Life & Style

Singing with Maradona

How footballer Diego Maradona changed the life of Charles Antony, a musician from Kochi

Charles Antony has nothing to do with football except that he was always an avid fan of this beautiful game. His life centred around music, strumming the guitar, singing at hotels and small gatherings till Diego Maradona came along. This mercurial footballer transformed Charles’s life.

Five years back Charles was invited to sing at the inauguration of a jewellery showroom in Kannur. The singer was stunned when Maradona joined him in singing. Little did Charles realise then that this would become the defining moment in his life and career.

Early this December, Charles met Maradona again, this time in Kolkata. The highpoint of Maradona’s visit was the much-hyped charity football match between teams led by him and cricketer Sourav Ganguly.

“There was this event at Sree Bhumi Sporting Club on the first day afternoon. I was on stage singing a Spanish song when Maradona walked in. There was a huge crowd of fans, dignitaries, ministers... The moment he saw me, he put his hands on his head with an expression like ‘where have I seen this fellow before.’ He seemed to have figured it out as he walked straight to me and shook my hands. I was honoured,” says Charles.

The best, however, was yet to come. At the Maradona Celebration Night held in the evening, Charles was on stage singing the popular Mexican song Cielito lindo...when Maradona walked in with his girlfriend in tow. “He sat down and began singing. I sensed his mood and sang the well-known Cuban song Guantanamera..., the country’s noted patriotic song and Fidel Castro’s favourite. Maradona had asked me if I knew this song back in Kannur. When I sang it, he was delighted and sang with me. The function ended in a fiasco with Maradona walking out in a huff. The only saving grace, as many in the audience told me, were those brief moments when we sang together.”

The scene was no different at the stadium the next day. Nursing a shoulder injury, Maradona spent some time with the young footballers and then walked to the centre greeted by a capacity crowd. “I was there in the middle with my guitar. I chose the Italian song O sole mio... one of Maradona’s favourite tracks and one that he sang at the farewell event in Napoli. When he heard this, he turned, ran towards me and began singing in chorus. I followed it up with the Spanish Besame mucho... the one I had sung in Kannur too. I saw that Maradona was happy and excited. Gone were the tantrums. He hugged and kissed me when I finished. He, however, kicked-off the match and left. He was in a very good mood right through.”

These were some proud moments for Charles, a 43-year-old singer who slogged it out to reach this far. With this brown-tinged hair pulled back in a ponytail, gold earring, he says he now gets invited to sing at events across the globe.

“Looking back, I think I’m lucky to be where I’m today. I’m not a playback singer, nor do I have a band. All I have is my guitar, mouth organ and a repertoire of songs in 15 international languages including German, French, Arabic, Italian, African, Korean, Japanese, Spanish and Mexican. But it took some effort.”

Charles began learning to play the guitar when he was in the 4th Standard. “My elder brother Jos Edward taught me the basics and then it was learning on my own.” He played the guitar for a band named ‘Driftwoods’ for a while and then in the late 1990s began singing English songs at Hotel International in the city. “The big break was when my friend Colin D’Souza invited me to play and sing with him at Taj Malabar. In those pre-Internet days, learning songs, especially in foreign languages, was not easy. I used to meet tourists and ask them to sing a few lines of a popular song in their language, jot down the lines, record the tune and try it out myself. My accent would be faulty, I often got the lyrics wrong. Someone would point this out , I made corrections and kept singing.”

It was a struggle to survive those days with music. Charles recalls singing at charity events, parties, family get-togethers...most of them small budget shows. “I sing Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Konkani and Marathi songs too. And many a time I have had audiences abroad requesting them during my shows.”

Colin and Charles were quite popular those days and people even called them India’s Simon and Garfunkel. “We played together at many venues including shows abroad. That’s when I had to go solo after Colin got a contract to sing in a hotel in the Gulf.”

By then Charles could regale audiences with a wide repertoire of English classics ranging from Jim Reeves, Elvis Presley to Eric Clapton, Beatles and Abba. He could also sing a whole concert comprising Spanish and other language songs. And then Maradona happened.

“The last five years, after singing with Maradona, has been amazing. I have been invited to sing at private parties before dignitaries like Prince Faisal of Saudi Arabia to Sachin Tendulkar. I was one of the four performers from India at the Dubai Shopping Festival last year and I have sung at multi-cultural festivals in Austria and Budapest. In fact, in Austria a Latin American television channel interviewed me only because they had heard that I had sung with Maradona whom they idolised.”

One of Charles’s ‘fans’ is former West Indian cricket captain Richie Richardson. “I met him when I sang Buffalo Soldier and Jamaican Farewell at the birthday party of Dwayne Bravo when the team was in Kochi. Richie and I later sat down in his hotel room talking about music, singing. He plays the guitar in a band back in Antigua. We still keep in touch.”

Among his many ‘private celebrity’ performances, Charles cherishes singing before Australian cricket great Glen McGrath and iconic footballer Alessandro Del Piero. “McGrath wanted me to sing his wife Sara’s favourite Que Sera Sera..., which I did. He called his wife and made her listen to it over phone. And for Del Piero, since it was his birthday, I sang the Italian birthday song.”

Charles now has a packed schedule. He loves what he is doing now, researching on songs in various languages from the 1940s to 1980 and singing them with his guitar and mouth organ as backup. “I will not sing with karaoke or backing tracks. I enjoy singing live and making people happy. Music has tremendous power to change lives, I know this for sure.”

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 5:32:37 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/singer-charles-antony-made-maradona-sing/article22325391.ece

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