Ah…Kaaaamaaaahhhhhllllll…Has ever a name floated out so smoothly? Before this year’s festival, I knew very little about this mysterious figure called Kamahl. I didn’t know his hit “The Elephant Song” or why he’s famous for asking ‘why are people so unkind?’. But I do know his face. It’s stared at me a thousand times from the covers of old records I’ve found while searching through crates of vinyl, looking for gems. And now here he is shaking my hand.
Since the Festival began I’ve developed a slight obsession with Kamahl. As previously blogged, I spent a good deal of Friday morning gazing in wondering as he, a vision in cream, strolled through the festival grounds. The sunlight bounced off the giant gold K-shaped ring he wore on his left pinkie and off his equally shimmering hair. Like a 70s mirage, it seemed he had climbed out of a record cover and into the present. Intrigued, I hightailed it to his Friday night performance.
The event, titled Fire and Ice: Poems of Passion, was an evening of poetry and performance featuring Kamahl, writer and actress Teresa Bell, musician Yantra and a musical prelude from a trio, who are usually a quartet, called co. sonance. Passion was the night’s theme and from Teresa’s red velvet dress to the Steinway and the red handkerchief delicately poking out of Kamahl’s breast pocket, the air was thick and heavy with it.
Tonight, Kamahl was here not to sing but to perform a selection of handpicked poems of passion, which included works from W B Yeats, Rudyard Kipling and some love letters between Robert and Elizabeth Browning. However, to the audience’s delight, he bookended the poems by singing two songs a capella.
Kamahl’s presence was smooth and graceful. He had an almost Gainsbourg-esque demeanour mixed with a studied humility that saw him talking about how he used to be “chronically shy and insecure”. He also mentioned that he had this “other thing called an inferiority complex”. He talked about his early life, when he wanted to sing but didn’t know if he could, and how he built confidence by practicing in the dark.
Kamahl answered the question buzzing through everyone’s head: just how old is he? “I’ve reached the state in life,” he said, “where I don’t take vitamins – I take preservatives”.
As the final notes of his last song ended, the blue curtain enveloped him and, like an apparition, he was gone.