Finsta is here to give an unapologetic voice to brown queers across the globe inspired by desi diasporic artists like M.I.A., queer pioneers like SOPHIE and Cakes Da Killa. I came across Finsta’s music last year on my quest to find queer producers and rappers from India. Her debut EP Jimmy Vogue – which pays homage to the vogue/ballroom scene in Portland, Oregon left such a big impact on me.
I finally found a trans artist who doesn’t care for respectability politics and says it like it is, because as of now desi queer representation in the music industry is scarce and the handful of artists releasing original music mostly remain underground and in most cases “apolitical”. Needless to say, imagine my excitement when I met her to get the lowdown on her debut album CUNTYGRRRL which released on 20 Nov 2022 on International Trans Day Of Remembrance, the album takes her even further from disco — inspired by the 80s Riot Grrrl punk-feminist movement, it’s an explosive political statement, weaving together postpunk/metal sounds with skits and voice samples drawn from the trans rights movement in India, USA, and elsewhere.
Her politics look toward sociocultural futurity – Queer and BIPOC liberation
Finsta’s journey with disco began with “Aag” — an explosive, erotic disco track about a queer club romance — and then, for Pride 2021, “Stonewall” — a fiercely political ode to the 1969 riots that gave rise to both 70s disco culture and modern queer culture.
Ms. Worldwide: Portland to New Delhi
Within months of arriving back in Delhi, Finsta is already taking the scene by storm. She has made guest appearances on projects by Dhanji, Gair Kanooni, Frappe Ash, and more. 3 days after landing, she was on stage performing at Beat Street Festival at JLN Stadium and various nightlife venues like Summerhouse cafe and Raasta.
An exclusive (and very emotional) listening session left me eager to know more. Read on for an exclusive BTS interview with Finsta:
ANG: I want to know how Finsta was born? How did she find music, who and what inspires her, what pisses her off? Tell me everything!
FINSTA: FINSTA was born from Bollywood Disco. I’ve been making music since I was a kid, but Finsta only began a few years ago when I rediscovered 70-80s disco culture. No matter how far i’ve gotten from the sounds of ‘Aag’ and ‘Stonewall, I think the spirit of disco is always with me when I make music — disco was not just fun dance music, it was music that came from the queer underground, a place where we were allowed to feel forbidden emotions, wear forbidden clothes, have forbidden sex. Queer people had to fight for the right to disco. This resonates with me because it acknowledges both how difficult and painful queer resistance (disco) can be, but also how creative and pleasurable it is. I also love disco because it doesn’t have a single origin — it’s as at home with Sylvester, Gloria Gaynor, and Grace jones in America, as it is here with Nazia Hassan, Runa Laila, and Rupa. I’ve had a diasporic life since I was a kid, so I’ve always struggled with feeling at home in a place or aesthetic. I feel like there’s no “outsiders” or “strangers” in a discotheque, there’s only those who are giving and those who look awkward.
ANG: Cuntygrrrl has such an interesting flow to the songs, especially the intro, interlude and outro which gives it authenticity and really makes an impact on the listener, in such a short time. Was the brevity intentional?
FINSTA: Honestly I just don’t get much time to make music, so whenever I do I have to make it count. :’) There aren’t any drafts that “didn’t make the cut” for any of my projects — usually whenever I make something, planning each song and each bar long before I start producing or recording. The ideas for cuntygrrrl had been floating around in my head since november 2021, but i only produced the first song, “CAUSING TROUBLE”, 3-4 months later.
I guess it’s also short because it’s such an intense project — I dont think it’d be healthy for me to spend too long in that sort of anger or grief. It was really consuming to create it, both emotionally and technically. Like, I rerecorded “TRANS AND BROKE” probably 6-7 times, and the guitar solo in the middle took me about 2 months to finalize. And even a few days before sending it for distribution I was considering not including it in the album, because of how vulnerable I felt making it. I really can’t afford to have that sort of relationship with what I make, it needs to be more fun, I need to be more forgiving and lighthearted with myself. (I’m a capricorn.)
ANG: You talk (rather rap) a lot about your experiences in the queer community which I absolutely love cuz we were told that these micro aggressions (within the community) are not for the world to know, but our burden to carry in order to “protect the community”. What are your thoughts on that?
FINSTA: Well the album isn’t really made for people who aren’t queer. So definitely a heterosexual or cis person listening to the album should feel like a voyeur. But I dont feel like the shade I’m throwing at other queer people is about microaggressions or just “internal issues” — when lesbians treat me like I’m a monster and not a woman they could be attracted to, or when rich gay men dont like me because I hate rich people, those are attitudes that affect everyone around them, not just me or other poor trans people. We cant isolate queer politics from the rest of the world. One day “queer” wont be as much of a buzzword, but the way we treat people around us and how we live our lives will persist, and the shade I throw at people in this album has to do with how they treated me, whether they’re queer or not.
ANG: I absolutely love the visual aspect of your music! The album art made by cum curator – talk us through the process of creating these 3 characters and what they represent.
FINSTA: Yes omg first of all cumcurator is an angel!!! We worked late nights together to realize my vision of CUNTYGRRRL, and I’m so grateful for how receptive and dedicated he was to my ideas. 🙂 When we first started working the idea was to create a comicbook story revolving around these 3 characters: there’s the angrypunkbitch, who does “CAUSING TROUBLE”, “WHITE FEMINISTS”, and “KILLJOY”; there’s the insecuretranny who does “TRANS AND BROKE” and “KILLING THE MAN”, and there’s the cyborgbadbitch, the “TRANNY WITH A GUN”. Initially we were even going to do an animated music video for “TRANNY WITH A GUN”, where the insecuretranny is playing a video game and creates the cyborgbadbitch, who escapes the video game and wreaks havoc in the world, killing all the people who bullied insecuretranny, but also killing her family which causes them to start hating each other. But the video fell through for logistical reasons. (I didn’t have the time or money to get extra hands to help out with it.) Overall, the 3 characters show us 3 different ways to be trans: the angrypunkbitch wants to start a revolution and doesnt care about whether you like her or not; insecuretranny just wants to feel loved and attractive, she worries deeply about passing and being accepted; and the cyborgbadbitch doesnt think about the past or the future at all, she just goes around shooting cis people who fight with her, fucking cute people who flirt with her, and being a bad bitch.
ANG: Feels like your music is constantly evolving – your last EP Jimmy Vogue which was more of a fun, humorous way of subverting the male gaze to your new album CUNTYGRRRL which feels more angry, heavy, vulnerable and much more daring. What changed from then to now? And what have you learned in the process of making this record?
FINSTA: I made Jimmy Vogue for the ballroom bitches — during that time of my life I was more involved with the Portland ballroom/kiki scene, I was practicing to walk categories, and all I cared about was making cunty music. when i started making cuntygrrrl things were very different: I had only a few months left before my visa expired and I had to return to India, I was done with college and was working shitty food service jobs that exhausted me, I had just started hormones and began to feel terribly dysphoric about my body and attractiveness, and during this time I had to cut myself off from my family, personally and financially. so it wasn’t about being cunty anymore, it was just about trying to get by, trying to feel safe, and finding the strength to keep fighting against a world that seemed to hate everything about me. I stopped feeling at home in the Portland ballroom community as well — as much as I love them, most of them were white, middle class, and had familial support, and I grew resentful about the fact that I didn’t fit in there. That’s when I started listening to punk music, and discovered the riot grrrl movement. I never listened to that much punk growing up because of how white the genre sounded to me, but I think at that moment I was able to connect to the rage, and felt convinced that I could somehow harness the punk sound in a meaningful (trans) way.
ANG: I’m not a big fan of respectability politics especially when it comes to policing queer & trans folk, which puts us into categories of what a model (adarsh) queer or trans person must look, talk and sound like. Your music and lyrics stood out to me the very first moment I heard it because it was a big F U to the cis heteronormative system we are still very much conditioned by and prescribe to. Could you elaborate?
FINSTA: Yeah definitely, I made CUNTYGRRRL right when I realized that I can’t be the perfect trans woman that I wanted to be. The trans women I saw in the news and social media were beautiful, sexy, confident, told their transition stories with certainty and pride, were getting all the money they deserve, and seemed to have reached their “destination”. I made CUNTYGRRRL at a time when I felt ugly, insecure, living paycheck to paycheck, and I was nowhere near the point where I had a story to tell about my transition. All I knew is that I felt like shit, had done fucked up things that hurt people I loved and that I lived in a world where you have to sell your body, emotions, and time to just continue existing. I could have just taken that rage and sadness and lived with it, or buried it within myself, but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to put it out there and make it everyone else’s business, because I had no interest in continuing to live like this and sometimes when people know about how shitty your life is, they can help you change it. I was convinced I’m not the only bitch who feels this way about her life and the world. The lives of well-behaved and good looking trans women don’t matter more than mine.
ANG: How has your experience been so far in terms of moving from Portland to New Delhi as a trans woman of color but also as a musician? What is the difference in cultures, community and also the gig circuit in your experience?
FINSTA: It’s not been easy. None of the “brown” postcolonial politics in the US prepared me for how rough it’s going to be, being a trans woman without financial support in Delhi. I feel way less safe and free in this city: in the past few months since I moved back, I’ve faced more assault and isolation than I had in all the years I lived in portland but I feel more empowered to figure it out and fight for what I need here, mainly because i’ve been blessed enough to find queer friends that I love and trust, and because I know that the sun shines best on a femqueen feeling herself.
As for the gig/music scene, it’s full of mid rapper-producer bros who want to replicate the American record industry and the forms of success and fame it has and that’s about to change. I’m surrounded by more and more brilliant queer musicians and performers in this country who’ve been hiding for so long. After CUNTYGRRRL season is over I’m excited to start putting out some of the queerbops I’ve been working on with these cuties. The new queer wave in this country isnt just about making music about gay sex or love, it’s about changing the ways in which music is distributed and performed in this country. We don’t just want to get signed, make hits, and get famous, we want venues where women feel safe, where poor people can afford the tickets and drinks. We want money to go to artists who aren’t just upper caste men and the promoters, labels, and organizers are going to listen to us because we make better music and because it’s not a fanbase behind us, it’s a community.
ANG: A piece of advice for bb queers who are starting out on their journey as musicians, rappers, artists & performers.
FINSTA: 1. Don’t be afraid to listen to music that’s not cool right now, or that the people around you dont like. A lot of the music that’s being played around you will make you feel like you don’t belong, or that you need to be prettier or richer or more productive. Sometimes listening to music that was made far away from you, or long ago, can help you find who you want to be.
2. Do not worry about visibility. the more queer culture gets commercialized in this country, there’s a pressure for queer creators to be hyperproductive, to represent all queers, and make queerness intelligible to the general public. This is not important, and it won’t last, it’s more important that you find a creative process that you can grow with, that nourishes and seduces you. Fans and gigs will come and go, what will stay is how you live your life and the community around you, no matter how many followers or streams you currently have. This is something that the music industry will never teach you.
3. Stop dating straight people.
4. Find other queers and do mundane things with them. 🙂
CUNTYGRRRL is available to buy now on Bandcamp and available on all streaming platforms from 25th Nov 2022.
Stream CUNTYGRRRL: https://linktr.ee/cuntygrrrl/
Buy CUNTYGRRRL: https://finstapurrs.bandcamp.com/