Published: 26th August 2019
The GrapeGuitarBox story: How this singer from AP is breaking gender stereotypes with music and Insta pages
Teenasai Balamu's debut EP titled ‘Out’ that features six tracks written, composed, and arranged by her, is scheduled to be released by the end of this year
GrapeGuitarBox aka Teenasai Balamu, a 24-year-old singer/songwriter based in Bengaluru, is trying to break the stereotype that one can only identify gender through a binary lens — men and women, through their music. They explore the alternative side of pop by interpreting popular songs in their own style, which is often very different from the original itself. The genre of their music can be best described as indie/pop/alternative.
Teenasai, who performs as GrapeGuitarBox, released their first single, Run, off their début EP, Out, on May 16. Their interest in music began at an early age of 10 years when they learned to play the keyboard. Teenasai has been playing the guitar and singing since she was 15. A lot of their influences include not only indie/pop artists of today like The Lumineers, Angus and Julia Stone, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift but also teenage throwback artists such as Linkin Park, Green Day, Simple Plan, and yes, even the Backstreet Boys. One of their greatest influences, however, has been Tamil music, more specifically, the work of AR Rahman.
From Andhra to the big stage
Teenasai, who is originally from Andhra Pradesh, but has grown up in Bengaluru says, "I have been playing music for quite sometime now as a hobby, played with other people in college as well. After college I was going through a rough patch so I put up a video of my music on YouTube and thought I would give this a try. Then, to my surprise, somebody who is involved with events in Bengaluru saw it and the journey began — I started getting offers to play live gigs."
The 24-year-old artist studied at Symbiosis Institute of Media & Communication (SIMC), Pune and prior to becoming a full-time musician, they worked on several freelance projects as content and copywriter, then did a bit of production work as well. "A few months after I began performing regular gigs, I wanted to give it a shot full-time, that was around the end of 2016. I went to Mumbai and played at a bunch of open mics. But my music career’s pace really started picking up at the end of that year when I was featured in Rolling Stone India as one of the budding artistes to listen to. Two years after that I started working on my debut EP, of which only two tracks are out now," adds Teenasai.
How dat name stuck?
As for the name GrapeGuitarBox, Teenasai says, "Basically, in 2014, I was making an Instagram account and I didn't want to use my name as the username, so I wrote three random things that I really like — that's how GrapeGuitarBox came into existence. I kept using the same username for the other accounts like on YouTube and Sound Cloud and well, it stuck."
Teenasai's debut EP titled Out, that features six tracks written, composed, and arranged by her, is scheduled to be released entirely by the end of this year. With her music, Teenasai wishes to create a space safe from labels, judgement, and discrimination; a space for all the misfits. "The experiences that I have are as valid as any other heterosexual person. It's important to normalise the experiences queer people have. Apart from my musical achievements, my experience as a non-binary person plays a vital role in my journey," Teenasai explains, adding "Because I have a female body, people expect me to behave a certain way, and when I don’t dress in that certain way or cut my hair differently, I get a lot of stares."
Calling all the Queer and Dear
They and their partner also started an Instagram page called The Queer Question in 2017. "We realised that people don't ask questions inside our community or outside, as they might be scared of doing so or be scared that they might sound offensive, or it might be received in a bad way. A lot of homophobia we see or experience is because of the lack of awareness, so we created this portal where people can anonymously ask questions and we will provide as much as information possible. They can even request a personal reply by providing their email ids," adds Teenasai. The Instagram page has received a lot of questions from younger people and people from remote parts of the country as they feel that these people do not have access to information like we do.
Teenasai and their partner Jo are also a part of another Instagram page called Almaari, which is based on the concept of a closet. "Many people want to be safe or they don't want to get out of their closet, we wanted to turn it into an art project. If you are a queer person and your closet existed in a physical space, what would it look like — that was the idea. People described it like a narrative and then we got some illustrators to breathe life into the artworks. It works as an art anthology of sorts," concludes the 24-year-old artist.