Sumangala Narendrakumar — stage name, Lady Pista — is a recording artist and DJ whose music is a blend of dancehall, electro-house, and world music (her 5 track EP releases next month!). We connected with Lady Pista for the ISAASE Be Inspired project, and she shared her experience of pursuing a career in the entertainment industry, the challenges she’s faced along the way, and her advice for young people pursuing a similar path. Here’s our conversation…
Tell us about your music and work.
I’m a Sri Lankan-Tamil recording artist & DJ from Canada. The genre of music I create is a blend of dancehall, electro-house and world music.
My work as a recording artist and a DJ is to uplift South Asian and immigrant women. I want us to have the courage to do anything our hearts desire.
As a South Asian woman, what has been your experience of pursuing a career in the entertainment industry?
Pursuing a career in the entertainment industry was really hard growing up as a South Asian. The type of music I made was also a challenge. It was very unorthodox at that time [when I started]. [Especially] was a South Asian girl mixing Tamil music with patois. No one really understood it and it was way before their time.
I was also the first Tamil female to become a DJ in my hometown of Toronto. People were surprised, and there was a level of curiosity. But there was always the constant pressure to prove yourself. And as a female in the entertainment industry, there is a stigma that still lives today.
Did you face any other challenges along the way?
My parents had super traditional values, and coming into Canada as an immigrant, there were certain norms in place that I had to follow. Like many Sri Lankan immigrants, my parents fled the war in Sri Lanka. They moved to Germany, and then later, to Canada. My parents had expectations of me and one was completing University (specifically, going to college in the States), finding a nice 9-5 job, and getting married.
And the education system wasn’t built to encourage the arts. I ended up going to a private school for audio engineering. This is where I started to get exposure to another world that I had no idea about.
What were your experiences with teachers and peers in school?
I had really encouraging teachers in elementary and high school. As a South Asian woman, I never experienced the race card since I went to a school that had a melting pot of ethnicities and culture. The teachers were really friendly and supportive.
With peers, we stuck with our own races and everyone was segregated because of it. [They] had this thing called “The Hill.” All the cool kids sat there overlooking others that were below them. If you weren’t apart of the group we were told to get off.
There was never that pressure for me to fit in though. I always did my own thing and I would attract friends that appreciated that.
But I wish I knew [growing up] to look at music as a business rather than a passion. It’s okay to be passionate but sometimes we lose our value in the process. I also wish I had access to more angel investors and grants. The biggest challenge was funding my musical projects and getting them in the right hands.
Your experience with audio engineering was instrumental to your journey. What other supports helped?
I would definitely say family, and friends. And after years of persuading my parents, they finally gave up and told me my happiness mattered the most. Now they are my biggest supporters! My sister also gave me the courage to make my dreams my reality even when I wanted to give up.
Also, during my journey, I met a few mentors that have turned into business partners who are all apart of my team today. It’s important to surround yourself with people that have the same vision as you.
Most importantly you have to remember that you are the biggest vehicle to your own success.
We are all told that the arts isn’t a career and we need to find a suitable role in society and fit the mold. What if your mission wasn’t to follow the pack? What if it was to break boundaries so our communities can evolve?Lady Pista
What do you want young South Asian kids to know?
I want you to know that it’s okay to have dreams.
We are all told that the arts isn’t a career and we need to find a suitable role in society and fit the mold. What if your mission wasn’t to follow the pack? What if it was to break boundaries so our communities can evolve?
Be a visionary and if something feels so right to you. Don’t question yourself; just do it!
Lady Pista‘s 5 track EP titled “Imma Pista” releases next month, November 2017.