FEMWAV (FKA Fembot5) has observed and presented the state of women’s involvement in the Indian music scene anonymously since 2017. Made possible through growing solidarity of contributors from around the world, FEMWAV is committed to instigating conversation around gender equality and women’s empowerment in the music scene in India and elsewhere. They aim to establish a truly intersectional sisterhood of musicians in India by 2020 through discussion of female narratives and emerging data, by identifying and helping create opportunities and providing guidance.
We sat down with the team members of FEMWAV – Uvika Wahi and Samrat B. and got to know about what FEMWAV stands for, and what efforts are being made to fulfil their goals.
Every single day Uvika Wahi has an argument about race, gender, intersectionality, or the class divide and while she is tired, she is also unrelenting. She writes about electronic music, feminism, mental health and develops content strategy for communities that align with these themes.
How did you come to join FEMWAV and where did this stem from?
“FEMWAV was Fembot5 until May 2019. I had read Fembot5 research but that had been the extent of my involvement with it. Samrat B (Audio Pervert) rallied over 40 women contributors to share data and insights and make Fembot5 happen.”
“He asked me earlier this year if I was interested in becoming part of the Fembot5 team. While learning the basics of music synthesis from him in Spain some months later I agreed to come on board. I suggested the name change and also an overall re-calibration of workflow and content. We spoke about what we hoped to achieve through FEMWAV and set concrete goals. We knew we wanted to create a community and resource for women and non-binary folk working in music. We knew we wanted to create a working archive of them and their work. We knew that we wanted to create opportunities for them.”
“The first step in doing this was showcasing and highlighting work done by women and NB (non-binary) musicians. There has been a minor but definite surge in India in the past two years or so of women and queer musicians and sharing their stories is key to subverting the narrative that is traditionally very male. We saw the need for space where we could create a conversation around them, their experiences, skills, and more, and make it easier for them to find each other. In FEMWAV, we created this space.”
“Phase two is to make the community autonomous to facilitate resource-sharing and foster a collaborative community. Phase three will be to create tangible opportunities for these artists and music professionals to learn, create, and make a living.”
With the database you are creating, how is the focus held on the business of music?
“I have only just begun connecting or seeking out women and NB folk working in music, but due to the nature of the work musicians tend to promote themselves – or be promoted – a whole lot more than those involved in other aspects of the industry. Musicians tend to be more forthcoming about presenting their work to the world in general. We aim to showcase the whole spectrum of people who play roles in the industry that are not public-facing and hence are completely overlooked. This is important to create awareness around the veritable buffet of career choices available in music and to also help minimise invisibilization of the labour the current crop of promoters, sound engineers, booking agents, managers, visual artists and more are putting in. I am hoping to talk to as many women and non-binary people working in music to bring them the attention they deserve for their work, as well as create inroads for aspirants.”
This is important to create awareness around the veritable buffet of career choices available in music and to also help minimise invisibilization of the labour the current crop of promoters, sound engineers, booking agents, managers, visual artists and more are putting in.
Recently WIM (Women in Music) started their India chapter. Do you think there are areas that they might not be covering or something that needs to be worked on collectively?
“I didn’t know they were but that’s excellent! It will take as many establishments and individuals as possible, working by themselves and collaborating with each other, to achieve something as fundamental we are all collectively hoping to achieve. I think it would be great to reach out to them and lend support and vice-versa so we can share our findings and create opportunities.”
“I do think there’s a huge challenge that we must all consciously try to overcome. The Indian electronic music scene, among others, for example, is hugely concentrated among the upper-middle class, city-dwelling creative elite, even though the majority of India is not upper class. India is enormous and the music industry narrative should reflect that! A massive chunk of India’s population can’t break through the dome that India’s creative industry has formed around itself. Language plays a big part here since anyone who does not speak English, especially in the electronic music scene, is automatically excluded. Most of the pre-existing musical communities, whenever they get together or commune, it is in settings that do not invite those that don’t speak English or belong to lower classes.”
“There have been scattered efforts that try to circumvent this deliberately, for example, the Queer Futures Potluck Party communication was designed in both English and Hindi. A couple of years ago there were spur-of-the-moment dance battles by the Delhi chapter of Slumgods in the tiny community parks of Khirki – a crumbling unauthorised Delhi colony that I was a long-time resident of – piquing interest among the local children and adults alike. This inclusive approach must, however, become the norm if we want true diversity and representation. I am quite interested in finding out what’s happening musically outside Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore and how the scene is developing (or not) outside the metros and what we can do to help. This is crucial to sustain a cultural identity unique to local markers and truly has something different to offer, not succumbing to the homogenization that plagues the music scene in a lot of countries making it largely unexciting.”
“I am hoping to do a lot of on-ground work to this end when I return to India early next year. Presenting diverse narratives means adopting a multi-pronged approach where we engage with people in person but also understand how these people that we are not talking to yet consume social media differently and make required adjustments.”
Are these efforts being put in only in India, or are you focusing on other countries as well?
“We need to first focus on achieving out initial goals in India, without making the location an active barrier. Based on what we learn along the way, we can develop a blueprint for use in other South Asian countries, and while that may give us an initial framework, we would still need to take into account the complex local social and cultural fabric to communicate effectively.”
Are there any events being planned by FEMWAV right now?
“Not at this time, because we are still working on identifying artists and music professionals on the fringes to create a showcase of artists that are criminally underrepresented. I also want to develop a different communication format which celebrates the collective effort that goes into making events happen, as opposed to simply focusing on headliners and musicians. Any events we put together need to cover some distance when it comes to fulfilling our overarching objectives. Good things take time and I am in no rush.”
How do you think the government can help you in achieving these goals?
“I am cynical but I hold out hope because government-run creative programs and scholarships make such an enormous difference when it comes to transforming arts culture in any country because of sheer reach and credibility. In Berlin, artists are recognised to be valuable to the socio-economic health of the city, and benefit from structures set in place to support artists financially and culturally, and from better access to education and skill-sharing facilities. This fosters a much healthier ecosystem for those working in music and makes it a viable career choice.”
Based in Valencia Spain, Samrat B is a producer, curator, DJ and writer. He is connected with global indie music, fulfilling various roles for almost 18 years. Born in New Delhi India, Samrat spent his 20’s and 30’s creating music with bands, collectives, singers, DJs, for TV and Bollywood. His sound design, beats and production feature in more than two dozen Bollywood blockbusters. Currently involved in various projects connecting India and Indian talent with emerging scenes internationally. Live Music, Empowerment, education and cross-culture being the focus of his current repertoire.
How did you start FEMWAV? Where did the idea of starting an initiative like this come into play?
“I actually didn’t start this. The first two episodes which are on WordPress was written by an anonymous writer. She is a musician who lives in Calcutta, and she has done her PhD on the various issues women face in the cultural industry. Because she is part of the music sorority, she would like to keep herself anonymous, and that’s how the idea started. I came into the picture because I’m a friend of hers. After a while, she came up to me and said that ‘This will get bigger than me as well.’ So the first two episodes are written from her point-of-view. Since I live in Spain and she lives in India, and I’m also connected to a few people in Berlin who are called Female Pressure – a network of about 4000-5000 women across the world who basically might be musicians, DJs, mix-engineers, photographers, videographers. So when I was parked in Berlin, I met some of the founding members of that, and they felt that bringing an involvement project to India would be great because it is big country for all sorts of gender imbalances in the music and even cultural industry, but the thing is that the people who are sitting in Berlin have no clue about what is happening in India or where to start or who to speak to in fact, so since then we started sending out the first two episodes of the blog to various feminists, activists and people of Female Pressure got to know and some more people who are a part of Female Pressure in India also got to know because Female Pressure has a newsletter which is sent out monthly or bi-monthly. I came into the project as an Editor to present information in a coherent infographic style. That is my role in Femwav. I also have people contributing as well from India and outside India.”
You are planning to do Events and Activities in Tier-2/3 cities to discover these women. How do you intend to execute this with FEMWAV?
“I don’t think correct to say that they are Tier-2/3 cities, it includes the big cities as well. We are currently looking at various empowerment models that have existed in the west, and see if we can bring them over here from India’s requirements point-of-view. For example, there are a lot of empowerment models that are being run in big cities, but it happens on an institutional level, so early on we saw a problem with that was a lot of privileged women, who had a lot of resources – they are the ones that are put in the limelight. Consequently, we realized that it is not only women who are in the music as such, but also women who aspire to do something with music should also be addressed here. So we want to create models that go beyond that and see if we can enter the slums or small cities or we can find out how many people or what kinds of problems are being faced by the women who are even interested in music. Making a career out of it comes much later, become one has to cover various kinds of problems that have nothing to do with music. Sometimes there are monetary issues, sometimes there is no education. I will give you three examples of what we are doing right now.”
“One is a music residency that we do outside in Calcutta, and it’s called Synth Farm. We have found scholarships for two applicants who are women, and we pay for their flights and waive off their fees. So if you’re interested in music, if you find it challenging to learn, or don’t have adequate resources, then you can come to synth farm because many people apply, and we don’t have the sufficient funds to hand scholarships to everybody, which is one of the models that we have taken on, which we continuously follow it up to say that two women will be provided for in terms of the fee, the flight, the stay and the costs. It is a small residency which holds only 20-25 people out of which two seats are held for women always.”
“Then there is Emma Decker who is doing an excellent program – a model that we want to bring in to our empowerment model also, where she goes into the slums and then she takes the people who are in the limelight, like media personalities who can be inspirational role models like singers, musicians or a known face and then she holds a talk, followed by some entertainment, but the idea is to pick up 2-3 women that will get trained in the entertainment business like how to design the poster, or how to book an artist or how to do artist management. So what she is doing is that she is grooming these two people (due to lack of resources) for six months and the idea is to after six months let them go on their own. So she offers professional grooming which is only targeted to people living in the slums right now. The project is currently in Bombay, but Emma would like to take it to other cities as well so more people can benefit from it, because it is at a nascent stage, it’s possible to only do it only with 2-3 people for six months, and then again 2-3 people for the next six months and so on.”
“The third one that is going on right now, which is a music school in India. We are deliberately not looking for the composers or artists who are already established who already have they way figured out, so right now we are doing a nationwide hunt to see where all other music is even happening which is made by women that need to be showcased. ”
We want to create models that go beyond that and see if we can enter the slums or small cities or we can find out how many people or what kinds of problems are being faced by the women who are even interested in music. Making a career out of it comes much later, become one has to cover various kinds of problems that have nothing to do with music. Sometimes there are monetary issues, sometimes there is no education.
You mentioned that you will be doing a nationwide search for talent. How will you be going about executing this?
“We are currently working through word of mouth, and like you mentioned earlier – Tier 2/3 cities, we have very little information coming out of there, for example – In Shillong, we have put the word out over there, because after research we found that Shillong, in term of gender balances is quite strong. Women feature in terms of shops, as entrepreneurs, on the radio. We are currently looking for particular areas where work can happen relatively easy like – Shillong because there are a lot of female composers there that want to take their music forward. They might be playing the guitar, or might be singers – but they desire to make it as a full-fledged composer.”