convo: rosa, 2021 (nyc)

We are beyond thrilled that the wonderful ladies of ROSA vocal group took over Left Bank this last week, kicking off Women’s Month the best way we know how! Before we relieve them of their editorial duties, we figured what better way to do a sendoff than an interview?

Left Bank: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat! Let’s start by discussing how you all met?

Shilpa: I actually met Aleksandra for the first time, at Berklee College of Music, Boston. We were in a lot of similar ensemble classes, we worked at the same job on campus as well, and it was an immediate soul connection between us. Once we both moved to New York, it felt like a dream come true to join forces and be a part of her vision for ROSA, to learn and sing traditional Serbian music which has somehow always felt like a second home to my ears, and to evolve so intimately with this vocal group, from our first rehearsal until today.

Joanna: Sandra and I met at a Human Instruments event at X Marks the Loft in Bushwick [Brooklyn] – a fun, connecting eve of vocal improvisation & play. At the time, I was regularly curating and leading a collaborative songwriter series in Gowanus and was always looking for new artists to play. I was so drawn to Sandra’s voice and musical sensibilities and asked her if she wanted to be a part of it; lucky me, she did! Later on, she invited me to audition for Rosa.

Carolina: I saw the group performing live during the time I moved to NYC. I was overwhelmed and amazed by the beauty of the group, years after I met Aleksandra, she called me for an audition and then I met the entire group! 

Raquel: I met Aleksandra at Berklee College of Music as a part of the Berklee Balkan ensemble. We have sung together and collaborated ever since!   

Left Bank: And where are all of you from/descendants of?

Raquel: The sunny, magical land of Puerto Rico.

Carolina: I am from Argentina, but my family comes from Syria, Italy and Spain.

Shilpa: I am from India, specifically from Kerala, which lies in the Southern end of the country.

Joanna: I am from the United States (more specifically Teaneck, NJ). A few generations back, my family came to the US from then-Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Poland.

Aleksandra: Mountainous Serbia from my Dad’s side, and evergreen Slovenia from my Mom’s. 

Left Bank: What about your name—how did you land on that?

Aleksandra: Maria ( the other co-founder) and I wanted to find a Serbian word that’s a common symbol in folk songs that, at the same time, is not a big tongue twister for English speakers and the international community. ROSA in Serbian actually means DEW, like morning dew. 

Left Bank: Okay awesome, that’s a great lead in to my next question! Does your music follow one specific region correct or do you end up finding stories and folklore that resonates with all members of the group?

Aleksandra: Correct, we sing songs from different regions of the Balkans where Serbs reside/used to reside. Our main focus is to unearth and present lesser-known repertoire and songs that were carried by women. I believe that traditional music holds a certain timelessness within, which transcends manmade barriers, and that is the place where we all meet and connect with ease. 

Left Bank: There’s something really powerful about your group and how you intertwine traditional stories but still remain a contemporary vocal group, can you describe the process of finding which narratives to sing about? 

Aleksandra: The stories of women of that time and region are very different from our own, but in our repertoire we tend to show the variety of songs that showcase different roles that women had in the community of that past time – from ritual songs where women play crucial roles, to wedding songs, lullabies, and more intimate songs that back then, in a very patriarchal society, were the only way for them to share their more intimate feelings, urges and hurdles. 

Left Bank: Your favorite show to date?

Shilpa: The time we traveled to a music festival in Mendocino, CA, the overall experience was so special and I’ll always hold that memory close. And then of course, securing golden opportunities to perform at the most prestigious halls of music, Carnegie Hall in New York, and the John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center in DC, were just as magical and awe-inspiring, and elevated us to a whole new level as a professional vocal group.

Carolina and Joanna: Balkan Mondays at Sisters

Raquel: My first show with ROSA was at a brunch in someone’s backyard. It was so intimate and personal, it felt like how the traditions of the music were truly started. 

Aleksandra: I second Shilpa on our Mendocino Music Festival performance. Also, Astrid’s CD release show at Carnegie Hall. Hearing our voices ring for the first time in that incredibly acoustic space was an unforgettable experience. 

Left Bank: I’m personally sick of categorizing artists as “women groups or women artists” but it also feels necessary to create a space for us—have you run into any barriers as an all women group or alternatively any successes because you’re made up of all women?

Carolina: I believe any group that is led by all women will face a lot of barriers, the music business is a man’s world, so women have to fight hard to get in and make a future.

Shilpa: I do think there’s an indescribable power that comes from a group of strong, artistic, and multicultural women, coming together and performing music in a language that is not their own. I think it always comes as a surprise even to those who speak Serbian when they find out that most of the members of the group hail from different continents! There’s always an element of challenge when you’re navigating through a niche audience that welcomes us because they are open to this musical style, and wish to understand more about the culture and its history, but we wouldn’t want to be overlooked for an opportunity just because what we are doing is not commercial enough. Whether you understand every word we sing or not, it’s about the vibe created in the moment, and the feeling you leave with the at the end of our performance. We hope to empower and impact more hearts with our voices, and with everything we have coming up in the near future.

Aleksandra: Having in mind that most gatekeepers and executives in this industry are male has its undeniable obstacles. With most of us being from outside of the US, and having had to build our social and business contacts from scratch also has its challenges.  On the flip side, we got to connect, support and be supported by so many incredible women with whom we share the same vision and values, and without whom, we won’t be where we are today. And that’s truly powerful. 

Left Bank: Complete this sentence: the future for women is ____________

Raquel: Powerful and warm.

Shilpa: a dreamable reality.

Carolina: empowerment, freedom and bravery. 

Aleksandra: getting richer with possibilities.

Joanna: intersectional, anti-racist, and unequivocally inclusive of transwomen and non-binary folx. It does away with reupholstered feminized versions of current capitalist, white supremacist, and patriarchal systems and roles, in lieu of creating a softer, juster, and more loving & imaginative global community.

Left Bank: Absolutely incredible! Finally, where can we find you and support your music?

Our instagram: @rosavocalgroup, FB and our webpage:

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