PETALING JAYA: For decades, entertainment celebrity A Radha Krishnan has made himself go toward places other performers hardly seek.
The multi-talented entertainer, with a voice that spans generations, turns 72 in August, but he is not about to take a bow.
“I’m the black stallion, and I can’t slow down,” said Radha, insisting, “entertainers improve with age”.
Black stallion refers to his stage name, which is instinctively high-energy Radha – rocker, comedian, radio presenter, deejay and emcee.
It is an identity that is a reflection of his wacky charm, rapid-fire delivery and youthful enthusiasm.
As the host of the recent reunion concert by local pop band, The Strollers, he was a palpable connection with the 1960s and 70s.
He made many laugh, feel cheery and have a dance.
His rendition of “All Right Now” by Free and Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” drew cheers of “beat that voice if you can” among the 60-plus age audience who grew up with him.
Said Raymond Raman, 68: “I can only admire someone his age who dares fling himself about in front of an audience.”
Great presenters, with swift minds like Radha, make the everyday better. No wonder people are so keen to snap him up for their events.
Some first saw Radha as a singer in 1972. They didn’t plan to.
They had gone to the Cellar in Petaling Jaya to see the Cellar Hi-5 band, and instead got a skinny 21-year-old from Sentul as the vocalist.
Radha wasn’t quite hip like the other members of the band, but soon the crowd grew to love him for his singing and showmanship.
He became the group’s frontman after a spell as the emcee for the club’s Sunday tea dance, which the owner Kim Tai Swee Leng and the band leader Johnny Ng started as a launch pad for budding musicians.
Fifty-one years later, Radha remains a lesson in how to connect with people.
Ever the suave master of ceremony and an amiable comedian, he has stayed unflappable and unchanging, the trademark of a humble and nice guy.
“He wears it all so lightly, so different from the gobby show-offs,” said music teacher Christine Choong, 69, a long-time fan of Radha.
From Sentul to stardom
Hanging out with Radha can feel like entering a time warp. Each phase of his life, which eventually made him a complete entertainer, has an interesting story.
Born the only child to his late parents S Ananthar, a railways man, and Nagammah, radio was his only companion in his growing up years.
As a student of Methodist Boys School in Sentul from 1957 to 1968, Radha took to singing, inspired by his parents who recited the thevaram (devotional songs) in temples.
He was the first choice for announcer at the school’s sports meet and prize-giving day because he was good-natured and spoke good English.
After completing his Form Five, Radha played the role of police inspector in the play, Witness for the Prosecution, which was staged at the British Council, a testimony of his speaking skills.
Bands in Sentul noticed Radha’s singing talent and asked him to be their vocalist at weddings and birthday parties.
He remained the frontman for various bands even when he got a job as a temporary clerk with the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) in 1970, earning $220.
In 1972, he was in the opening act for the Bee Gees concert with the Stillyard Corporation band, led by the late Mathew Miranda, at Stadium Negara.
Five months later, he participated in the controversial three-day Cheras Woodstock festival as a long-haired emcee and singer.
The Malaysian government implied that the event was an international conspiracy to weaken Malaysian youth, while the media ramped up the debate over drugs, long hair and unkempt foreigners entering the country.
“We were not freaks indulging in loose living, rather a community of music lovers,” he said.
Among the bands that played at Kem Semangat in Cheras were Mushroom Alice, Illusion Revival, Falcons, Ash Wednesday, Owl Status Incorporated, Federation People, Gypsies and Wildtimers.
Around the same time, Led Zeppelin had their show cancelled in Singapore, while the Bee Gees had to leave the island republic immediately after their performance because of long hair and perceived negative influence.
A year later, Radha had his long hair snipped to enter Singapore for the Fanfare magazine’s deejay contest, with well-wishers contributing money for him to make the trip.
He emerged winner, and upon his return got his first break as radio show host.
On the recommendation of radio icon Patrick Teoh, he replaced Ean Jay, who had returned to Canada, as the host of Music City, a Sunday morning programme sponsored by Hup Hup Records over Radio Malaysia’s blue network.
Enter the black stallion
With things going his way, Radha quit his job at EPF in 1975 to go full-time into entertainment.
He became the lead vocalist of the group Electric Orgasm, who had to later change their name to Electric Organism to continue playing at Tomorrow disco at Merlin Hotel (now Concorde KL).
One year after the band broke up, Radha formed the Four Ways band with Lewis Pragasam (drums), Boy King (former lead guitarist, Ash Wednesday), Jimie Loh (current Alleycats bassist) and Desmond Gomis (former keyboardist, Falcons)
The band was called Four Ways because it played rock, jazz, country and pop, and had their first stint at Gypsy Caravan, Rasa Sayang Hotel in Penang.
However, Radha’s career in entertainment almost went the wrong way during this time.
He said he was returning to Penang with Gomis and a friend after a weekend in Kuala Lumpur when their car was involved in an accident at Simpang Ampat, near Taiping.
“Our friend died in the accident, while my jaw was wired in three places and I was on a liquid diet for six weeks,” Radha recalled.
After a year, the band broke up and Radha hit the disco scene as a deejay during the Saturday Night Fever era which gripped the entertainment industry.
“Back in the day, the disco was a fashion playground, that to this day, reminds us of the freedom and funkiness of the period,” said Radha.
He began spinning vinyl at the Hobbit in Wisma Central, Jalan Ampang, from 1977 to 1980, and continued for another year after the club changed its name to Godown.
Radha would often go to the nearby race course to listen to horseracing commentators, and he soon found he could imitate the noises made by a horse.
“That’s how I scripted my live commentary of a horse race in which the names of famous singers are used as the horses and jockeys, complete with sound effects” he said.
His popularity as the black stallion rose after he voiced the mid-80s best-selling hip-hop remix albums, Pump It and Rap It, produced by the late Joe Siva under Valentine Sound Productions.
Shows began pouring in, including a stint at a hotel in Mauritius and exclusive performances nationwide.
A large part of this success stems from the resolute character and endurance of Radha in showbiz.
“Despite some setbacks in my career, I have refused to let my spirit be broken.
“While passion doesn’t pay the bills, I will continue doing what I am doing until my last breath. The stage is my office,” said the bachelor.