THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the airUp ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering lightMy head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
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. She was accompanied by the band, Wings, which included Alex Puthumana on lead guitar, Sreeraj on the keyboard, Jairaj on 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. The bespectacled Rose wore a black floppy hat placed low over her head, and was dressed simply in a blue 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 band was wonderful.”
Not many people may 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 enthusiastic reception she got at the St. Xavier’s College ground in Kolkata when she sang Diana Ross’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 thrilling moments of my career.”
The sisters sang vocals on 13 AD’s first album, ‘Ground Zero’, and did backup vocals on the second, ‘Tough on the street’. Band drummer Pinson Correa says, “Both sisters harmonised beautifully with 13 AD.”
However, Rose felt that the group were hesitant to bring in a permanent female presence, because their public identity was that of a male band. So, the sisters departed and, under pressure from her family, on December 6, 1993, Rose 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 2003, 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 while 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. “I also sing occasionally for a local ganamela troupe, called ‘Malayalam Orchestra’,” she says. “My love for singing has not diminished at all.”
And her effect on the audience has not diminished at all. 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!