For several reasons, 47-year-old Ma Faiza is like nobody you’ve ever seen before. The ‘Tonks’ thing going with her hair is just the beginning (and an added bonus for the diehard Harry Potter fans among us!). Nobody rocks a suit like Ma Faiza. Nobody gets people into a psy-trance like Ma Faiza. And nobody does as much for electronica. This African-born, London-bred powerhouse made every gig count last year and made sure to include small Indian towns (think Bilaspur and Jodhpur) in her Maximum Tour, to spread electronic music beyond metropolitan bars and pubs. Oh, and that’s not all! She also contributed six figure sums to humanitarian efforts in disaster relief and education by auctioning DIY hats she made for her shows. Mad props to a desi queer who’s doing her bit for the dance floor and the world, both!
I spent an entire afternoon on alokvmenon.com and it made me question everything I took for granted about myself. Alok Vaid-Menon, born and raised in small-town America and now constantly on the move, is among the most well-known queer performers in the spoken word scene. Their work speaks to people across the spectrum, being at once educational and universally relatable: if you’ve had someone brutally pound your self-worth to the point you didn’t know who you were, you would understand.
What Vaid-Menon manages to do so beautifully is to articulate the intricacies of gender — a subject that’s almost rendered invisible by its complexity, often by large swathes of the feminist diaspora. And in doing so, they are one of the most important voices in the world poetry scene right now.
(If this video is too long for you right now, read this: A More Honest Love
Alisha Pais is cute as button — but you find that this button does not do the expected when pushed! It often seems like this folk-rocker belts out her soul along with her tunes. Even her homemade video promos for little pub gigs leap out of the screen as her voice floods your head. She strikes me as a Trixie Whitley-PJ Harvey cross, one for the voice and the other for the attitude. Alisha brings a lot of courage and creative fury to the stage, both attributes coming from her wide range of experiences: she’s dropped out of college twice, and tasted a measure of mainstream success on television with the Colors Infinity reality show, The Stage (check out her rendition of Hallelujah).
Today, Alisha is slowly and surely making her mark as a singer-songwriter. Check out I Am A Maniac.
Six Pack Band
The members of Six Pack Band were kicked out of their families and communities, some at very young ages. And today, the six transgendered musicians, between the ages of 23 to 36, are loved across the world, bagging YouTube views, performance opportunities and the coveted Cannes Grand Prix Glass Lion award.
Their music videos are exceedingly well-made — a joint production of Hindustan Unilever and Y Films (The digital wing of Yash Raj Films) — often featuring celebrities like Arjun Kapoor, Hrithik Roshan and Sonu Nigam. But don’t let anyone fool you into believing that these successes are merely brand-enhancement exercises. The band also targets a vast group of tier II and III cities, many of whose residents first react to spotting a hijra on a local train by shirking in fear and refusing to make eye-contact. Their effort and success, then, is a major step in bringing compassion to the mainstream, and in widening the network for these conversations to begin.
Teenasai Balamu aka GrapeGuitarBox
When Teenasai was 15, she was booed offstage. An anxiety attack had left her frozen, guitar in hand. Today, at 22, she is listed on Rolling Stone’s 10 upcoming musicians to watch. For years, she battled her mental health issues and tried not to try too hard with her music — until her frustration threatened to spiral out of hand.
A little over a year ago, she decided to put up her idle afternoon strumming on Youtube under the moniker Grape Guitar Box. With her great YouTube covers of everything from Radiohead to Avril Lavigne, her rise to popularity was almost instant. Today, the singer-songwriter does lots of gigs, writes lots of music, and makes a living by doing what she loves — all with a quiet confidence.
“I hate the feeling of regret,” she says. “I’m driven to try out things or make use of opportunities when they’re given to me. And I felt the same way about music, pursuing it, performing it.”
(P.S. If you’re the only person awake and everyone’s drunk and passed out, head for this cover of Creep.)