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India's first audio album sung by Transgenders to be released
At a time when transgenders don't get to live a normal life and are often subject to individual, societal, and official bias, a group of talented transgenders have recorded their songs in multiple languages in the album 'Songs of the Caravan' - a rare achievement in India. The artists say that there can be seen a subtle and positive change in the mindset of people regarding transgenders.

This story profiles all the transgender artists who recorded the music album, which will soon be released. Akkai Padamshaili is a Human Rights activist working with non-profit organization ‘Sangama’ in Bangalore. Sangama’s focus areas of work are the social and economic betterment of sexual minorities and sex workers in the region.

Akkai who has been fighting for the rights of the gender minority community for the past two decades and feels that things have begun to alter in the traditional Indian mindset as she can witness subtle and appreciable changes taking place in terms of how the issue is now perceived.

Widely travelled and acknowledged, she has recorded Lakshmi Stuti - 'Bhagyada Lakshmi Baramma’ for the album. Originally written by Purandar Dasa many centuries back. It is a prayer in Kannada dedicated to the goddess of wealth - Lakshmi. Akkai wanted to learn Carnatic Vocal as a child but was turned away by her then teacher, who felt that her presence made other disciples uncomfortable. Later on, she found a ‘Guru’ in Smt. Chitra Chidambaram in Bangalore under whose tutelage Akkai is fulfilling her dream.

Amitava Sarkar is associated with Trans Activism and capacity building initiatives since 2000. Her current affiliation is with ‘Solidarity and Action Against The HIV Infection in India’ (SAATHII) an NGO based in Kolkata. SAATHII strengthens the capacities of individuals and organizations working on HIV prevention, care, support and treatment, and sexual and reproductive health. Amitava has gained accolades for her two films on Trans issues on national and international platforms.

Sarkar is a science graduate with a post graduate degree in social welfare, and has done a basic course in counseling. She learnt ‘Rabindra Sangeet’ for more than 7 years and got a diploma in the first class. Her dream project is to start an initiative for transgender/hijra population in various parts of India in providing them all kinds of services and support without any hindrance.

For the album, she has sung ‘Jodi tor’, a Bangla classic, written by Rabindra Nath Tagore. The song literally means “If no one responds to your call, then march ahead on your way, alone”. She currently lives in Kolkata.

Ankur Patil has a diploma in Hindustani Classical music from Maharaja Sayajirao University, Mumbai, Maharashtra. She stays in Vadodra, Gujarat and has recorded one track in Gujarati. Here is what she has to say about herself - “The song selected is a self-written and composed song which reflects me and my life’s journey. It’s a journey from darkness towards light. The words ‘Hu Pankhi banine udu…'shows passion and a flaming desire to get liberated, to challenge the societal structure and the belief that only heterosexuality is the norm of the society. I chose this song because till date I have lived a life that society has expected from me. I want to feel liberated and want to live openly. After years of struggle, finally, I have successfully discovered my new path. The song is the breakthrough from the conservative norms of the society.

"Recording was a wonderful and a very special experience. For the first time, I felt confident of my skills. I also felt that it requires a great amount of patience and skill to be a wonderful singer. I think music is a feeling and it can only be felt. If music had gender, I don’t think it would have been this advanced as it is today. Though it doesn’t fall in either category, it still has a soul. After doing Visharad in vocal music I want to open a school of singing for those who are financially not sound, and provide them training free of cost.
Today at 40, I reflect back on my life."

I realize that I had to lose so much to gain what I have today. The struggle to get my identity recognized has been quite painful. Despite having faced a lot of criticism and prejudices I am proud of myself, of who I am. I thank my self-reflections for always pushing me to the edges and challenging me to break my own records. It is rightly said that records are meant to be broken," says Ankur.

Hansa – Originally from Rajasthan, Hansa has been staying in Mumbai with her family since many years. Though she has only studied till class 7, she wants to make it big in life and is looking for the right opportunities. With no formal training in music, she sings among friends and family only. Recording for the album was her first experience and she felt great about it. “I used to sing in school; that’s the only training I had,’’ she said. She also helps her family in the safety pin manufacturing business. For the album, she has sung a Rajasthani folk song ‘Bhaker main’ , which talks about the relationship between a daughter-in-law and the brother of her husband.

Kalki Subramaniam is a transwomen from Tamilnadu and is a double post graduate in Media and International Relations. She is a transgender rights activist and is the Founder of the organization for transgender community called ‘Sahodari Foundation’. She has acted in films, has directed numerous short documentary films, and also trains transgenders in becoming citizen journalists . She is a prolific writer on transgender issues. She is also a business woman having recently launched her business line of bamboo products. 

For the album, she has sung an English song - ‘Walk away’. “This is a song about when people are stuck in unhappy relationships and they don’t want to remain so. This song inspires them to walk away with courage. “Recording for the album was a great experience, I realized I could sing and felt like I have found my voice,” she says.

She believes the word ‘courage’ to be central to her existence. “Courage to think new, do newer things. If anything breaks your heart, walk away from it. That’s why I have been able to make my parents proud. My song is also about walking away from pain and misery. It asks the listener to be free and liberated,” she concludes.

Kalyani – Kalyani is a Research Assistant with ‘Humsafar Trust’ in Mumbai. The trust is one of the largest of its kinds to promote rights of sexual minorities. She loves to work with children as well. Kalyani believes, “More than acceptance from other people, I want my community to rise up and focus on individual development, thinking and standing. Then they would not even crave for that acceptance.” She has had no formal training in music so far. She underwent only two weeks training before the recording “It was a nice experience; I got a chance to express myself.” She remarked when she finished recording.
She has rendered her voice for a Marathi folk song depicting the state of a woman waiting for her beloved to come back home.

Kanta Leisangthem - Kanta is from the land of jewels - Manipur. She holds a two years diploma in Hindustani Classical music. She is fairly popular in Manipur and has participated in many prestigious events at the state level. “Being a transgender, I faced lot of barriers as there was no platform for transgenders in Manipur to come forward and express themselves. In many concerts or music shows, transgender singers were not allowed to participate.  Now the situation has changed. I still remember what my Guru told me, "Music is not about gender or male or female voice but about Raaga”.

Growing up was not comfortable for Kanta as she was rejected both by family and friends but she was determined to not let go what she aspired for. After finishing formal training in music, she started singing on small platforms. However, the most significant break came through annual Shumang Leela competition organised by Manipur State Kala. Kanta was adjudged as the Best Female Vocalist for consecutive 4 years, from 2003 to 2007.

Here is Kanta’s view on the song ‘Nushi Nushi’. “I chose this particular song for the album since I like the theme of love.” She aims to provide better platform to her community to express their artistic skills at both regional and national level.

Madhurima - Madhurima is from Andhra Pradesh and has sung a song in Telugu. It is a self-written and self-composed Lakshmi Stuti worshipping Goddess Lakshmi in her 8 forms. Madhurima is a teacher by profession. She also has a degree in Hindustani Classical music.

A self-confessed poet and writer, Madhurima has written more than 100 songs and poems and set them to tune. As she says, “Really it was a pleasant experience for me to sing in this album. I wish ‘Songs of Caravan’ brings a change in the mindsets of people.

Then there is Rani. Though Rani has her roots in Delhi, she has sung a folk song from U.P. She has been singing since she was 9 years old though she has had no formal training in music. She sings at functions like marriages, childbirths, festivals praising Hindu deities, and other related occasions. For the album, she has sung ‘Yashoda Maiya’. This is a folk song of U.P sung by women to celebrate the birth of a male child. She also runs a professional singing choir by the name of ‘Rahul Deewana &Party’. Rahul is another name that Rani is fondly known as. Being a transgender has not been much difficult for her. She was accepted among friends and family with ease. “I am a very proud earning member of my family,” she adds.

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