Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Rose will always be a rose

Rose Johny, a former vocalist for the 13 AD band in the nineties, is still going strong today

By Shevlin Sebastian

On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim

I had to stop for the night
There she stood in the doorway;
I heard the mission bell
And I was thinking to myself,
'This could be heaven or this could be hell?'

The timeless classic, 'Hotel California' by the group Eagles was rendered with stunning huskiness and energy, not by a man, but a middle-aged woman, Rose Johny, on a stage at the grassy lawns of the Century Club, Kochi, on Saturday night. She was accompanied by the band, Wings, which included Alex Puthumana on lead guitar, Sreeraj on the keyboard, Jairaj on the drums, Rajesh on bass, and Sylvian Louis, the lead singer and the rhythm guitarist.

It was a rousing performance by Rose that got youngsters and paunchy middle-aged men to shake their bodies in front of the stage. Rose wore a black floppy hat placed low over her head, and was dressed simply in a grey salwar-kameez, with the dupatta tied like a scarf around her neck.

More songs by Rose followed: ‘Shalalala’ by the Venga Boys and Shakira's ‘Whenever Whereever’. The Wings band members were probably fifteen years younger, but Rose matched them in energy and verve. “Rose sang very well,” says club member Jacob Mani. “But then the entire show was wonderful.”

Not many people will know that Rose was once a vocalist of the famed 13 AD rock band. In 1991, Rose, as well as her younger sister Sareena Sunny, heard that the band was looking for female crooners. They went for an audition at the Sealord Hotel and were selected.

For the next two years, they performed with 13 AD in places like Mangalore, Bangalore , Goa, Pondicherry , Chennai and Kolkata. “Usually we sang covers of Whitney Houston, Amy Grant, Janis Joplin and Diana Ross,” she says.

Rose remembers the rousing reception she got at the St. Xavier’s College ground in Kolkata when she sang Diana’s ‘When you tell me that you love me’. “People lit candles and held up their lighted lighters,” she says. “It was one of the highlights of my career.”

The sisters sang vocals on the remix of a few songs on 13 AD’s first album, ‘Ground Zero’, and did backup vocals on the second, ‘Tough on the street’. “However, the band members were hesitant to bring in a permanent female presence, because they felt that it was a male band,” says Rose.

So the sisters left and, under pressure from her family, on December 26, 1993, Rosy got married to Johny George, an advocate who practices in the court at Muvattupuzha, which is where she stays with her husband and two teenage children, George and Tresa.

Not surprisingly, her career slowed down after her marriage. However, in 1995, she sang an English song, ‘Here is a place where I can stay’, in director Lenin Rajendran’s film, ‘Anyar’, with music composed by Mohan Sithara.

Thereafter, Rose got involved in her job as an English teacher – today, she is the principal of the Vimalagiri International School -- but continued practicing, whether when cooking in the kitchen or going for a walk. And on and off, she got music assignments.

She sang on Asianet’s ‘Val Kannaddi’ programme and also did annual Christmas programmes on the same channel. In Muvattupuzha, she got a chance to belt a couple of songs during a Mohammad Rafi night.

“I also sing occasionally for a local ganamela troupe, called ‘Malayalam Orchestra’,” she says. “My love for singing has not diminished at all.”

In fact, Rose had always been interested in singing from her childhood. She grew up in Mumbai and Dubai , till Class 12, before she returned to Kerala. She remembers gratefully her Class 7 music teacher, a Parsi woman by the name of Evelyn Acharya.

“She was the one who told me to sing with my head,” says Rose. “Whenever you take a high note, you should sing with your mind and body and not only with your vocal chords. I did not understand it then. But when I grew up I realised that she was right.”

And she has been having the right effect on the audience all along. Alex of Wings says, “We were surprised and amazed at the reaction of the crowd to Rose at the Century Club. We are now thinking of taking her on a permanent basis.”

This Rose is not going to fade away in a hurry!

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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