Known to many as one of the most engaging and enthralling performers the rock world has ever seen, Freddie Mercury has left a profound mark on the musical world. Singer, songwriter and music producer, Mercury was best known as the lead vocalist of the rock band ‘Queen’. His songs include ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘Killer Queen’, and ‘We Are the Champions’—just some of the regular features on playlists across generations and cultures. In 1992, Mercury was posthumously awarded the Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music. As a member of Queen, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003, and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2004. In 2002, he was placed number 58 in the BBC's 2002 poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. Having received all these accolades, many are still unaware of his diverse and rich heritage, which shaped his musical sensibilities greatly.
Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara in 1946 on the small spice island of Zanzibar—then the British Protectorate of East Africa, and modern-day Tanzania. His parents, Bomi and Jer Bulsara, were both Parsi (followers of the Zoroastrian religion whose ancestors came from Persia). Bomi was born in India and like many, went to a British settlement in Africa as a civil servant, working as a High Court cashier for the British Government. Freddie's sister, Kashmira, was born in 1952.
In 1954, at the age of eight, Freddie was shipped to St Peter's English boarding school in Panchgani, about fifty miles outside Bombay (modern day Mumbai), India. It was there that his friends began to call him Freddie, a name the family also adopted. This is where Freddie showed a natural talent for the piano, which his headmaster encouraged his parents to support.
In 1962, Freddie finished school, returned to Zanzibar and spent his time with friends in and around the markets, parks and beaches. However, Zanzibar got its independence in 1963, which was followed by a revolution which saw the largely poor Africans involved in riots which targeted the wealthier Indian population. The Bulsaras consequently fled to London in 1964 and settled in Feltham, swapping a life of relative comfort in Africa, for a semi-detached home in the British suburbs.
His mixed background made his sense of identity rather complex. Being a Parsi, it is argued that he identified more with his Persian ancestry than his Indian one, where his parents were brought up and where he was educated. Freddie was known to be intensely proud of his Persian Zoroastrian heritage. His sister Kashmira was quoted as saying ‘I think what [Freddie’s] Zoroastrian faith gave him was to work hard, to persevere, and to follow your dreams’. It was however his Indian heritage which was known to greatly impact his penchant for music. He honed his piano skills by playing Indian tunes, and it has even been said that one of his more formative musical influences was the Bollywood singer Lata Mangeshkar. Mercury’s consequent rise to stardom is well chronicled, however his diverse and rich heritage, which helped him develop into the star he was, is hardly shined a light on.
Even though his biographical details are at times muddy, it is clear that being a TCK from a diverse and rich background, was one of the driving forces behind him being an icon for the musical world.
How has your TCK experience affected your ability to appreciate music from all corners of the world? Leave a comment below and let us know!
Read more about Mercury’s heritage, and how it molded the persona he took on.
Biographical account of Freddie Mercury, if you’re interested!
Learn about how the Zoroastrian religion has had a profound effect on the world – Mercury being testament to that.