Insecurity is an internal struggle every person battles with; the degree of which it can cripple an individual depends on one’s ability to not give the problem the power to stifle you. Singer and Kota Kinabalu native Rozella Marie Mahjhrin is someone who was racked with self-confidence issue that caused her self-esteem to slacken, but most importantly for her, she didn’t possess the courage to pursue her dream and desire of being a musician.
Images Melissa Toh + Aaron Yapp
But that was the old Rozella.
The r’n’b singer, who counts the likes of French electronic group Télépopmusik and indubitable r’n’b queen Aaliyah as her inspirations, only started performing to an audience in 2013. Even in front of a room of 30 people for an open mic in KK, she was paralysed with nerves. She recounts the experience to us, “I was almost in tears before going up, I was so nervous. I had my big book of lyrics in front of me,” she groans midway at the memory of it before continuing in third person as she repeats a pep talk to herself three years ago, “if this is what you want, you have to do it. You’re not turning back now, you took the first step.”
“… what was it that I wanted to
do with my life, what was it that
made me the happiest? It was music.”
This instance is both familiar and relatable, and so are her growing pains of being a shy and awkward child. She was the quiet girl at the back of the classroom humming tunes and writing lyrics, and enduring the Asian narrative of treating pursuing a music career as an unattainable impossibility. Ultimately though, she took the plunge as she explains, “It came to a point in my life where I was really unhappy, like what was it that I wanted to do with my life, what was it that made me the happiest? It was music.” During that period, she took a three-month sabbatical from her publishing job where she expelled the negativity through exercising Qigong with the elderly in the early morning and further exorcising it via songwriting. The songs she’d written were naturally dark and angry – emblematic of her then headspace.
“Songwriting has always been, I guess, an emotional outlet. As you evolve, your songwriting evolves as well. As a person, when you change direction, your life experience is different. And automatically, it influences the music you are creating.”
Rozella has certainly moved past that state of mind after she finally made the decision to pursue music full time, and as a result, her current songs are a reflection of a much lighter and focussed person. “I’m at a different place right now and it shows in the music that comes out,” states the singer. ‘Dark Side’ is her first single, and it was produced by a producer she’s a fan of – Darren Ashley. She’d written the song on keyboard and emailed it to him, expressing her interest in a collaboration. The result of which was released in April, premiering on Darren’s bi-weekly SoundCloud series called Monday Juice. Her voice is seductive and ephemeral, and the production is a delectable piece of languid, sprightly pop.
“That’s what I learnt from
pursuing music – it’s to be
comfortable in my own skin.”
The single was also used for her Tiger Jams submission, but she was initially hesitant of being in a competition. She reasons, “It puts you back in that place of ‘Am I good enough? This person is much better than I am.’ You know, that kind of [judgment]?” But she eventually got the call and she then had to worry about self-promotion for the sake of receiving votes. “Voting is a popularity contest, so how do I, as a solo artiste, compete with these bands? One of them has nine members in it!” She stammers slightly at the self-notion of the odds being seemingly stacked against her, but thankfully, she had a strategy. She devised a campaign with #TeamRozella where she invited people to interpret ‘Dark Side’, and to her delight, she received a load of touching support in the forms of covers, artworks, poetry – she is now among the Top 3 finalists of the contest.
Aside from music, Rozella channels her empathy and compassion into a passion project called True Complexion – a Humans of New York-esque collection of stories of people dealing and overcoming issues relating to confidence and the promotion of body image. Rozella divulges that the root of her insecurities was based on the way she looked (Rozella has a significant birth mark on her face). “True Complexion was sort of my way of coming out,” she reveals, as her anecdote on self-love kickstarted the series.
“If my story can help even one person to step outside of their comfort zone, for me, that would be the best thing. I think life is a cycle, what you receive, you give back – that kind of thing. And that’s what I learnt from pursuing music – it’s to be comfortable in my own skin.”
Rozella will perform a free Tiger Jams showcase in collaboration with Darren Ashley and artist FLEX at The Hive @ TREC KL on Sunday 13 August ’16. More details here.
Rozella will also be performing at Timbre on 24 August ’16.