Kamahl AM (New South Wales)

Entertainer, Singer/Song Writer

Kamahl AM

Once heard, his voice is unforgettable. A sumptuous, bronzed bass baritone, it melts across melodies, imbuing them with a grandeur that is intimate rather than remote, because Kamahl has that singular ability to make it seem that he is singing to you, and you alone. It can also rise up when called upon, and push you back in your seat with its force-of-nature power.

It seemed more impossible than improbable that Kamahl would become one of the great stars of Australian music – with a reputation reaching around the globe – when he was born Kandiah Kamalesvaran to Tamil Hindu parents in Malaysia. In 1953 he arrived in Adelaide to complete his schooling after a tormented childhood under Japanese occupation: a lonely black teenager in an alien white country.

But Kamahl was not one to succumb to self-pity. He began to sing, inspired by other great black artists such as Nat King Cole and Paul Robeson. His first public performance came in 1958, when, having shortened his name to “Kamal” he was introduced as “Camel”. Thereafter a shrewdly-placed “h” ensured no repeat.

Rupert Murdoch championed the young singer, helping him to avoid deportation under the White Australia policy. Murdoch also encouraged him to move to Sydney, found him work and accommodated him in the family home for two years while some career momentum was attained. Kamahl, torn between careers in popular song and opera, was initially signed to Phonogram in 1967 as a classical artist. With typical determination he pushed against the label’s intentions, and soon became a household name for his interpretations of love songs and ballads on record, in  concert and via his regular television appearances.

He advanced his own career by such cheerful gambles as hiring the London Palladium for a one-man show. He would go on to perform in such prestigious venues as Carnegie Hall and the Sydney Opera House, and give a Royal Command performance before Queen Elizabeth II during the 1982 Commonwealth Games. In 1975 became a household name in Europe thanks to the spectacular hit he had with The Elephant Song. He has now recorded over 30 albums (excluding compilations) containing many number-one hits and earning over 100 gold and platinum records. The longevity of his success has few parallels.

For his legendary philanthropy along the way Kamahl was made a Member of the Order of Australia (1994). He was Australian Father of the Year in 1998, and was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal by the Queen in 2004.

In 2011 he met President Obama and subsequently recorded The Gettysburg Address for his 2012 triple-CD Heart and Soul (ABC). In 2013 he was invited to deliver The Gettysburg Address at Parliament House on the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s original oration.

Nearly half a century on Kamahl is still entertaining and touching people. “That you can reach out to people, and be accepted in return, is the highest reward possible in performance and life,” he says.  The dream of a Tamil teenager continues...