Petter Wallenberg’s connection with India goes beyond music. More a case of identity and respect that Wallenberg felt was lacking when he first arrived here. “Being gay, I was legally a criminal in the country till Section 377 got scrapped last year. But not before I started working on my debut album, Rainbow Riots India, which was a means of protest,” says the 42-year-old Swedish music producer, Founder of Rainbow Riots, a Swedish organisation that advocates for the rights of the queer community.
Wallenberg just released the first single from his album, Love is Love, which features drag queen Sushant Divgikar and transgender dance group Dancing Queens. “It’s been hailed as India’s first pride anthem, which is amazing. What makes me the happiest is the response from regular people. Many from all over India have contacted me and thanked me, saying this gives them hope and helps them feel good about themselves.”
Incidentally, the title was inspired by one of the responses that he got from the crowds at a pride march in Mumbai, right after homosexuality was legalised. “I shouted: ‘Love is what?’ and the crowd responded: ‘Love!’ The atmosphere was electric. So many people came out into the street and showed that they were no longer afraid to show who they were. You could feel the wind of change in the air.”
Ahead of his upcoming performance in Mumbai, we catch up with Wallenberg about his musical journey and why he believes that there is a long way to go for the LGTBQIA+ community in India.
How would you describe your musical style? How much has it evolved over the years?
My musical roots are in disco music. Disco music represents freedom. When disco came into prominence, it was the soundtrack to the LGTBQIA+ liberation, with the roots in American black soul music, often fronted by big disco divas and strong women. That is so political in itself, as the opposite of macho rock music at the time. Disco was like a big glittery revolution, and since then, it’s lived on in new shapes and forms. My style is very much a homage to classic dance music and the freedom it represents. But with a new twist. I like to constantly explore mixing different styles.
Where do you get ideas for new music?
I love new influences. From pop music with traditional instruments, rap with orchestral sounds, Indian singers with Western dance music – I love to mix it all up and challenge myself and the audience. I always make music with a theme, or a concept, or a story. I approach music as a much bigger project than just a throwaway pop song. I see it as an important tool to tell stories, to inspire change and to create a movement.
What inspired you to make the new album?
I wrote and produced Rainbow Riots India featuring India’s first openly LGTBQIA+ singers and dancers. I wanted to create something completely new, and mix my musical roots of Western club music, rap, pop and soul with Bollywood sounds and classical Indian influences. I want to break new ground and smash stereotypes, to widen musical landscapes, expand horizons and open minds.
I came to India without knowing anyone. I just had to go out and find people. It was one hell of a journey. Now that that’s finished, so much has changed. A revolution for human rights has taken place. When Section 377 got struck down I was right in the middle of it. All the energy has gone into the album and music videos. This is the sound of India‘s rainbow revolution. I want people to see that we as LGTBQIA+ people are everywhere, in every culture. Ultimately we are human beings, and like all humans – we need love. Because love always wins.
How successful do you think music has been in eliminating the prejudice against LGBTQIA+?
We as LGTBQIA+ people have always used creativity to fight against discrimination. We fight hatred with beauty. Music and creativity are extremely powerful weapons because they change the most important thing – people’s minds.
But the battle for full equal rights is not over yet. The abolishment of Section 377 was just the beginning. Now India’s LGTBQIA+ people have to fight for equal marriage rights, protection against discrimination, etc. People are still afraid and hateful of people who are different. A complete change won’t happen overnight. But it will happen step by step. Rainbow Rights India will launch next month.