Kamahl is the name which, for over four decades, has identified the
music and unique voice of a man who is one of the most sensational recording
stars in Australian history. When he arrived in Adelaide from Malaysia as a
Tamil Hindu schoolboy in 1953, after a tormented childhood under Japanese
occupation, he was a black in an alien white country. A lone teenager speaking
poor English, totally unfamiliar with Western music and his only skills were
those on the sports fields.
Shyly, he learned to sing,
from pop to the classics, inspired by other great black artists such as Nat
King Cole, Paul Robeson and William Warfield, all of whom he met. He survived
by agility and luck, outwitting the Immigration Department and the "White
Australia Policy", which wanted him deported. Kamahl was protected mainly
with the loyalty of his mentor and friend, Rupert Murdoch.
He always swam against the
tide, acquiring along the way a reputation for toughness and arrogance which
was a shield against the feelings of racial inferiority which have haunted him
throughout his life. He cheerfully took career gambles as few others have done,
audaciously hiring the London Palladium to star himself, twice playing Carnegie
Hall in New York, and arriving as an unknown in Europe with a hit about an
elephant that made him a star there.
The story of his life,
which took him from a child in the cow paddocks of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to
being a performer able to count among his friends some of the great and mighty,
is one of the most extraordinary adventures in show business... from being
bombed in Malaysia to a sometimes turbulent, but enduring marriage in
Australia, to making and losing a fortune, and making it again. His
philanthropy along the way is legend, and for it he was made a Member of the
Order of Australia.
But, above all, Kamahl is
still entertaining ... and still packing them in.
The capacity of the human
brain is, I am told, pretty much the same for all of us. Always providing there
is no neurological damage and given all the right components such as
environment, food, education, stimulus and encouragement, we should be expected
to perform at a similar high level of excellence. But we don't. Humans differ
vastly in performance. In other words, the thing that separates one human from
another is not the size of quality of the stuff that rests above your eyebrows,
but something else.
Why are some people
exceptional achievers and others seem to constantly stumble and get lost and
some even appear to deliberately throw away their lives? Why is there no
uniform process? Do this and that and something else and you'll be a guaranteed
success? Why isn't there a nicely worked out format? Well, curiously enough, I
think there is, or if not a format, a single ingredient which overrides all the
others. It is the need to be different or simply to find yourself different and
to celebrate this component in your life.
Kamahl arrived in
Australia in his teens knowing that he was different, but not even he expected
children to throw stones at him because of the colour of his skin.
He had come from a musical
family but suddenly the music he heard made no sense. He had been born to the
melody and rhythm of India and now his ears were assailed by the harmony and
counterpoint of Western music. The Australian food of the 50s tasted like
"boiled carpet" after the exotic curries of his accustomed cuisine
and the language people spoke, though English in origin it had the twang and
resonance of a broken guitar. He was confused, lonely and alienated and
separated from those he loved. He had a choice to fall down in a heap, of fight
himself self out of the mess, to be different.
How curious that for some
people loneliness, alienation, separation and an absence of loving and caring
parents should be part of the ingredients for success, when so often these very
factors are used as the primary excuse for failure? The difference that
delivers success or failure is the tiny voice within you which says, "I'm
different, I can make it!".
If, at an early age we are
taken over the top and right up to the wire, we have to decide whether we are
going to cut through it and attack life or crawl back to the safety of the
trenches. Most people who find themselves alienated early in life simply turn
around and flee back to the trenches and many get mown down on the way, while
others spend their lives happily hidden, determined never again to raise their
If you read his book you
will see how Kandian Kamalesvaran, a small Tamil child, consistently climbed
out of the trenches and, as we say in Australia, "Had a go!". He was
a finalist in the Sun Aria, Australia's most prestigious musical competition.
He put himself through the Conservatorium and when it was suggested he followed
a classical career, he disappointed everybody by choosing popular ballads.
His recording and concert
career reached spectacular heights, including performances at the London
Palladium and Carnegie Hall in New York. And so we see, the major ingredient
for success in life is brilliantly exemplified by a human being who, appearing
to have everything against him, always has two things going for him: courage
and an absolute belief in himself. Without courage we never leave the trenches
and without belief that we can defeat the enemy we never cut through the wire
and lead the attack.
There is a further
component so readily apparent in this remarkable human. It is the ability to
pick himself up, dust himself off and start all over again. Simply, a refusal
to accept defeat. Some of us think only of how high the mountain and how
difficult the climb, others like Kamahl, think of the glorious view to be found
at its top.
Most of us spend our lives
walking down the centre of the road and then wonder why we get hit by traffic
coming from both directions. Kandiah Kamalesvaran has dared his genius to walk
the wildest unknown way, and in doing so, he has been successful in the game of
life. In the process he has given a great deal of pleasure to a great many
He has not indulged
himself or thought himself more important than his audiences. He has a lovely
wife and family and is a caring husband and father. His desire to be a complete
part of the larger human race. Kamahl may be Malaysian-born and an Australian
by choice, but he has used his talent to transcend colour, language and
nationality to become a human being for whom barriers of the heart and mind are
lifted everywhere for him out of love and affection.
© Saxton Corporation 2010