For Charles Antony, singing on stage with Diego Maradona was the crowning glory of his musical career. Languages are no bar for this musician
Besame...besame mucho....Charles Antony began, in his seasoned voice, strumming the guitar. It was 12.30 a.m. and he was in a hotel room in Kannur with Diego Maradona. “There was an eerie silence in the room when I walked in. No one was talking. He (Maradona) was sitting expressionless, with a glass in hand. But the moment I sang besame..., I saw his face brighten up,” says Charles.
Maradona observed him with curious amusement. “After besame, he asked the translator who I was and how I could possibly get the Spanish accent right,” Charles recounts. “I was under a spell. This was the same man I had seen and worshipped on TV during the ‘86 World Cup,” he says, beaming.
The 39-year-old singer from Vaduthala in Kochi has not fully recovered from the giddying excitement of his encounter with Maradona. Back in Kochi, after sharing the stage with the football legend, who was in Kannur recently for a jewellery inauguration, Charles talks of his experience as a rare blessing, one that turned him into a celebrity overnight.
Though Charles is popular in Kochi for his special talent in singing in foreign languages, he considers the five-minutes on stage with Maradona more valuable than his entire singing career spanning 20 years. Performing with Maradona is not a dream come true. “Who would even dream of such a thing?,” he asks.
It wasn’t just the man, Charles says. When he got an unexpected chance to be a part of the select few who would get to share the dais with the footballer, he had not an inkling of the impending madness. “It was like witnessing a storm. The night when Maradona reached the hotel in Kannur, thousands of people had gathered around the hotel, waiting throughout the night just to get a glimpse of their ‘God’,” he says.
The moment he reached the football ground the next day, where a public function was arranged, the crowd went berserk. “It was like a tsunami. I was swept off the stage,” says the singer, who had to be helped back onto the stage by a police officer.
Charles believes it a world record of sorts being the “only solo singer” to have performed with Maradona, who is known for his love for music and musicians. Maradona has performed with a few international bands. “He sang besame again with me on stage in perfect pitch,” says Charles, marvelling at the footballer’s uncanny musical ability.
Music was always part of Charles’ life. Having learnt the guitar from his brother Jos Edward, Charles has been playing the guitar ever since he was in school. Singing happened much later, but once it did, there was no looking back. He practised and went about adding songs to his kitty.
He sings in Italian, French, German, Mexican, Swiss-German, African, Arabic, Japanese, Korean, Russian and Sinhala. While his English repertoire exceeds 600 songs (all old country music and popular old numbers), Spanish is his next best with about 15 songs. Charles says he can conduct a two-hour show exclusively of Spanish songs. He picked up these foreign languages from guests at the hotels where he has worked as a singer. He has worked in Taj and Le Meridien in Kochi and has also worked in the Gulf countries. “Those days there was no Google or YouTube. When the foreigners sang, I would record it in an audio-cassette and listen to it a hundred times over. I would perform in front of a different group and they would perfect it, correcting my pronunciation and writing down the lyrics for me. They would also explain the meanings,” he says.
Today, the internet has globalised music so much, one need not take such trouble, he says. However, it is never as good as learning from people, Charles feels. Some of his all-time favourites are Frank Sinatra, Harry Belafonte, Don Williams and Jim Reeves. He enjoys singing Kishore Kumar’s old Hindi numbers and popular old Malayalam melodies, too.
Japanese and Korean were not easy to master. Charles, who also taught guitar for a while, had students from Japan and Korea, from whom he learnt a few songs. He plans to learn songs in Dutch and Chinese, too. Charles says, “Who knows with whom I’d perform next.”