#KetchupTalks: Teenasai Balamu on music and creating opportunities beyond identities

Smrithi Mohan
New Update
Teenasai Balamu

"There's a lot of work to be done but we can start by making spaces and music more inclusive for trans binary and non-binary people", says Teenasai Balamu.

Art has always been diverse. While people from all spectrums, identities, and class have always been a part of it by sharing their bit of talent with the world, recognition of these various identities has mostly been ignored. However, we have seen many independent artists from the LGBTQIA+ community being out, and proud. GrapeGuitarBox aka Teenasai Balamu is one such indie musician based in Bangalore and currently based in London who is contributing to the world of music. From sharing the cover version of their favorite songs to creating and giving the world their own original EP, they continue to grow with their music.

Teenasai is the perfect example of a new-age music artist. Their husky and soothing voice can easily cure any broken heart. They will leave you wondering why you haven’t come across their content before. An indie, pop, and alternative singer-songwriter, Teenasai has written their own songs apart from sharing their cover versions. They wrote, arranged, and composed their first EP called 'Out'. Each song from their EP is the perfect mix of love, serenity, and solitude and makes for the perfect playlist.

They openly identify themselves as a non-binary musician often discussing the tendency of people to put musicians in the box of two genders. They make it a point to use their platform to talk about the need for the industry and the audience to look beyond gender and focus on the talent. A constant advocate of bringing visibility and opportunities to people of all genders and sexualities, we had an opportunity to discuss some of these ideas and their music.

Here's what they had to share!

How did your journey with music begin?

Neither of my parents had a musical background, but my mother was always interested in music and didn't have the access or opportunity to learn. So, she made sure to provide these opportunities for my brother and me and encouraged us to learn music when we were young. My dad went along with her and I started attending vocal and guitar lessons. I was always very into it and was inspired by many artists I listened to growing up. Eventually, after my undergrad, I was frustrated with what I was doing in life and decided to start taking music more seriously and gave it a shot! This has been possible due to the privileges I hold. 

You went from uploading cover songs to releasing your debut EP 'Out' that has its own significance for you as a queer musician. What was the one thing you wanted listeners to feel when they listened to your first EP?

This is such a thoughtful question! I think I came out gradually through the EP and the first single I released was 'Run' which is about being stuck in a toxic relationship. Initially, I wanted listeners to feel heard, held, and validated. As I released more tracks and came out myself, I wanted listeners to also feel that their identities are valid no matter what! Most of all, I wanted each person to feel that their truth is precious and that they should be able to live it 100%.

Art has always been genderless but society has always found ways to put artists in specific gender roles. How do you, as a queer artist want the world of Indian music to change when it comes to identity?

There's a lot of work to be done but we can start by making spaces and music more inclusive for trans binary and non-binary people. Voices are gendered, songs are gendered, and stories are too. We need to start breaking away from these heteronormative patterns. We also need allies to enable this change!

How has music helped you? What does it mean to you?

Music has always been there for me. It doesn't judge, it just lets you be and holds you. It has helped me feel my feelings and grow as a person. Music means everything to me. 

What is that thing about pride month that people misunderstand?

Pride month is beautiful but it's not an excuse for corporations and companies to capitalize on the queer community. Our community needs resources, money, care, love, and support throughout the year and not just for a month in a year. Ideally, companies should work on making changes that can reflect progress and better conditions and resources for queer people throughout the year. This could be inclusive work environments, gender-neutral products, shining light on trans and queer issues, holding sensitization workshops for employees, etc.

What are the ways allies can be more thoughtful and mindful of the LGBTQIA+ community?

Make sure you listen to and empathize with queer people! Help your queer friends, use your privilege to pass the mic when necessary, and call your friends out when they are being homophobic/ transphobic/ misogynistic. And everything I said in the previous answer!

Where do you find your inspiration for your songs?

My own life and experiences and other songs that touch me!

How would you describe your music genre?

Indie, cheesy (laughs), romantic, pop, easy!

If you could collaborate with any artist, Indian and international, who would that be?

It is my dream to collaborate with AR Rahman and Taylor Swift. Rahman is my biggest inspiration and I LOVE his music. Taylor Swift is someone I've loved since I was a teen and it would be a dream come true!

If your life was a song, which song would it be?

Currently - Nenje Ezhu by AR Rahman!

You can check out their music on Spotify!

Also Read: 10 Indian queer musicians you need to listen to rn!

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