“Women & Music”- Interview Segment featuring The Singing Potatoes
The Singing Potatoes are a musical trio consisting of Harini Dias, Chinthani Seneviratne, and Shenali Kirindagamage. The band officially formed in 2017, following years of playing together as batchmates at Musaeus College since 2010. The Singing Potatoes have since worked their way up the ladder from gigs and concerts to being an opening act for the Yuga tour (with DADDY and WAYO), to release their first single, Yamu Yamu (යමු යමු) and hosting their first exclusive concert “pala weni eka” ( ප-අල-වෙනි එක ). In addition, they have worked alongside the Women of the World Foundation, a not-for-profit organization based in the UK that works towards women’s empowerment and equality.
As soon as we set the theme for “Women and Music”, our team at Everystory Sri Lanka was unanimously certain that we wanted the Interview Segment to feature the Singing Potatoes. Apart from being an all-female band, the Singing Potatoes are a symbol of being unapologetic for being yourself and occupying the space and love you deserve. Whether it’s defying the beauty standards set by society on musical artists or the pressure pushed upon artists by the music industry, the singing potatoes stay true to themselves which has allowed them to maintain their unique image and sound as a group while succeeding as a musical group in Sri Lanka.
What were the initial challenges you faced when starting a music career?
“Back in 2015, music was not seen as an option, neither by us nor our families. Our families were supportive of our love and passion for music, but not as a full-time profession. We were three girls and viewing music as a sustainable profession didn’t seem realistic” — Shenali
“Coming from a South Asian household, a music career is not the first option a parent opts for their child, let alone their daughter. A sustainable career in a professional field such as medicine, engineering, or law is the viable option most parents hope for their children. Before we made the leap to pursue music as a career, we all pursued our higher education in varying fields. I studied Hotel Management, Chinthani studied Software Engineering, and Shenali studied Business Management.” — Harini
“A particular challenge we all faced was proving to our families that we could balance our music career with our education. All three of us succeeded in overcoming this challenge. I’m pursuing music as a full-time career now, while Chinthani and Shenali are balancing professions in their relevant fields of study .” — Harini
Despite the initial resistance, our families have now become our backbone and our most significant support system throughout this journey.
Have you faced challenges in your career because of your gender identity as a woman in the music industry?
A disadvantage for women in the industry is the lack of opportunities to learn the technical aspects of music, varying from setting up technical equipment to music production.
When we first started playing music publicly we didn’t know how to set up a basic mixer or a monitor, we were never taught how to, why we needed it, or the difference in the way we sound with and without these mechanics.
Schools can be a great place to provide this opportunity for young girls. Unfortunately, when we were in school even though we were allowed to sing or play our instruments, the mechanical and technical aspects were kept out of the picture, even the most simple things like setting up our microphones or pressing play on the accompanying track. The lack of attention and interest in teaching these to young girls is due to the presumption that they will not pursue a serious career in music beyond school. It’s assumed that they sing or play instruments just for their enjoyment.
Most technical setups are fairly simple to understand and learn. However, since the foundation and exposure to such aspects are kept away from young girls, they grow up to fear and presume that they are complicated, leading them to shy away from embracing the production side of music. This is why we still don’t see many female music producers in the world, and none at all in Sri Lanka.
This results in the next challenge for women hoping to pursue a music career; the narrative and commonly accepted notion that a career in music for a woman equates to a vocalist. The idea of a woman pursuing a career as a bass guitarist, or a drummer doesn’t cross anyone’s mind. We’ve experienced situations where other musicians or technical assistance crew are surprised by our knowledge of technical setups and the advanced equipment we use. From our experience, society often underestimates women in music and has very low expectations for us.
The possibility of musical producers exploiting and taking advantage of the lack of knowledge in the technical production of a female artist’s music also exists currently. They assume that they can produce music according to their preferences and liking since most artists are unaware of this aspect of music.
Another barrier that exists in entering the production side of music for women is the concerns regarding their safety. Oftentimes production work continues till late midnight or beyond 2–3 am. The lack of safety in such sites or during transport leads to the monopolization of the production aspect of music by male artists and producers.
Has society’s standards of beauty affected you as an artist and an individual?
A particular challenge we’ve faced is the body standards placed upon women in the music industry. This isn’t only limited to our body shape, but our hairstyles and the way we dress too.
When naming the band we had two names before we decided on “Singing Potatoes”, one was “Metathon” and the other was “Extortion.” The two names didn’t feel true to heart and we didn’t feel a connection with it. Finally, our love for music and food came together in harmony to create our band name, “The Singing Potatoes.”
We’ve had to live through body-shaming from society including our close family and friends. One reason why we named the band “the singing potatoes” is to assert that women in all their variations can sing, can be what they want to be, and do what they love to do in spite of comments and criticism based on their physical appearances.
Most negative comments we receive are through our social media profiles. Since these comments are being posted from an unknown face behind a screen, the impact that such words can have on artists is often underestimated. Nevertheless, it’s hurtful, and it translates into pain for artists in real life.
Body-shaming comments divert the attention and value of our creativity and music toward our physical appearances which are irrelevant to who we are and the music we produce.
The way we handle such criticism and hurtful comments is by supporting each other and openly communicating what we’re going through with each other.
We also believe that society tends to be more critical of female artists on their bodies and appearances as we’re held to a higher standard of beauty by society. In South Asian culture, commenting on someone’s appearance is highly normalized. Most often, openly body-shaming someone is devoid of the intent of hurting the person it’s directed at, but we need to understand that our words or light-hearted jokes can cause serious harm to a person.
“Most comments which are directed toward people have the potential to lead them to develop eating disorders or cause episodic triggers. Everyone has a unique journey and story regarding their body. Those outside of your personal circle who have not been with you through your journey don’t know the struggles and fights you’ve had to endure, which is why being conscious and cautious of what you say to someone is extremely important” — Harini Dias
In your opinion, has the inclusivity of women in music improved through the years?
We do believe that the representation of women in music in Sri Lanka has improved. When we were starting our careers we didn’t witness many female bands. Despite the number of all-female start-up bands that emerged, breaking into the industry is incredibly challenging, leading to the discontinuation of most bands.
One of the challenges women face in breaking the glass ceiling in the music industry is the barrier we face in terms of exposure. Back when we started, we only had a handful of locations in which we could perform. As women, we couldn’t perform at venues where there was a guaranteed crowd such as pubs and bars. It had much to do with societal judgment and disapproval in addition to the concern regarding our personal safety.
However, with the changes in societal perception of women that have occurred slowly yet surely through the years, we think that there are more opportunities for women in comparison to when we started.
A great characteristic of the Sri Lankan music industry is that the community is supportive and helpful. When we started out there were many people who offered to produce our songs, attend our concerts and even teach us certain mechanics which were necessary to appeal to audiences.
We do believe that there is still a dire need for women to support other women. Cutting off other women in pursuit of one’s own success is not a value we appreciate or practice. Offering a helping hand to other women in succeeding and progressing in their musical careers is something that we find incredibly important.
As a band, how do you navigate the societal expectations placed upon you by the industry?
A challenge that stands in the way of women sustaining themselves in the music industry is the fast-paced and pressurizing nature of this industry. With the rise to fame and the increase in exposure, certain recommendations and advice we’ve received led to our vision and the values we held when we started our band to alter.
The pressure can be incredibly exhausting and we’ve experienced a time period where we lost our way and we forgot why we started our journey as a band in the first place, which was our love for music. We overcame this challenging phase in our journey by communicating openly with each other about our expectations for ourselves and the band.
The close bond and friendship we shared led us to understand what our values are and we’ve realized from that point onwards that regardless of the demand from the industry to adopt an accelerated and pressurized lifestyle and trajectory for our band, we should stay true to ourselves and continue our musical career in a way which suits and meets our expectations and our values, this includes progressing at our own pace, preserving the niche sound and music we play and limiting the number of members of our band to three members.
Who are some artists who inspire you, especially Sri Lankan artists?
“I listen to a lot of English music and I draw inspiration from female artists such as Beyonce and Adele. As per Sri Lankan artists, we all grew up listening to the band, “Daddy”, which we all grew up with. I’d love to mention “Vaayo”, and “Ridma” as well. I listen to all genres of music, and I’m inspired by each and every artist who I listen to.” — Harini
“I grew up listening to Indian Classical music, so artists including A R Rahman, Hariharan, and Shankar Mahadevan inspire me. As for Sri Lankan artists, I love the artists who were previously mentioned by Harini, in addition to Sunil Edirisinghe, Rohana Weerasinghe, and Victor Ratnayake.” — Chinthani
“A large part of my music taste has been shaped by the artists my brother and I grew up listening to which were primarily composed of heavy metal and rock music, so I draw inspiration from the band ‘Metallica.’ The artist, ‘Slash’(Saul Hudson) has been my idol. There was even a time when I wanted his hairstyle, I’ve always looked up to him. In a local context, I love 70s Sri Lankan music including Sunil Perera and Richmond De Silva. At present-day I draw inspiration from “Mohini Dey”, and Umara and Umaria.” — Shenali
We think that the differences in our taste have enhanced our sound as a band as we’re able to combine our unique tastes and incorporate them into the music we create. It also gives us variation in terms of the music we love to play for our audience.
Do you have any advice for new and upcoming women and girls who’d like to pursue a career in music?
Our advice is to just simply “do it.” At the end of the day, all of us had to start from somewhere. Once you start singing and start your career there will be opportunities that follow. To kick start that journey, the first step is to recognize that you may be the one that’s in your way.
Oftentimes the need to be perfect acts as a hurdle in getting better at the skill you want to develop. When we started out we didn’t sound like we do now, not by a long stretch. Sometimes we look back at the first cover we ever posted on Facebook and we can’t listen to it till the end.
Being kind and patient with yourself as a creative is vital. The creativity of a person isn’t consistent, so artistic slumps are a natural part of the cycle. For example, if you’re someone who makes melodies you might experience creating melodies with the same pattern or rhythm. As a creative, being patient through times when you’re struggling to create original music should be practiced by allowing yourself to go through the different motions and phases of your creative process.
We also think that being yourself and being in touch with yourself is extremely important in this industry. The industry’s atmosphere changes rapidly, with new styles and new trends switching in and out in a heartbeat. The pressure to adopt certain new and upcoming styles might not be the right fit for you. Similarly, producing music that doesn’t align with your artistry won’t make you happy. Understanding that despite the pressure existing, having the resilience to be yourself and embracing your own unique sound and artistry is incredibly important.
Producing music that you enjoy and love is our advice for upcoming artists.
Stream The Singing Potatoes’ single - “Yamu Yamu”