Much more than a musical genius, Mohammed Rafi is a name that became synonymous with the very art of playback singing. A voice that slipped into any mould, flawlessly rendered every conceivable nuance and transformed many ordinary tunes into memorable masterpieces.
How does one pay tribute to a versatile artist like Mohd Rafi whose career ran for so many decades and whose fame will survive for more than those decades? Tributes are meant to serve as a reminder of someone who is not forgotten? As the following vinyl record says – Yaad Na Jaaye: Mohd Rafi.
This LP published on one of his birth anniversaries says on it: “To say that Mohammad Rafi is no more is not true because Mohammed Rafi cannot die. Much more than a musical genius, Mohammed Rafi is a name that became synonymous with the very art of playback singing. A voice that slipped into any mould, flawlessly rendered every conceivable nuance and transformed many ordinary tunes into memorable masterpieces. A voice that epitomised the very essence of vocal expression and made many non-entities into sensational superstars of the silver screen.
No, Rafi Sahab cannot die! He lives through his golden, immortal songs, through his unsurpassed, incomparable, inimitable voice. In the heart of every aspiring singer, in every generation that has grown up singing his songs. It is 35 years since he passed away on July 31, 1980. We pay our humble tribute to our beloved singer, who years after his demise, remains on the pinnacle of popularity – whose voice continues to haunt us – whose memory refuses to leave us – Yaad Na Jaaye – Mohd Rafi”.
Indeed, even for someone like me who was born around the time he passed away, he has not lost his relevance. There are so many dimensions to his personality and life. What does someone fascinated by his voice (or is the word besotted?), who is instantly attracted to his voice playing everywhere – be it on the TV, the radio, on a 78 rpm record, on a Vinyl record (Long Play – LP or Extended Play – EP sab daudega), on a cassette – abstract out in tangible ways about him?
Where does one begin? Should I just begin by saying when he was born and when he died and say it is a Homage to the Immortal Voice like this LP cover says?
He has sung for so many many artists. Just for thespian Dilip Kumar he sang so many songs which remain golden. I am sure HMV must have found it difficult to choose songs for its Enchanting Hour series of LPs which made them choose just the songs he sang for Dilip Kumar. I have not seen HMV forced to go for just one combination for an Enchanting Hour compilation for any other artist. How exactly one does go down memory lane for Mohd Rafi?
I am reminded of this Polydor compilation of two LPs, which had his live recordings around the world. (Ah, what lovely sounds Polydor LPs have!).
Just see how delighted and happy he appears on this LP among his fans and how his musicians seem to be enjoying his performances while they add embellishments to his voice. It says on this LP cover among other things, “Mohammed Rafi is the sort of genius who appears once in centuries, his golden voice continuing to flow like essence drawn from several flowers, a constellation which lights up, in a mystical way the firmament of music, the spiritual peak of eternal silence and of the celestial world that listens to itself through the voice of cherubic Mohammed Rafi, the evergreen singer who is interpreter of that very sublime silence.
This versatile music genius has rendered a variety of songs, classical as well as light. This includes songs such as Bhajans, Naats, Qawwalis and those eulogising the greatness of his country and the nation. He was trained by prominent classical Ustads like Abdul Wahid Khan, Pandit Jiwanlal Mattoo, Ghulam Ali Khan and Feroz Nizami – all doyens in their chosen fields. Humble in the extreme, soft spoken, a gentleman to his fingertips, embodiment of refinement, Mohammed Rafi is a deeply religious person. He holds all religions in deep respect. He believes that we are all separate seeds that bloom into one single flower.
A veritable king at heart, he is an admittedly true friend of the poor. These are only a few of his many remarkable traits which have endeared him to the peoples of the world. It is an experience to realise, as one cannot help doing, how untouched he is by fame and glory showered on him everywhere he has sung. And he has sung to milling crowds in the United States, South America, Canada, East Africa, Central Africa, West Indies, Mauritius, Singapore, Hong Kong, Fiji, Muscat, Dubai, Abu-Dhabi, Kuwait, Doha, Bahrain, New Zealand, Malaysia, Scandinavia, Holland, England etc. Altogether so far he has made twenty six trips to countries abroad and won laurels both for himself and for India”.
He earned praise all over the world and explored the full genre of songs during his lifetime. He worked with one and all. I have heard of struggling music directors and producers of a budget getting him to sing for a fraction of his due as a kind gesture. He could work with anyone. He was capable of working with fellow Muslims Naushad and Shakeel to create a lovely bhajan like Mann Tadpat Hari Darshan Ko Aaj. He could work with a Hindu composer like Pandit Shivram Krishna to sing a Naat like Nabion Ke Sardar Mohammad whose 78 rpm I play now and then.
His singing devotional songs could bring tears to devotees of any religion. He could give hit after hit effortlessly and got so many awards for them. Just look at this LP cover, “Top Hits by Mohd Rafi” where he is seen in his drawing room proudly displaying the huge number of trophies, awards and citations. Should I be talking about his fascination for music itself? Just see a glimpse of his own personal collection in the racks there!
He sang duets with a huge number of artists and made them memorable? The joy of singing with him made the other singers sound better than they did with anyone else. Records of many artists became more saleable just because he sang for them such as this record of Konkani songs (often called Concanim or Concanem on records!).
His Konkani songs were quite popular. Popular Konkani artists Alfred and Rita Rose released songs inspired by him, aptly naming the LP as ‘With Love’. Cannot explain how much warmth it showed to me when I came across this LP in a dusty old corner of a record shop.
Rafi not only sang but also had a keen sense of music. Did you know he had also composed? Look how proudly in this 78 rpm label of mine, he proclaims that he himself had composed this Naat as “Music: By Self”?
Rafi made his fan’s birthdays, events, journeys and festivals memorable by having a song (or album) for every occasion. My friend’s father vividly recalled the way Rafi sahib sang songs impromptu for friends of his daughter-in-law during her wedding in Indore. His crazy fans would search high and low for his songs? How some record collectors searched for that record of his songs released in Pakistan where the label was blue instead of the usual red one (or those many hard to find songs) is a story in itself.
He sang for many, many languages and I may definitely forget some of them if I start writing. There is a record of his with his Sindhi songs. Just look how content and elated he is singing them on the record cover while also playing a harmonium. Shankar Jaikishan made him sing two English songs for a private EP, in one of which he told us, “The World is One” in the words of Harindranath Chattopadhyaya.
He inspired many instrumentalists as well during his career. For example, pianist-accordionist Sammy Reuben dedicated a whole LP towards the singer for whom he contributed to many tunes. He sang many songs in Gujarati as well whose CDs are being released till date.
Thousand joys can be found in the songs he sang in his mother tongue Punjabi. Let me talk about just one song of his from movie Mamaji where he gave playback for great actor Gopal Sehgal where on one hand the video takes us through the various cities of Punjab and the audio gives the very correct impression of his joy on having introduced us to the wonders of his home state?
To talk about his partnership with various lyricists or with various composers like Naushad – it is difficult to choose only a few and leave the rest. If I write a tribute to him, it will never get over as my mind will keep prodding me about that one wonderful song, the great murkis which he gave in another, how the wonderful modulation he gave in one song and how O P Nayyar / Shankar Jaikishan and others used him as playback for Kishore Kumar since he suited the song more in their opinion. Should I talk about how he made people enjoy ghazals in films with sometimes listeners not even realising they were ghazals?
If I do start writing a befitting tribute, how will I choose just a few “Lingering Melodies” among his songs? Won’t “mann mora baawra” become if I were to undertake this arduous exercise?
Dear reader, with so many thoughts running across my mind, I really don’t know how to write a fitting tribute to him. I think I should raise my hands, shake them violently and take a rain check to be encashed some other day.
What I can definitely say is that Mohd Rafi loved me by the way he appears to sing “just for me” regularly. It is a joy unparalleled to sit in a room and have a gramophone/turntable belt out his songs, with that same joy, warmth, exuberance and many other things all rolled into one, which gives me the impression that he is still giving a mehfil in his reverberating voice, its nuances there for me to absorb all over again (and again).
I can also say that he did indeed love me (as he did all his fans). Look how he wrote a letter to all of us on this lovely LP, caring for us and calling us his friend and giving us a new recent photograph of his, saying that he is Forever Ours. It gives some satisfaction in the knowledge that he is still there a bright star above still twinkling for us. On the other side of the cover, so many great celebrities have shared what a phenomena called Mohammed Rafi meant (to them and in myriad ways for us). He not only “autographed” the LP, but also put an un-eraseable stamp on our hearts.
I sure am glad I did not attempt a tribute otherwise from so many aspects of his singing to choose from, I definitely would have failed to write in a comprehensive manner for readers to be able to say that “This is Mohammad Rafi”. There are simply too many “Magic Moments” to fill the pages of just one tribute. What can be said with 100% certainty is that, Mohd Rafi: We Remember.
Note: Many of the scans are of records present in my collection. Some have also been taken from record/music related websites like ebay.com, discogs.com, ngh.co.in and alfritz.blogspot.in .
All pictures used in this article have been contributed by the author himself.
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