Queer Indie Pop Musician Teenasai Balamu Opens Up About Coming Out And Their Latest Single ‘Run’
- IWB Post
- June 11, 2019
For queer Indie pop musician Teenasai Balamu aka GrapeGuitarBox, 24, music is about self-expression and the experiences that life offers. It was at the age of 15 when they started singing and playing the guitar. A lot of their influences include not only indie/pop artists of today like The Lumineers, Angus and Julia Stone, and Ed Sheeran, but also teenage throwback artists such as Linkin Park, Green Day, Simple Plan, and Backstreet Boys. One of their greatest influences has also been Tamil music, especially the work of A.R. Rahman.
Balamu got nationwide recognition in India just when they started their career as a young songwriter, exploring the alternative side of pop by interpreting popular songs in their own style. Through their music, Balamu wished to create a space safe from labels, judgments, and discrimination. Besides being a musician, they are also an active campaigner of the #pride movement and a supporter of gender neutrality. It was on May 16, 2019, that Balamu released their first official single ‘Run’ that throws light on the emotions of being in a toxic relationship.
What inspired you to take up music as a career?
Since I’ve been a kid, my biggest support system in music has been my mom. My brother started learning how to play the piano and how it usually is, that when your sibling does something you are also put in the same class. That’s how I started learning the keyboard that eventually led me to take up vocal classes as well.
Tell me about your journey of coming out as a queer and the response of your near and dear ones.
We live in a heteronormative society where one doesn’t even realize that being a queer is also an option. For me, that realization came when I turned 16. It was in 2012 that I came out about my identity with my friends and after that, I shared it with my brother and his wife. I would say that all of them have been really supportive and there was no one questioning my identity. My brother definitely has been there for me throughout. However, my parents took the time to understand this because they come from a different time. Initially, they were in denial, but it’s been two years since I have shared it with them and I would say they have come a long way in accepting this.
Coming to your songs, what do you seek to express in them as a queer musician?
So far I’ve written music from my own experiences and the things that I observe around me. One of the things that I seek in putting my music out there is to tell my stories and the things that have affected me. Secondly, as a consumer of entertainment, I feel that a lot of us enjoy the content we relate to and that’s what I want to achieve. My songs are about experiencing life as a queer person and regardless of the fact that you are queer or straight, I believe we all have similar stories but it’s just a little different.
If you are from the queer community, visibility is really important. While I was growing up, I didn’t see any queer people around me as it was a different time and the media was also not that open and welcoming as it might be now. It was pretty isolating. But that being said, I also come from a place of privilege that had access to the internet and everything. So for me, the journey wasn’t bad like a lot of others do. However, as an artist, if I have to fulfill a responsibility, then it would be that maybe if I put my narrative out there, then somebody might see that and say ‘hey it’s not bad to be queer’.
~ m00D~ My face most of the time cause it’s too fucking sunny. #migraineproblems Here’s a project I did last year with a few amazing people. DESI DRAG KINGS 👑 This is a collaborative project aimed at breaking gender stereotypes and empowering women. The practice of cross dressing has existed for centuries but yet we don’t see a lot of women doing drag, more specifically in India. Here we are, 5 women from different cities, who’ve come together and transformed ourselves into drag personas inspired by different cultures of India. This is only the beginning of our journey in exploring the possibilities of Desi Drag. Conceptualised by: @thebidishamohanta Styling & Make-up: @paulineperrinstudio & @anushagovindaraj Photography: @wanda_a_hendricks & @paulineperrinstudio #desidragkings #desidrag #desi #drag #king #lgbt #genderbender #nonconformist #queer #dragking #glbt #androgynous #gay #loveislove #lovewins #photoshoot #travel #travelphotography #mumbai #india #lgbtq #indiemusic #music #grapeguitarbox #independent #transgender #translivesmatter #dragqueen
283 Likes, 3 Comments – Teenasai Balamu (@grapeguitarbox) on Instagram: “~ m00D~ My face most of the time cause it’s too fucking sunny. #migraineproblems Here’s a project…”
You participated in a project named Desi Drag Kings. Tell me about the new things that you discovered about yourself during the project and the challenges that drag kings face in India.
I have always identified myself as a non-binary and so doing that project helped me be more comfortable with that part of myself. I really enjoyed doing the project because I always wanted to do something like this, and the experience was amazing as I worked with people who were very open-minded.
The practice of cross-dressing has existed for centuries, but yet we don’t see a lot of women doing drag, more specifically in India. Although the concept of drag that we see today is a western idea, the fact is that it has always existed in our culture. The idea was marginalized or ridiculed at some point in time, however, now we are doing all these things. Having said that, I also feel we see a lot more drag queens than drag kings and I don’t think there are many people who are seen doing drag because it still is a space that is not clearly figured out. We are still negotiating spaces with queer people and that’s why I think it is taking time. We have to accept that our society is misogynistic and that reflects in the queer community because most visible people are gay men and women are not out there yet.
As a strong supporter of gender neutrality, tell us about it.
We only see gender as binary, but we have to understand that it doesn’t have to be just a man or a woman. When we are talking about non-binary identities, it generally means that the person identifies as neither or both. We generally associate gender with inanimate objects like clothes, jobs, or preference of colours, but we have to stop doing that. Regardless of your gender, one can like any kind of clothes, colours or anything that they would like to do. Also, I don’t think to dress up in a way has anything to do with your gender identity even though it’s a way to express your gender. Being gender neutral means you’re not identifying with either male or female and the expression for each person comes in their own way.
Your latest track ‘Run’ throws light on the emotions of being in a toxic relationship. What inspired you to write the song?
When I was in college I met someone who became really close to me but they didn’t turn out to be good for me. We were in a toxic relationship with each other and it wasn’t a good space to be in. We weren’t the best people for each other and even though I realised that things weren’t working out it, it was difficult for me to let go of that person. So because toxic or abusive relationships aren’t easy to leave, the song was written with the idea of being in that position when you know it’s wrong but you are still going back to them each and every time.
‘Run’ is the first official single from GrapeGuitarBox’s debut EP ‘Out’. The song highlights the story of someone who is trapped in a toxic relationship. The complexity of abuse and such relationships is such that one can’t simply leave.
Can you share some signs of being in a toxic relationship? Is there a message that you would like to share with people who are in that situation?
If you are not growing in a relationship, if you are not being able to genuinely be yourself, and you go out of your way to do things, then these are the signs that you are in a toxic relationship.
It takes a huge amount of courage and time for somebody to actually get out of such a situation because it’s not simple. Sometimes these relationships are also abusive in different ways that can be dangerous. But I think people shouldn’t give up. One thing that helped me was getting therapy afterwards. I would definitely say that it gets better when you are out of such a relationship. It might seem really bad at that time, but if you get out of it then it only becomes better.