By Tahnee Hopman, Pic by Saman Kariyawasam
In ten years time, hopefully, Shanaki Perera will have released an album of her own music in addition to being a dedicated and successful career woman with a Masters and PhD under her belt.
By day, Shanaki juggles many roles. Hard at work as a Marketing Consultant, she is also a part of the Roteract, in fact, she is a former president of the association. By night, she is Missy Flame – a name any club hopper at the Bistro or The Zetter would be quite familiar with.
"If I were to categorize myself," she says, "I am the only female DJ in Sri Lanka to play at clubs and other events. There have been other female DJ's, but they don't work as DJ's any more."
How did it all begin? "Well," she reminisces, "I was 13 years old, and I remember it was at that point that I was allowed to go to my first mixed party and I was all excited… I saw the DJ playing, and it really fascinated and enthralled me! So I did a little research into the DJ music scene and found out what I had to do. It was amazing to see that DJ and how he controlled the crowd, they just went nuts! It's all about playing the right music and setting the right mood; it's just fascinating, the whole experience."
Ten years down the line, Shanaki enjoys the eventful life she leads. "I love the music," she says; "I always did, but once you get behind that console, everything just changes! It takes a little getting used to at first."
Getting into the field could also take a while, considering that not many girls generally enter the world of playing at parties and clubs. There are female DJ's around but not many. "One of those who inspired me was Niki Belluci. She was a porn star who broke away from that industry to continue with her work as a DJ. And she is really good!"
Adapting to the change came very easily to Shanaki, having a great bunch of supportive friends."Recently I met a friend of mine whose fiancé is a DJ and he was just fascinated that I wanted to be a DJ – I was quite passionate about it, and so he basically took me under his wing, and took me training. I would go with him to weddings and parties to watch him play. I was trained for about 6 months."
She took a while to actually start out on her own, "because at the time I was doing CIM, and my parents weren't all too thrilled about me being a DJ as they wanted me to focus on my studies. I'm also part of Roteract and last year I was the President and at the time it was too much for me to handle! But well, I thought, you only live once, so I decided to go ahead with it when I was ready."
My first gig was at the Bistro, and the party was called Bootylicious. I was very nervous, but all the DJ's were very supportive, and quite thrilled about me and my interest. And the crowd was pumped up!
Shanaki now plays on a regular basis at the Bistro and at the Zetter, in addition to her marketing and charity work. She has big plans for the future, plans which involve obtaining her PhD in Business and launching a record label under her own name.
"I want to mix Sri Lankan music with the genre I'm playing," she says, "give it a Sri Lankan flavour and put it out there. I think people should hear it, so hopefully in a couple of years I should be able to release my own track under my own name."
The eldest in a musical family, Shanaki never fails to mention the role her family plays in her life everyday. Being exposed, from a very young age, to many genres of music – from Beethoven and Mozart to contemporary music, her love for music started at this point. "When my mother first came to know what I wanted to do, she was absolutely thrilled! My father was not as enthusiastic at first, but he's extremely supportive now. My younger sister takes on the role of friend and advisor, and the two of us are very close."
And how does the crowd usually respond to the rare sight of a female DJ at a console? "From what I see, they really like the concept of a female DJ and in fact some people are really happy to see one. My fellow DJ's have also been very supportive."
Being a DJ has taught Shanaki a lot – to stretch her limits and keep on learning new things. But most importantly, she loves what she does. "If I was given one word to describe myself," she reflects, "I would call myself passionate. Whatever I want to do I want to do it well. I'm still learning, I love learning, and I think that's one of the things that got me where I am. I have had a lot of failures in my life but I've been able to get back on track because of the passion I have for learning."
Could a successful marketer also be a DJ, constantly juggling two very different roles? The way Shanaki is going, she is definitely heading towards that goal.
Describing her experience as gratifying – seeing the level of support and encouragement she gets, Shanaki is thankful for the opportunities she has had. "Not many people actually get to do something they love to do, and even fewer people have had the opportunities I have been given. And when I think back on my life so far, I realise that I'm very lucky!"