Facing the music
> For the record, Rozella’s not letting anything hold her voice back anymore
SERENADES FOR THE SOUL Although not all of these reactions were ill-advised, they have in one way or another, hurt her self-esteem tremendously. Rozella was conditioned to stay away from anything that would put her in the limelight, and naturally, that meant suppressing her gift of singing.
Which is unfortunate, because the Sabahan was brought up in a household filled with music, by a father who used to be in a band when he was younger. She attended organ lessons with her sister, and spent her formative years listening to everything from The Jackson 5, New Kids On The Block, to Björk, Télépopmusik and Aaliyah. She reminisced, “We’ve always had music at home. I had my first cassette when I was five, and my first CD at 11. I sung and hummed melodies in my head, and wrote songs just for fun. “Music has always been my coping mechanism,” she reiterated. Alas, Rozella was subjected to humiliation in school over her very penchant for music. When she was nine, a teacher made her perform in front of the class after she returned from a singing competition. “Kids being kids, everyone started laughing. I was already very shy, awkward and insecure. So I got so traumatised by that,” she recounted. Believe it or not, it wasn’t until five years ago that Rozella touched a keyboard again. In fact, it was her nephew’s toy instrument that she was playing with! Two years later, she gathered enough guts to perform at her first open-mike in Kota Kinabalu. “I remember shaking and on the verge of tears because it was so scary. There were like 30 people, and everyone was sitting quietly. “But I told myself, if this is what you want to do, this is part of the process that you have to go through. I haven’t looked back since,” said the former magazine editor.
RECORDBREAKING MOVE In May last year, Rozella took a leap of faith and relocated to Kuala Lumpur after electropop maven Darren Ashley reciprocated her interest to collaborate musically. As fate would have it, Ashley was selected to coach Rozella (her band) in Tiger Jams, a competition for budding musicians – which she won, by the way! At the time of writing, the duo is working towards an EP.
“Moving here was probably the best decision I’ve made. There’s not a lot of opportunities in Sabah because the scene is really small, and the bands there are more cover-centric.
“Here, there are many open-mikes and venues which support original music,” she revealed.
Like a domino effect, Rozella’s involvement in music led her to face her fears and embrace her true self, prompting a social photography project called True Complexion (www.fb.com/ truecomplexion). The page features individuals with physical, mental and emotional characteristics that challenge society’s viewpoint of beauty and normality.
“The idea of True Complexion came about because I finally came to terms with how I look. Growing up, I often asked what I did wrong to be given this birthmark. It hit me one day, that maybe it is so that I can channel it for a good purpose.
“It has been insane interviewing these people, because what I’ve been through is nothing compared to the obstacles they overcame and how they’ve thrived so well. If reading True Complexion gives someone the strength to go through his or her struggle, that makes my day,” beamed Rozella, who also freelances as a writer and voice-over talent.
As for her relationship with cosmetics, the electronica songstress does doll up for shows. A feat, considering the fact she’s finally able to appreciate, leverage and have fun with something that used to taunt her with might-have-beens. And like most of us, she still does occasionally wake up feeling unattractive – but it doesn’t bother her so much anymore.
“If there’s anything, health – taking care of yourself internally, spiritually and mentally – is more important than how you look,” she said with a smile.
Rozella cooks her own meals, and stays away from processed food. She thinks it’s important to pursue a diet with your own wellness in mind because it’s more sustainable.