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Making space for underrepresented voices: Meet British-Punjabi trans artist Mya Mehmi 

By Giana Siddiqui, MA Global Creative and Cultural Industries 

On 10 February, British-Punjabi trans musician and artist Mya Mehmi (she/her) made history by becoming the first ever trans artist to feature on BBC’s Asian Network playlist. 

Mehmi’s featured song, Parivaar (Interlude), was written during the lockdown of 2020 in honour of her cousin and father after the death of her Thaya (uncle in Punjabi). ‘Parivaar’ translates to family in English, wherein the song aptly explores themes of family heritage (specifically the Punjabi experience), loss and queer identity. 

‘The song was an effort to console my loved ones and to immortalise someone that has been and continues to be so influential in my life,’ Mehmi wrote in an Instagram post from 1 February. 

Launched in 1996, BBC Asian Network is a national digital radio station owned and operated by the BBC. It features music and speech aimed at appealing to those with an interest in British Asian lifestyles. 

In a celebratory Instagram post, Mehmi recalled how her father would listen to the network’s radio listings ‘all the time growing up’ and speculates what her song might mean for trans-Asian girls today – specifically those of South Asian heritage.

While Mehmi is honoured to have been included in this playlist, she reminds audiences to take this fact with ‘a pinch of salt,’ telling the  BBC that ‘there could have been artists in the playlist before that are transgender, but did not have the support to come out.’ Mehmi’s comments highlight the need for a more intersectional inquiry into what representation holds in today’s cultural economy. 

With South Asians making up the largest ethnic minority in the UK, highlighting the work of queer Asian artists in the field marks a significant cultural moment – but there remains more work to be done. Mehmi’s inclusion on the radio’s network, while historical, shows the need for more diverse voices within the UK music space – even for a station like Asian Network – and the importance of cultivating a safe community when doing so.

“She further told the BBC that it is surprising to see a lack of queer representation across the music industry – even now in 2023.”

The artist further told the BBC that it is surprising to see a lack of queer representation across the music industry – even now in 2023. It is thus of little surprise that, as a member of the queer Asian community in the UK, making visible the works of queer artists becomes ever more important from a community perspective. 

Mehmi herself is no stranger to this: She is one of the producers of the iconic London nightclub, Pxssy Palace, which provides an ‘arts platform rooted in intentional nightlife, celebrating black, indigenous and people of colour who are women, queer, intersex, trans or non-binary.’ ( Taken from their website) 

More recently, in wider efforts to bolster the queer South Asian community in London, Mehmi launched her podcast, Straight No Chaser by Mya Mehmi, which addresses the gap between trans women and trans amorous men, in the hope of building coalitions and serious dialogue about the nature of queer relationships today. 

London-based community platform and creative agency Diet Paratha celebrated Parivaar’s inclusion in BBC Asian Network alongside Mehmi on Instagram, calling her feat an ‘absolute milestone for [herself], the trans community and [South Asian] culture.’ 

Diet Paratha, much like Mehmi, has also touched on the lack of South Asian representation, namely in the UK. In a feature for British Vogue, Parveen Narowalia reported how the rise of online activism for marginalised communities on platforms such as Instagram has allowed talents from such communities to garner a voice. Diet Paratha is one such brand, where through its platform, it celebrates the best of South Asian talent, particularly South Asian creatives.  

Citing a harrowing lack of representation and too much misrepresentation of South Asians in Western media, Diet Paratha founder, Anita Chhiba, hopes the brand will ‘help shift the perspective’ on South Asian communities and bring on stronger allyship from other communities. 

‘It’s been 99 per cent of SA people who have helped me so far in terms of press and opportunities,’ said Chhiba – once more reinforcing the urgency with which the UK’s creative and cultural industries’ ought to champion and celebrate its dynamic range of voices. 

Photo Caption: Mya Mehmi in her music video for Parivaar,(Credit: Mya Mehmi via Homegrown).

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