From the Streets to the Stage: Singer and Attorney Sri Panchalam Advocates for Disability Rights

By Sameer Rao Aug 08, 2017

Sri Panchalam

City: Los Angeles, CA 

Movement: Public interest attorney with Disability Rights California, an advocacy group dedicated to various legal aspects surrounding disability rights and ableism

Music: Singer with Doctors & Engineers, an all-APIA psychedelic rock group drawing from South Asian musical traditions for songs confronting APIA stereotypes, and Smithfield Bargain, a jazz-folk trio

Story: Sri Panchalam has loved to sing ever since her parents enrolled her in Indian classical music lessons, but you wouldn’t know it from hearing about her childhood stage aversion.

"I found performing really nerve-wracking as a child, but I liked going to class and singing became something I did for myself," she says.

Panchalam instead focused her energy on studies, eventually attending Loyola University’s law school. "Law school wasn’t the plan," she reflects, but she turned towards law in part through her parents’ influence. It was in law school that she uncovered her passion for public interest and advocacy. She currently pursues this path as a disability rights attorney, but still left law school feeling like something was missing from her life.

So she started networking with musicians in Los Angeles, including other Desis and APIAs like Doctors & Engineers’ Jayson Joseph and Azeem Khan. The three developed the band as a project "that captures what it is to be South Asian in the U.S. diaspora, something reflective of our truth [that] had resonance for other folks like us."

The band’s name, a tongue-in-cheek nod to careers frequently linked with Desi stereotypes, is a part of that mission. The band’s first EP, "*From a Good Family," quickly found an audience not only with other second-generation kids, but also their first-generation parents. "We were introduced to South Asian music through whatever our parents played us," she says. "Some of the coolest parts about having this record is that our parents recognize the songs—my mother likes the songs, which I really wasn’t expecting."

Panchalam hopes to keep both sides of her work going as long as possible. "Both of these parts are me, and I want to keep them both going in top shape for as long as possible," she says.

Listen to Doctors & Engineers’ "*From a Good Family" below: