Calenna Garbä is a self-taught Argentinian artist and transgender advocate who began her musical career with a pencil and an old musical keyboard at the same time she was better understanding her gender identity. Her musical and personal journeys were, at times, uncertain and challenging, but also revealed a strength and determination that helped Garbä achieve her dream of becoming a professional pianist while living an authentic life.
Garbä left behind a successful business career in her native Buenos Aires to relocate to Mar de Plata, where she turned to the piano to help overcome her personal struggles. As her musical career blossomed, she began composing pieces inspired by her experiences as a transgender woman and aiming to give hope to emerging LGBTQ artists like herself.
HRC sat down with Garbä to learn more about her journey, music and advocacy.
Tell us about your journey from Buenos Aires to Mar de Plata and its in impact on your personal journey.
I moved to this city from Buenos Aires to be able to be me -- it was a moment where I decided to take the reins of my life to be myself. Being yourself is essential to being able to build and offer something to the world. If one is worried about not being able to live authentically, it is impossible to be naturally you.
Is there a connection between music and your advocacy efforts?
Music was the anchor that allowed me to get by. I owe everything to music. The music was that energy that helped me stay calm in this process of living as myself. It's like the translator of everything I have to say. HRC does excellent advocacy work through its platforms and I do it from the piano -- but in the end, we look for exactly the same thing. My concerts are pleasant music gatherings where I talk to the public about biographical anecdotes and share stories of my pieces. My piano is a tool to advocate for equal rights.
What inspires you to compose musical pieces?
In many cases, I use autobiographical details, as in the case of the song “Niño triste” or “Sad Child”. That child was me, who was sad because he needed to have a better understanding of who he was, but at the same time, he had the strength to move on -- and now here I am. If a person does not have that willpower to fight, the consequences could be fatal.
You played with members of the Urban Queer Orchestra of New York and earned an Estrella de Mar Award in Argentina. What do these achievements mean to you?
Sometimes it is difficult to process, but at the same time it is a great honor because I know that I am somehow leaving a footprint. I am pleased to know that my concerts create a space to think and talk about these issues, especially for those people who had never had contact with a trans person. It is the beginning of a new dialogue.
This month, people around the world will celebrate the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOTB) and unite against hate. What does society need to to do to end the epidemic of violence and discrimination against the LGBTQ community?
What we need is visibility through smart actions. For instance, when people invite others to see me perform, they get invited to a concert to enjoy music and not meet a transgender artist. People come and sit down. I show up, speak and begin to break down structures by engaging in an integrated dialogue with my audience. Art is a way of crossing social borders.