Kamahl Interview, Part 2: Extras!
When I arrived at Kamahl’s beautiful and spacious home in quiet North Sydney, he asked me to sit down at his table, and apologized if there were any problems with our interview time. He had to go to an event that afternoon for the Screenwriter’s Guild. “I don’t know why they want me there, I’m not a composer for films,” he said offhandedly. “Decomposing perhaps, but…”
Here’s more of Kamahl’s wit and self-deprecating grace:
I’ve always had the highest regard for my audience. I’ve never short-changed or deceived them and had the utmost respect for them and it’s been returned not two-fold but ten-fold…
Kamahl often receives fan letters or requests from people who tell him how important his songs have been to their families or lives:
When all is said and done, that is what you hope for but you never think you’ll get, like being part of somebody’s family for their engagement, their wedding, their funeral, to be that way involved, from the humble beginning, is an interesting journey, sometimes I think it’s much too much, sometimes when you get letters like that, you think it’s worth the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
On being a tall poppy
The “Elephant Song” became the number one song in Holland, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland… sometimes when you have that kind of success, that irritates the locals, because they haven’t had it. “Why him?” they go. It’s less so now, and with the rock and rollers it’s fine, but it could have been an element of tall poppy syndrome…It’s difficult because in America they respect the people who’ve stood the distance. Here there is scant regard for that sort of thing.
On his friendship with Donald Bradman
One of the unexpected events in my life was meeting Sir Donald Bradman and enjoying his friendship for the last 13 years of his life. It was the closest thing to meeting God.
On meeting Rupert Murdoch who eventually became his sponsor for citizenship.
That was an absolute fluke, he was in a restaurant with his first wife, and I happened to be the singer for the night, singing for my sandwiches, not even paid. That same evening, when it was over, somebody invited me to go with them to another party that later turned out to be the News Limited Christmas party of 1958, and it was because the people reacted so generously and warmly and not Rupert’s musical taste that he was moved to rush to me literally and hand me a ten pound note. I haven’t reminded him of that… I didn’t want to embarrass him.
On reality TV stars
The guy who sang Nessum Dorma on English Idol [Paul Potts], he had 58 million hits [on youtube], Pavarotti had 12 million, and [there are other older singers] who sing better, and died a long time ago… Paul is a turkey compared to the others! 58 million hits to listen to a turkey. That’s the sad part. It’s good that that many people were exposed to a better kind of music… but these kinds of things bother me a lot.
A favourite author?
Vikram Seth. I found his writing quite brilliant. I went to a book launch of his. He was a lot smaller than I thought he would be. It was funny, when he stood up he was shorter than when he was sitting because they had a funny high chair. This is the perception. You think great minds come in larger parcels!
A “magnificent” book about Charles Darwin.
Kamahl is involved with many charities including the newly revived World Wildlife Fund, the Ronald McDonald House, The Red Cross and The Bradman Foundation.
His last recording was “I was a mate of Don Bradman” which he was disappointed didn’t get more attention. Kamahl is also looking at selling his back catalogue of songs (500–600) as a way of keeping his legacy alive.
What advice do you have for some of our young Asian-Australian writers and artists as they are starting their careers?
I don’t think there is any substitute for knowledge, to know as much about your craft. I say this because I never had the chance to do that. And get the best coach, it’s cheaper in the long run. I don’t think talent alone is enough… Talent is one thing but [you need] determination. Perseverance. There is this element of luck, to be at the right time and right place. Be forever ready when the moment comes to grab it. Very seldom do you get a second chance. Because it is a jungle. You got to have a fire in your belly… Find that one person in your life who believes in you, as much as you believe in yourself, or even more, especially if you can find that person in a company to help you and guide you. I found one or two of those people along the way.
For more on Kamahl, visit his official website, or check out this interview on ABC’s Talking Heads that tells of his early days in Australia as well as how Rupert Murdoch came to be his sponsor.