At Last, the debut album from Roveena. This Toronto-based vocal powerhouse first grabbed attention with her riveting cover of Etta James classic "At Last." That made her a YouTube star and led to a CITY TV appearance that has launched a musical career destined for greatness.
That is confirmed upon first listen to Perfect World, a mini-album introducing an artist who combines vocal virtuosity with a highly accessible yet distinctively original musical vision. Perfect for the world of adult contemporary radio, the five-song disc boasts production values of the highest order while presenting a bracing mix of new contemporary material and a fresh take of a pop classic.
Roveena's version of Mr. Mister's smash '80s hit "Broken Wings" features lushly evocative instrumentation and soaring vocals that pack an emotional punch. "My producer Brian Allen suggested we try that one," explains Roveena. "He said he always loved the tune but really wanted to change it up." Mission accomplished.
The other four cuts on Perfect World are ballads, reflecting Roveena's personal preference. " I find it really resonates with people when I sing ballads," she says. "Notes and melodies sometimes just take me to the zone when I sing them. I especially get lost in ballads, so I tend to sing a lot of them!"
Roveena candidly observes that "at this point in my career my strong point is my voice. I can sing and I can tell stories, but songwriting is still in its infancy for me." That may be so, but she clearly has great potential as a writer. That is illustrated by the song "Perfect World," a co-write with Brian Allen. It takes real creative courage for your first recorded original composition to be one addressing a social problem, and that is exactly what Roveena delivers here. "The song is about body image when you're younger," she explains. "Women struggle then, trying to live up to a standard that is unrealistic. That song is rather a window to my soul." This heartfelt track features such lyrics as "she was supposed to be a beauty queen...in the mirror a prisoner of her dream."
The remaining tunes on Perfect World were pitched to Roveena by some major publishing companies and songwriters keen to see their compositions given the Roveena treatment. Liz Rodrigues (Celine Dion, Eminem), Andrea England and Luke McMaster co-wrote "Love Will Light The Way," Rob Wells (Backstreet Boys, Justin Bieber), Jess Cates and Lindy Robbins teamed up on "I Lied," and Nashville writing team Kent Agee, Burton Collins and David Worby contributed "Alone Another Night."
"Musically these songs really fit with my image and theme," she says. "I'm not a young dance-pop artist. The songs I want to sing need to be stories people can realistically believe, and these ones stood out like gems to me. I was hooked by the melodies, and the lyrics jumped out at me too. When such great writers want to pitch you their work, you can't say no."
Helping frame Roveena's force of nature voice on Perfect World are a couple of master musicians. Robert Michaels is internationally renowned as a fluent acoustic guitarist with a strong world music influence, while keyboardist Sam Reid found fame as a member of Glass Tiger. Allen explains that "for the project, I wanted character, the kind of character that known recording artists possess. To my relief, Sam and Robert loved both Roveena's voice and the approach, and agreed to be part of the project."
They make potent contributions on four songs here, while Brian steps out from behind the console for some potent electric guitar work on "Broken Wings." Now a noted producer, he first made a mark in '80s hit Canadian rockers Toronto. He's also a highly accomplished songwriter whose credits include co-writing "What About Love," a massive international hit for Heart.
Two South Asian percussionists, E. T. Navalan on tablas and Vivek Moorthy on mridangam and dafli are featured on Perfect World, and the use of baya and sitar further adds a subtle world music flavour to the compositions. Roveena is proud of her Tamil heritage, and wanted to reflect this on the album. "I loved bringing some different sounds to the music and identifying myself as South Asian. The aim was to have something commercial but also a little different," she explains, citing such artists as Peter Gabriel and Sting as inspirations in this regard. Brian Allen adds that "we began to call this sound pop with a little curry sprinkled over it."
Roveena and her family have experienced a rather nomadic life, living in Sri Lanka, the U.K., and Nigeria prior to settling in Canada in 1983. She is now a passionately proud Canadian, declaring that she chose the album title "because Perfect World is a good reflection of what my life is, being an immigrant in this country. I live a duality, but I now identify myself as a Canadian first."
She comes from a musically-oriented family, and was singing almost from the cradle. "My parents have audio tapes of me singing along to ABBA songs at 18 months," Roveena laughingly recalls. Growing up, she frequently dazzled listeners at family events and community concerts and also became proficient as a pianist.
Roveena's key early musical inspirations were the three leading divas of our time, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, and Mariah Carey. "I never took formal vocal lessons when I was younger, but my dad would play me the latest Celine or Mariah record. He'd go, 'by the end of the day you'll hit all those notes and sound just like them,' and I did a fairly good job of mimicking them. That's probably how the ballad thing got engrained in my head."
Thankfully, Roveena never resorts to over-arching vocal gymnastics. "I have the range and power but I don't want to go overboard with the tunes," she says. "You're telling a story with each song, so screaming your head off does not do the song justice."
She studied classical piano and composition as an undergraduate at The University of Waterloo, but chose to pursue a career in human resources wasn't sure how to phrase this?. Her love of music never diminished, however, and she began posting YouTube videos of performances of cover songs. That led to a genuinely life-changing moment when Toronto's CITY TV invited Roveena to perform on their Breakfast Show.
"They'd seen the video of my singing 'At Last' at the CNE and asked me on to sing as part of their YouTube week," she recalls. She so stunned host Kevin Frankish with the power of her voice that a planned one minute segment turned into eight minutes, an appearance that would launch Roveena's career. "Everything snowballed from that point," she says. "Within minutes of finishing, the station forwarded 50 e-mails asking where they could see me or buy a CD. That plucked me out of obscurity." She was quickly invited to sing the national anthems at Blue Jays and NFL games, and a placing in the Top 10 on the singing competition show TVI's Superstar boosted her profile in the South Asian community, both in Canada and internationally.
This response boosted Roveena's self-confidence and encouraged her to pursue her passion for music with total commitment. "I'm not in this to make millions of dollars," she stresses. "I'm just excited to grow and see where this journey takes me."
So welcome to Roveena's Perfect World. It's a place you'll definitely want to explore.