The Immortality of Mohammed Rafi
Immortal singer Late Mohammed Rafi’s 96th birth anniversary fell on 24th December last. The author pens a eulogy in reminiscence of the maestro.
Sonu Nigam, an unabashed admirer of Mohammed Rafi, had stated categorically in one of his interviews, “Mohammad Rafi is the greatest singer India can ever produce in the world of playback singing.”
Nigam further added, “The experts on music have a very tough time judging the best performance of Rafi, whether his ghazals are the best, or his songs with an intoxicated atmosphere, or whether his pure classical numbers.” Another celebrated singer, Late SP Balasubrahmanyam, having sung more than forty thousand songs with six National Awards in his kitty called Rafi his guru. Young Shaasha Tirupati, a national award winning Indo-Canadian singer, has dedicated an album titled, ‘Zindigi Bhar Nahin,’ to Md Rafi. Sunidhi Chouhan and Shreya Ghosal have paid lavish tributes waxing eloquent about Rafi’s influence on their musical careers.
Views expressed by these celebrated singers drive home the extent of Rafi’s influence on the connoisseurs of Bollywood songs besides inspiring singers of repute cutting across generations irrespective of sex, region, caste and language.
A casual look at the musical scenario familiarizes us with the fascinating fact that Rafi’s popularity even after four decades of his passing away has remained at its tall peak despite radical transformation in taste, technology and culture. Statistics reveal that Rafi remains the most heard Indian singer on internet. Consequently, Rafi’s birth and death anniversary inspire several thousand musical tributes on stage, radio and television and is celebrated every year with religious regularity. Rafi’s popularity transcends artificial human barriers and his birth and death anniversaries are celebrated across the world.
Rafi’s tonal quality and ability to sing any type of song melodiously exert an endearing appeal on music lovers. Romantic, tragic, patriotic, Hindu devotional songs etc - Rafi excelled in all genres and his soulful singing touched the minds and hearts of music lovers. To quote OP Nayyar, the emperor of rhythm: “Sheer versatility, perfect emoting, sublime voice and marvelous octave range led to marginalize a number of male singers of that era.” And nayyar had said without mincing words, “If there was no Rafi, there would be no OP Nayyar.” A singer of the stature of Mukesh once remarked jokingly that if Rafi stopped recording songs, singers like him would get chance to sing!
Analyzing some of the all time hit songs will throw light on the mesmerizing singing skills and abilities of the maestro. Deewana Hua Badal from Kashmir ki Kali, Tere Mere Sapne (Guide), Pukarta Chala Hoon (Mere Sanam), Likhe Jo Khat Tumhe, (Kanyadan), Mast Baharon Ka Mei Asique, (Farz), Aye Dil Hain Mushkil (CID) Jo Wada Kiya (Tajmahal) etc are some of the best romantic songs ever recorded. The same voice has sung tragic songs like Yaade Na Jaye, Beete Dino Ki, (Dil Ek Mandir), Tute Hue Khawabon Ne (Madhumati) etc with remarkable poise. ‘Kar Chalein Hum Fida (Haqeeqat) is the quintessential patriotic song that brought tears to the eyes of his listeners.
There are many other patriotic songs sung by the mellifluous singer. Hum Kale Hai To Kya Hua is another masterpiece, an ever green song. Rafi’s repertoire adds further Sufi Qawwalis, Shabad Gurbani, Ghazals and one feels the canvas of Rafi is as tall and vast as that of the Himalayas.
Rafi was a pious man. He never consumed liquor in his life. But when one listens to the immensely popular song, ‘Choo Lene Do Najuk Hoton (Kajal), one is astounded by his rendition of a drunken singer. Sonu Nigam, astonished by Rafi’s ability of getting immersed in the song, has called him a genius and a trendsetter. Those days there was no YouTube. No one taught Rafi how to sing as a drunken man. It was his own innovation, Nigam added.
There are a number of websites dedicated to Mohammed Rafi and these are almost like shrines where every article written on him is reverentially posted. Mohammad Rafi The Great Singer Fans Club, Indore, is one such burgeoning group with 53.1k members from various parts of the world paying tributes regularly with articles besides echoing the campaign vociferously for awarding him the Bharat Ratna posthumously.
The maestro Dr. Bhupen Hazarika had initiated Rafi in the movie Loti Ghoti to sing a qawaali magnifying communal harmony in Assam. Thereafter, Rafi sang four more songs. Asomeere Chotalate, Radalire Chenehate remains one of the popular songs.
It speaks volumes that on 22nd September 2007, a shrine to Rafi designed by artist Tasawar Bashir was unveiled on Fazeley Street, Birmingham, UK. Bestowed the Padma Shri, Mohammed Rafi Chowk in the Bandra suburb of Mumbai and Pune (extending MG Road) is also named after him.
Born on 24th December, 1924, Rafi’s death on 31st July 1980, at just 55 years of age, was a big blow to Hindi cinema and left his fans grieving for years. In 2001, Rafi was honoured with the "Best Singer of the Millennium" title by Hero Honda and Stardust magazine. In 2013, Rafi was voted for the Greatest Voice in Hindi Cinema in the CNN-IBN's poll.
Everyone from Lata Mangeskar, Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari to Rishi Kapoor called him the “Voice of God.” Unlike any other recorded human voice, male or female, Rafi was endowed with an incredible texture, finesse and range that are akin to marvels of nature.
(The author is a retired civil servant and a connoisseur of music. The views expressed in the article are his own.)
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