concerts and festivals across the country, and even beyond it — earlier this year, they teamed up with the Pink Singers to perform at the London Pride!
In an exclusive interview with FSOG, Vinodh Philip the founder of RVM shares the story about how RVM started, his thoughts on LGBT culture, music and much more. We also interviewed Ashish Pandya, a member of the RVM choir to learn about his perspective and unique experiences.
Below are the transcripts of the interview:
(VP – Vinodh Philip, AP – Ashish Pandya)
VP: 1. How was RVM conceptualized?
Part of my coming out story. Having sung since I was 4 years in my church choir, my mother was very keen on me continuing to sing when I moved from Chennai to Mumbai. So, I asked Sibi, my friend (also who was instrumental in founding the choir) if there was a gay-friendly church choir I could join to sing. Sibi found it funny – gay-friendly and church – they don’t go together. So, he said, why don’t you start one. I gave it a thought and said, OK. Let’s do it.
VP: 2. Tell us about your mission and where you see RVM going
To be able to provide a safe place for LGBTIQ+ members of our society who have the musical talent and passion for the cause to join and be part of this movement. We wish to break stereotypes, express ourselves (our struggles and fight for freedom, joys and happiness and fun too) through a great range of songs. Sometimes, adding an Indian twist, keeping it multi-lingual, portraying the diversity that is India.
We are already plugged into a global network of LGBT choirs around the world. The Pink Singers, Proud Voices Asia and other choirs from around the world. We would love to have more LGBT choirs be formed within our own great country. Each state has music and art that are quite unique to their respective regions, and we’d be happy to help them start choirs there and also visit other Indian cities to perform there. Of course, we’re open to any LGBT artist from anywhere in India to come and join or perform with us.
VP: 3. How do you create awareness about LGBT issues through your music?
Our repertoire may be from Bollywood, Hollywood, Tollywood and range in themes from love, lust, passion, to cries for freedom, equality and the need to be acknowledged as “normal” humans. So, we pick love songs, sleazy numbers, happy ones, sad ones, songs that evoke patriotism, unity, happiness, joy, sorrow and such. We have the same emotions, go through similar situations when it comes to relationships and are no different when it comes to these life experiences. Performing these songs within and outside our country, spreads awareness of these issues, especially this struggle against an archaic article 377 of our Indian Constitution and the repercussions of its presence that affect us in our society.
VP: 4. How has RVM created an impact in the LGBT community and society in general ?
Firstly, RVM is a family. RVM’s has a very diverse group with men and women from different walks of life, different parts of the country and a few from other countries (example: our conductor is from the US) – we could be considered as a microcosm of how an ideal India should be – united in the midst of a variety of cultural, socio-economic and linguistic backgrounds. Yet, we are a family. We have been able to create awareness about the LGBT community through our music to a different set of audiences, which the other LGBT groups have not touched – of course, there always will be overlaps. We have also provided an environment to our own choir members to become more confident in their homes and communities about their sexuality and be loved and respected for it.
VP: 5. What is the one thing you would like everyone to know about RVM?
We are LGBT and our emotions, life experiences are the same. We’re human as anyone else. But, we’re humans who love to express ourselves through our music. And yes, I’d like to say it again, we’re a family.
AP: 6. What is it like being a choir member of RVM?
RVM gives me space to be myself, a safe space where I will not be judged or criticized for what I am. It has given me my chosen family and the music we make fills me with hope ,courage and empathy for the marginalized. It has indeed given me purpose of my life.
AP: 7. How has it been different from the other choirs you’ve been a part of ?
I have never been part of other choirs, infact I am untrained in choral music however my roots of music are based in hindustani classical. I feel only the schools are different of music which I belong to but the medium of expression is intense and soulful.
AP: 8. What made you want to be a part of RVM?
It is an interesting story, when i moved to mumbai in 2015, I had seen RVM perform at one of the events, It had been 15 years that I had stepped on the stage to perform but when i saw them perform I was filled with thrill and joy, always wanted to be part of the movement, what better than RVM which is the Voice of LGBT movement in India!
AP: 9. What is the one thing you would like everyone to know about RVM?
Well, the Music has no boundaries of caste,creed, nations,gender,sexuality, orientations etc etc, and RVM is all about love and acceptance,and being yourself and being better than ever before:)
AP: 10. Why do you think it’s important to have LGBT presence in art and culture?
Arts and culture have been a way of life in Indian society,since eons of years we had patrons in forms of kings, queens who adorned and nurtured art and culture, the idea behind the same was freedom of expression and imagination.
Presence of LGBT in art and culture is wide enough in India, it is just that people don’t acknowledge that part. But we being an LGBT choir have learnt that power of transforming the social scenario through art is the most potential way of doing good for the society and normalize the lives of LGBT individuals, where they are not discriminated just because they are LGBT.
Persistent and positive impact of music helps us shun the wrong notions the hound LGBT community.
If you want to be a part of this amazing choir, check out their Facebook Page.
– By Shreyanka Thejaswi