Charles Antony was just 13 when he watched football legend Diego Maradona leading Argentina to victory in the 1986 FIFA World Cup by defeating Germany in the final match.
Antony, a musician from India who can sing in 14 international languages, also witnessed the iconic footballer's famous 'Hand of ...' moment during Argentina's quarter-final match against England. Since then, Maradona has been Antony's favourite footballer. However, the 41-year-old solo performer had never imagined that he would get the opportunity to sing and perform along with the football champion some day.
Antony's most cherished moment came two years ago during Maradona's visit to the Indian state of Kerala, where people are crazy about football. The event organisers were looking for performers to entertain Maradona who had come on a personal visit to Kerala for a few days.
"I was performing in Kochi when the organisers approached me and asked me if I would be interested in singing for Maradona. Without thinking twice, I took the next train to Kannur where he was staying," said Antony in a free-wheeling conversation with the Times of Oman.
Seated in a Kannur hotel room opposite Maradona with a guitar in his hand, Antony began to sing in his seasoned voice, Besame…besame mucho, the most famous Spanish song by Consuelo Velázquez.
"There was complete silence when I walked into the room and everyone looked numb. I was given just five minutes for my performance. Maradona was sitting with an expressionless face, but his face brightened up the moment I began singing. After I had finished singing the song, he looked at me with curiosity and amusement.
He inquired with the translator about who I was, and how I could have possibly got the Spanish accent right. I was completely mesmerised by Maradona's personality. The same man, whom I had watched on television during the 1986 World Cup and used to worship, was sitting right in front of me," recalled Antony with a smile.
The next day, as the Argentinean superstar took a lap in front of more than 1 lakh people at the Kannur sports stadium, Antony sang the same song on stage. To the audience's surprise, Maradona jumped onto the stage to join Antony and also sang other Spanish numbers with him. That moment turned Antony into an overnight celebrity, and the singer-performer still continues to be flooded with offers from across the world requesting him to perform.
"Sharing the stage with Maradona has really proved to be a blessing for me, as I received national as well as international media coverage after the event, making me quite popular," said a beaming Antony, who was recently in Muscat for the opening of Fine Fair Group's hypermarket at Sohar.
Based in Kochi, Antony learnt to play the guitar from his brother, Jos Edward, and quickly grasped the basics of singing even before he started performing for top hotels including the Taj, Le Meridien, Radisson and Hilton. "With today's technology, everyone can sing. So, you need to think differently if you want to stand apart as a musician. Since I used to perform at various hotels and meet many international guests, I thought it would be a good idea for me to learn their languages, and that's how I began to learn Spanish," he said.
Antony can sing in Italian, French, German, Mexican, Swiss-German, African, Arabic, Japanese, Korean, Russian and Sinhala. He has an impressive repertoire of more than 600 English songs (including old country music and popular numbers) and about 15 Spanish songs.
This self-made musician can also conduct a two-hour show, dedicated exclusively to Spanish songs. "During those days, Google or YouTube did not exist. I would record the numbers sung by foreigners in an audio cassette and listen to it hundreds of times, before singing the same songs in front of different groups of people, who would improve my performance by correcting my pronunciation, noting the lyrics and explaining their meaning," said Antony.
A diverse singer
Among the celebrities who have been enthralled by Antony's music was Prince Faisal of Saudi Arabia who was on a visit to Kerala. Antony sang the Arabic song Habibi ya nour el ein and some old English classics at the request of the audience, who were simply captivated by his performance.
Antony also shared the stage with the retired West Indies cricketer Richie Richardson during the inauguration ceremony of the Sachin Tendulkar Pavilion Stand at the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium in Cochin. "I first sang a Caribbean song Buffalo Soldier, after which, Richardson took my guitar to sing Jamaican Farewell along with me," he recalled.
Using only an acoustic guitar and harmonica, Antony belts out popular songs by famous artists like Jim Reeves, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Don Williams, John Denver, Eric Clapton and the American rock band Grateful Dead.
"When I began my career, I was initially not bothered about choosing any particular type of songs. But, as I began to pursue singing more seriously, I realised that nothing beats old classics, and wherever I go, people ask me to sing their favourite old classics," said Antony, who has also performed in Oman several years ago. "I would like to thank Ismail Rawuthar, managing director of the Fine Fair group, for inviting me to perform in Muscat. Visiting Oman certainly feels like coming home, because I used to work here a long time ago," he added.