BORN Kandiah Kamalesvaran, many would not be able to put a face to the name.
But the mere mention of Kamahl brings back memories of that 1975 hit The Elephant Song which rings true in one’s ears with finesse as were the lyrics and tune.
Odd though it may seem, his name remains spelled such because Australian announcers and masters-of-ceremony simply pronounced it ‘camel’, or so goes the tale of Aussies and their rendition of English.
Yet, Kamahl obliged with the name change in the late 50s when he came under the wing of Rupert Murdoch who managed his affairs.
One cannot be wronged if Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr come to mind with Kamahl on that same stage as part of the famed Rat Pack. Or even Tony Bennet too! Such is Kamahl – the man with his candour, humour and wit.
The recent Sunday afternoon sojourn with a few good friends at the Media Hotel banquet hall in Petaling Jaya’s Tropicana Merchant Square bears testimony to this. It took the audience down memory lane, brought smiles to many and tears to some.
Born in KL’s Brickfields district, the former Victoria Institution student was sent Down Under in the early 1950s.
For the record, keeping friends tickled to the stage was not part of his holiday here. He just wanted to meet friends and yarn away the good old days.
Those Kamahl holds dear include Tan Sri Datuk N. Puvanendran. And since the suave crooner was in town, the low-profile corporate tycoon laid in motion a surprise tea party for friends and invites were by word of mouth for the fortunate few!
It came as a surprise for Kamahl and as he went on stage to render his opening tune, uttering between lines that he was going to narrate a tale.
The opening line was how he had to come to terms with why his father sent him out to Adelaide and how it left him baffled.
The after-lunch gathering in Petaling Jaya was not a command performance unlike when Kamahl appeared before Queen Elizabeth II in Brisbane, Australia for the 1982 Commonwealth Games, or even before other European royalties.
He earned the recognition of being the first few to perform at Sydney Opera House, and through the years, he also performed at London Palladium and Carnegie Hall, so keeping the audience enthralled was second nature to him.
Then the debonair performer in a gentle low romantic voice brought life to Sinatra’s lyrics:
Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger,
You may see a stranger across a crowded room,
And somehow you know, you know even then,
That somehow you’ll see here again and again.
Walking up to a lady among the crowd, he narrated how he never had the chance to formally propose to her, yet Sahodra remained faithful to him and their two children.
It would seem his Fiji-born wife was someone Kamahl’s parents would never have given their blessings for, yet on Sunday as he offered her a stalk of rose, the glint in his eyes simply said it all – she was the love of his life!
The tales didn’t end there as Kamahl continued to present each woman a stalk of rose. The men who sought one were simply given a broken stem much to the amusement of many.
Bette Midler’s Wind Beneath My Wings was a tune first recorded by Kamahl for a country and western album in the 80s. For some reason, it was found to be not viable, until the singer-actress recorded it for the soundtrack of Beaches.
It made it to the Billboard Hot 100 singles, won Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. It sold one million copies in the United States and is deemed the most played tune at British funerals. One can only wonder if things would have been different had the Malaysia-born delivered the tune.
The crowd of fewer than 150 simply swayed in the chairs to the tunes of Wind Beneath My Wings, All I Have To Offer You Is Me, and The Elephant Song in true Sinatra style, Kamahl also slotted in that evergreen My Way.
Before he got off stage, the birthday cake was rolled out much to Kamahl’s surprise. It was to celebrate his 85th birthday. And it was then a meet-the-fans session.