The singing cousins – Yohan and Khalia | Sunday Observer

The singing cousins – Yohan and Khalia

2 October, 2022

Two fresh faced youngsters sat in the softly lit lobby of the Colombo Hilton and spoke about their life of music and song. They were the Singing Cousins,Yohan and Khalia de Lanerolle who were literally ‘born into music and destined to sing’.

This is not surprising as their fathers are iconic singers of local and international fame, Rohan and Ishan, popularly known as the de Lanerolle Brothers. Yohan is Rohan’s son and Khalia is Ishan’s daughter. Yohan’s mother, Neyomi and Khalia’s mum Shanaz are also inheritors of a musical legacy and are lovers of music.

Golden voices

Yohan (17) and Khalia(14) are very much children of the 21st century but what makes them unique are their golden voices. Khalia is a soprano while Yohan is a tenor. During Christmas 2021, they mesmerized audiences with their rendition of the yuletide favourite, Felize Navidad, in which the two fathers joined them later. The event was the annual de Lanerolle Brothers Christmas Concert.

Musical inheritance

For Yohan and Khalia, it was like coming into this world with music. Khalia said, “I must have heard music even in mama’s womb for she has the radio on all the time. For Yohan too, his home was always filled with music even before he was born and naturally, he came into a world of music. In a recent interview with a YouTube channel, Yohan said, “Music has been in the family for generations and that it has been passed down to their fathers and now to them.”

The cousins would also have inherited musical genes from their paternal grandmother, Ganjalie Fernando de Lanerolle, a Bishopian who was an award winning pianist in her day.

Khalia is a member of her school, Bishop’s College Choir and is also a chorister at the Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour in Colombo, where father Ishan has been serving as the Choral Director for over eight years.

Yohan attends that hallowed School by the Sea, S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia, and is a member of the College Choir, the Canto Perpetua. He also is a server at the College chapel.


As a child, Khalia grew up to the sound of ‘golden oldies’, the songs of the greats such as, Jim Reeves and the ‘King of Rock n Roll’, Elvis Presley and other music of the 80s and 90s with a few more modern numbers thrown in.

For Yohan, the world of music stretched from one of the iconic tenors of our time, Luciano Pavorotti to Bon Jovie.

Classical music formed a major portion of the music Yohan got to listen to.

And of course, the mellifluous voices of father and uncle, Rohan and Ishan rang in Yohan and Khalia’s ears much of the time.

Khalia’s musical taste runs to soft music and she also loves the music of the church, especially the hymns. She has been steeped in this music from her early days at the Anglican Church in Mirihana.

Yohan listens to classical music and at the other end of the spectrum is hip hop, RnB and others of their ilk. In RnB,

Yohan really digs the music of Bruno Mars and Weekmd. He also plays around with the app, the garage band, trying out various mixes of a variety of music. The entertainment arena is as familiar to these ‘Singing Cousins’ as their own homes.

Their earliest recollection is a de Lanerolle Brothers show when Yohan must have been about four years and Khalia around one year. They recollected carrying flowers for their fathers and Yohan remembered Ishan carrying Khalia on stage.

First memory of a concert

Their first memory of being under the spotlight is at a ‘de Lanerolle Brothers’ Christmas show. Khalia remembers wearing a red and green dress and singing ‘Away in a Manger’. Yohan recalls wearing a green kurta for his rendition of ‘Mistletoe and Wine’.

As children, lyrics and melodies resonated in Yohan and Khalia’s memories and souls.

The popular ‘Porto Fino' is a hot favourite in the de Lanerolle Brothers repertoire. After one show, going back home in the car, little Khalia, aged around four, surprised everyone by asking Rohan, “Appa, who broke your heart”? Appa Rohan’s reply , “Quite a few”. Later, Yohan too had sung ‘Porto Fino’.

To the question, what music and singing means to them at this stage of their life, Yohan said, “For me, the day has to start and end with music. It is a necessity.”

“Music grounds me” chimed in Khalia. “Whenever I hear any kind of music it brings me joy”.

Music – a major part of life

Both youngsters were emphatic that music played a major part in their lives. Khalia has studied the piano to a certain extent and still enjoys playing beautiful pieces.

These two youngsters take their academic work seriously and Yohan is preparing for his AS’s. Khalia is getting ready to face the O/Ls in a couple of years.

Yohan wants to opt for a career in finance after schooling and is offering Accounts, Economics and Business Studies while Khalia is still weighing the pros and cons of several future career options. Her subjects include Business Studies and English Literature.

Animal lovers

Other than music, what are their interests?

Both are animal lovers and Khalia, Shanaz and Ishan have dogs and cats while Yohan, Neyomi and Rohan provide a home to six turtles.

Both youngsters love the jungle and wildlife with Yala being top of the pops. For young Yohan, Yala has another attraction. He loves off-roading and the tough terrain of Yala provides the perfect environment for it.

Khalia loves ballroom and Latin American dancing but Yohan is no dance aficionado. Khalia recalled with much glee how she made Yohan dance once. The de Lanerolles had been staying at their host hotel, the Hilton. The parents had asked Khalia to show some dance steps. She didn’t give Yohan a chance to say no and he was made to dance including the jive.

Yohan is a keen athlete and is ever ready to practice even in the early hours of the morning.

Khalia is also a good swimmer and tennis player but has suffered a setback due to an unfortunate accident.

When she was eleven, she broke her collarbone. It had been a very painful experience and Khalia still shudders at the memory of it.

Khalia loves to read but the book has to hold her interest for her to really go for it. Yohan generally reads material related to finance.

Singing practices

As for singing practice, Khalia practices with the Bishop’s College Choir three times a week. For Yohan, it is generally once a week practice with the S.Thomas’ College Choir, the Canto Perpetua.

Asked how she felt about singing with her father and uncle Khalia said, “they are two constants in my life and I feel very comfortable singing with them”.

“It is quite the experience,” was Yohan’s reply to this question. Asked about what he felt about singing with Khalia, he again said, “it is quite the experience”.

There is also a deep bond between uncle and nephew and uncle and niece.

The Sri Lankan music scene

Expressing his opinion about the music scene in Sri Lanka, Yohan said that it is growing and is interesting. “You hear something new every week”, he added.

The two singing cousins are not only in harmony when singing but they are in harmony with each other in life. In fact, they are like siblings and can be well called the ‘singing siblings’.

Both deeply appreciate the unity between the two families and said that things like sing-a-longs often happen spontaneously when they all are together.

Religion too plays a big part in their lives and they are grateful to the Lord for all his blessings.

The Singing Cousins have much going for them and are well on the ladder of success in singing. But what is very commendable is that they have their feet firmly on the ground and are two very delightful youngsters it was my pleasure to meet.

Pix: Sudath Nishantha