All Asian Aussies who grew up in the 80s and 90s would know Kamahl. Not only did he have a singing voice which could serenade a person into a romantic relationship, but he was also one of if not the only Asian face in the singing world at that time in Australia.
But for those who are unaware, Kamahl is a Malaysian-born Australian singer and recording artist. His highest charting Australian single, “Sounds of Goodbye” (1969), reached the top 20 on the Kent Music Report singles chart. Another single, “The Elephant Song” (1975), peaked at number one in both the Netherlands and Belgium. Generally, his repertoire comprises pop and adult contemporary music.
Kamahl regularly featured in “Hey Hey, it’s Saturday”, which is a variety show with guest interviews, comedy and skits. Many of the skits which happened on the show have been subject of criticism for its offensiveness, racism and inappropriateness. Kamahl is an example of a guest who was always ridiculed, humiliated and used as the butt of the joke.
One example was in an episode of 1984, where he was hit in the face with a white powder puff, whilst he was performing (via News.com.au):
“You’re a real white man now Kamahl, you know that?”
host Daryl Somers’ off-camera sidekick John Blackman told him on-air. The stunt happened just a week before he was set to enjoy a huge career milestone, headlining New York’s prestigious Carnegie Hall for the second time.
In March this year when these old clips resurfaced on social media, Daryl Sommers ( host of Hey Hey) made an apology to Kamahl, saying (via news.com.au):
saying the show “never set out to offend anybody” and that “all members of the Hey Hey team do not condone racism in any form”.
Kamahl penned an open letter in congratulating Sommers and “Hey Hey, Its Saturday” for its 50th anniversary show, and asked a question on the racist treatment he received – here is the full open letter (via news.com.au):
Daryl, having viewed the show it was greatly evident that you fully understand the significance of career milestones for entertainers. It is therefore puzzling to me that in 1984 during my appearance on Hey Hey, on the eve of my second appearance at Carnegie Hall, that your show decided on setting me up as the butt of a rather crude joke in preference to acknowledging my achievement.
The Carnegie Hall concert was my second sellout performance at the venue, I was being introduced by none other than entertainment legend Bob Hope and yet this was evidently not worth a mention. The fact that I had poured my heart and soul into making that concert a success made the stunt on Hey Hey that evening an incredibly dispiriting experience. As a supporter of Hey Hey, I have to say that at the time I felt let down by your show and it is a disappointment that still remains with me today.
My continued confusion at this treatment lies in one unanswered question that I would like to put to you. If I had been any other Australian artist about to embark on such a massive venture would I have received such treatment?
In a week where you are deservedly receiving such plaudits for your career milestone, I am left wondering why when you had the opportunity to acknowledge mine you chose not to.
As someone who throughout his life has been lucky enough to have been on the receiving end of the “kindness of strangers,” I am sometimes forced to wonder, “Why are people so unkind?”
Valid question in our opinion – what do you all think?
Images via YouTube and news.com.au