From easy Caribbean living to fast-tracked stardom in the Netherlands, Shirma Rouse cast her life as backing vocalist aside to give her powerful voice the spotlight it deserves. Israel's Hot Jazz series has invited "The Dutch Queen of Soul" to sing Aretha Franklin's praises all across Israel this May in honor of the living legend's 75th birthday.
Rouse practically absorbed her musical talent through genetic osmosis.
"My grandmothers were both church musicians: one sang while the other played the Hammond organ. I, in turn, started singing in the church around the age of six," Rouse explains.
Her father was also a professional musician, as is her brother and of course, her. "For some people, some things are very normal. For instance, maybe in Israel, eating hummus is normal; for me that's how music is. It was always just there."
While engrained in her bloodstream, Rouse's gospel roots transgress her genetics.
She grew up on the quaint island of St. Eustatius, "and on that island," Rouse says, "we were very close to North America, so I had a lot of black gospel and spiritual roots coming from their Methodist churches."
While she loved the 'easy living' of her 21-square-kilometer home, dubbing it "extremely idealistic," at 19, Rouse veered on a slightly different path, leaving her family and familiar surroundings behind to study in the Netherlands.
"I actually came to Europe to study chemistry, but within the first few months, I joined a choir here and I started playing and touring with artists. It wasn't a plan, it all just sort of happened," Rouse grins, attributing it to luck.
Rouse took this turn of events as a blessing, going on to complete a Bachelor's Degree in Jazz Vocals. "The rest is history," she chuckles.
While the cold weather was a big surprise for the girl who knew nothing but sunshine and Caribbean heat, Rouse refused to let the temperature drop cause a drop in her motivation.
In her 18 years in the Netherlands, Rouse has done backing vocals for Chaka Khan, sang behind Dutch singer-songwriter Anouk on Eurovision, and almost won The Voice of Holland, which triggered her transition from the supportive vocal role to the shining center stage star she is today.
"The transition was hard because I had to tell people 'no' for the first time," Rouse admits. "I've always been the backbone for others. It was a rough transition, but in a good way because I learnt that when you put yourself first, other people put you first as well. I was making a statement in becoming a solo artist and really defining myself."
While the "Dutch Queen of Soul" is coming to Israel to perform a special tribute to the original "Queen of Soul," Aretha Franklin, she makes sure to hold onto her vocal integrity and "sound like [her]self, like Shirma."
Rouse was first introduced to Aretha's music during one of her concerts with the Metropole Orkest.
She thinks back, "The musical director took me aside after the concert and said, 'I have something for you to see'. He handed me this DVD - a live recording of Aretha's 1968 show at the Concertgebouw concert hall in the Netherlands - and I was in awe."
This was the one time Aretha had traveled to Europe because she doesn't fly, so Rouse took the special recording as a sign she simply could not pass up.
"People all over the world 'see' Aretha without actually seeing her live," Rouse says. "I was so intrigued by who this woman was. I did some research and decided to record an album in her honor."
Rouse did not stop there either. She is currently working on a theater production that follows the men in Aretha's life, scheduled to tour the Netherlands come September.
While her Hot Jazz series in Israel will pay homage to Aretha's life, Rouse wants to focus purely on the music for this project. Her aim is an "Aretha Franklin meets jazz" performance, arranged by an incredibly talented Israeli jazz saxophone player and arranger named Eyal Vilner.
"He's jazz and I'm soul," Rouse states, matter-of-factly. "We're fusing the two to get somewhere in between."
When asked what she wishes to accomplish with this second trip to Israel, Rouse answers, "My idea behind this tribute is to honor her versatility and to also honor the music. We're going to have a return – of the love and the need to be there. "
For Rouse, 'love' is the key to everything. "Everything's all about love...self love. Put yourself first and others will too. #nothingbutlove. That's my hashtag."
Become part of the love at one of Rouse's exclusive performances: May 4 @ Arts Beersheba, May 6 @ Ganei Tikva Center Stage, May 8 @ Jerusalem Theater, May 9 @ Zappa Herzliya, May 10 @ Einan Theater in Modiin, May 11-12 @ The Tel Aviv Museum of Art, May 13 @ Abba Hushi house in Haifa.
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