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few years ago, Dushyanthi (who has asked that we only use her first name) blinked in disbelief when she found herself on a private jet with P. Diddy and a gaggle of supermodels—all on their way to Diddy’s opulent four-day birthday party in Marrakech, Morocco. It was certainly a long way from her recent job working with inner city kids at a SoHo youth development center in New York, which Dushyanthi only left after a modeling agent’s unsolicited recruitment catapulted her into the world of New York glitz.

“It was the most ridiculous party you can imagine,” she recalls, somewhat reluctantly. “I don’t think if I’d have kept my old job, I would have been in Morocco.”

While others might brag about the chance to rub elbows with the prince of Morocco and hip hop royalty, it’s nearly impossible to get the Dushyanthi to talk about it. She’d rather discuss the music she’s working on or the playwriting competition she’s won. Still, thanks to her modeling cache, Dushyanthi, who is Sri Lankan American, admits that she’s made some valuable connections in the entertainment industry. “I met a lot of music producers and started working as a songwriter for their artists,” she explains. “I fell in love with being in the studio and recording songs.” From there, it was a simple step from songwriter to songstress.

I’m Sri Lankan, but Sri Lankan American. I was born here and grew up listening to American music, and I want to do that, too.

It’s her tenacity and hard work that’s gotten her recognition in the music field, which she’s currently pursuing full-time. Case in point: After writing and singing a poppy reggaeton song called “Many Men”—which she recorded with a former Destiny’s Child producer—Dushyanthi rounded up professionals she’d met through her modeling career to shoot a video for the infectious single. She burned that video onto a disc and put it in the mail to the programming director at MTV Desi, who loved the it and put it into rotation. “Many Men” soon climbed the charts to the number two spot on the MTV Desi countdown.

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The song created a buzz, and Dushyanthi’s now working with heavyweight producers such as Wyclef Jean and Josh Thompson, who has created hits for the likes of Alicia Keys, Tyrese and Joe. She will soon embark on a tour in the Caribbean, where “Many Men” has been a huge hit, and thanks to her rising star, she has some “special projects” in the works for the next few months—projects that are likely to put her in an even higher league.

The Good Girl

At first glance, Dushyanthi’s resume reads like that of your typical over-achieving desi. Graduating from preparatory school at age 16, she attended the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where she majored in psychology with a double minor in Spanish and women’s studies. She even briefly considered law school before working as an urban youth counselor.

But Dushyanthi’s passions weren’t simmering far from the surface. She had maintained a consistent devotion to music, theater and dance throughout her life. “When I was 16, I did an intensive program in musical theater at the Boston Conservatory. The day was divided into singing classes, acting classes and dancing classes, so I got used to all three,” she remembers. Before the classical training, Dushyanthi received more personal instruction from her grandmother, a music teacher from Sri Lanka. “She was very encouraging with my music. She taught me how to play piano and songs in Tamil and English. All my cousins and I grew up in the same house because after the war in Sri Lanka they came and lived with us. She had us all performing concerts for the adults.”

Being a teacher, a doctor, a writer—those are callings, and one person is not really more important than another. I believe in callings, and this is mine.

In fact, Dushyanthi’s grandmother proved to be the impetus for her first public—and poignant—performance. “I used to be very shy about singing,” she confides, “and my grandmother would tell me not to be shy. She said, ‘I want you to sing a song for me. You have a beautiful voice and I would like you to sing in church on Sunday.’ She ended up dying the next day, and I sang at her funeral. It’s kind of a sad story but it’s also very inspiring to me.”

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Family is obviously important to Dushyanthi, and she praises her parents for their support, which though limited initially, is now unwavering. She laughs as she recalls how her mother came to see her perform for Hot 97 at SOB’s “in front of this thug crowd.” Pretty amazing, considering that she’s “the first person in my whole family to go into this industry—everyone’s been doctor-lawyer-engineer.” And family is just a part of sticking to her roots. Dushyanthi did benefit work in Sri Lanka after the tsunami, is fluent in Tamil and even wears saris to industry events (like the Diddy fiesta). “It’s kind of funny, because people wearing couture will complement me on the saris,” says Dushyanthi, who claims that “that’s what we [desis] have to wear” when it comes to formalwear.

Making It

Dushyanthi describes her music as “fun, sexy, fresh—it’s kind of a new sound that we’re developing, because we’re fusing all these different sounds. It’s urban pop with Indian flavor, but not every track will be an Indian track. I’m Sri Lankan, but Sri Lankan American. I was born here and grew up listening to American music, and I want to do that, too.” Dushyanthi sees a burgeoning of the vibrant underground desi music scene and is thrilled to be part of the first wave of desi artists making it into the mainstream. “I’m really excited about the desi scene in New York and London. And even outside the community, doors are opening for desi people.”

And while a typical week in Dushyanthi’s life might include a trip to an MTV VMA after-party or hanging out at Wyclef’s studio, she remains down to earth. “It’s kind of a whirlwind life, but the day to day of it is not glamorous at all. You go to the studio, you go to dance class, you take your meetings,” she says. So though she’s a talented triple threat of singer-dancer-model, Dushyanthi is more down-to-earth than diva. “Being a teacher, a doctor, a writer—those are callings, and one person is not really more important than another. I believe in callings, and this is mine.” n

Deepa Kamath and Ismat Mangla can’t wait to brag about interviewing Dushyanthi when she’s the biggest thing on the charts. Because Dushyanthi may be above name-dropping, but they are not.
Published on September 1, 2006.
Photography: Vikram Tank for Nirali Magazine.
Comments are closed.
  1. September 5, 2006, 12:02 pm Jaina

    I’m a HUGE fan! Love her style, her music, love it all! It’s so inspiring to see so many South Asians like herself pop up in the entertainment industry.

  2. September 18, 2006, 9:24 pm Laurina

    Its Sooo good to see some of the desi people reachin’ up top. Dushyanthi is an amazing.. well, EVERYTHING (lolz) and i think she’s a true inspiration to us younger generation. Its good that she’s keepin her roots wit everything she’s doin. way to keep it real!!!

  3. September 18, 2006, 9:27 pm Adrian B

    madd prooooooooooppppssss!!!!

  4. September 25, 2006, 6:42 pm krissy

    dushyanthi is amazing. i saw her perform in Sri Lanka on New Years Eve 2005. chick is global!! she had such stage presence n energy that night!! it was a real treat to see her perform. i wish her the best of luck!!

  5. January 17, 2007, 6:37 am AMrita

    true to ur name, nirali magazine! u r d trendiest desi mag to be so cool n so encouraging….

  6. March 3, 2008, 4:54 am PRIYANKARA

    HI DEAR!