From playback singing to giving voice to non-film compositions, Mohammed Rafi did supreme justice to every genre

The legend lives on...
Incredible rangeMohammed Rafi By

To speak in the past tense about Rafi is not justified since, even 38 years after his demise, the legendary singer rules our hearts with his timeless gems. That the euphoria has not dimmed across the world for this magnificent artiste is evident by the constant outpourings of love and respect that flood every social media platform.

Millions of souls have been enraptured by the magic of Rafi’s playback singing, but it is true that he made an equally gratifying impact with his non-film creations. If film music soared with his awe-inspiring dexterity, Rafi’s melodious sheen provided dignity and stature to non-film compositions also. It is an unvarnished truth that, despite several famous film singers on their contracted rosters, Indian music recording companies started respecting non-film artistes only after earning dazzling revenues generated by Rafi’s geets-ghazals and bhajans. Rafi’s phenomenal non-film creations with composers like Iqbal Qureshi, Shyam Sagar, Khayyam, Babul, Jaidev and Taj Ahmed Khan were goldmines for music companies that allowed likes of Chandan Das, Jagjit Singh, Pankaj Udhaas and Nazia Hussain to prosper later on. Like films, Rafi swept aside all opposition and till date, no film or non-film singer has given as many non-film chartbusters as Rafi did for decades.

Even after fifty years, the enchantment of Rafi’s non-film songs such as ‘ Mere Geeton Ka Singaar Ho Tum’, ‘ Paagal Chanda ,’ ‘ Do Ghadi Baitho Tumhara Roop Aankhon Mein Basa Loon ’ and ‘ Tum Saamne Baithee Raho, Main Geet Gaaon Pyaar Ke ’ have not dimmed. Remember these songs were not backed by large scale orchestral arrangements or big budgets, yet their allure is magnetic in terms of melody and charm. Though many well-known playback singers joined the non-film bandwagon after Rafi, none could cross the popularity charts or the benchmarks of excellence set at dizzying heights by Rafi. Some stellar singers did manage a few hits in a specific genre but their overall non-film repertoire is pathetically meagre in substance and quality.

In contrast, people thronged record shops for Rafi’s non-film ventures because, as per music director Khayyam, “Rafi was a devout student of music who contributed excellence to every creation”. Khayyam is a teacher of rare distinction and with a student as gifted and sparkling as Rafi Sahab; he wove mesmerising bhajans and ghazals that are still heard with delight and awe. Khayyam’s This is Mohammed Rafi remained the best selling disk for decades on account of Rafi’s soft and tender vocals.

Rendering bhajans

Put your hand on your heart and answer: have you heard anyone except Rafi Sahab rendering bhajans better than ‘ Paon Padun Tore Shyaam ‘, ‘ Tere Bharose Hai Nandlala ’, ‘ Main Gwalo Rakhwaalo Maiyya’ and ‘ More Shyaam, Pal Pal More Mukh Se Nikle Nis Din Tero Naam ’. Each word, each inflection is so pure, so soothing and dripping with devotion.

If poets like Madhukar Rajasthani, Saba Afghani or a Muzaffar Shahjahanpuri were brought to the limelight by Rafi, the intoxicating couplets of Daag, Mir, Ghalib and others were brought alive by Rafi’s golden inflections.

Listen to ghazals and nazms like ‘ Ghazab Kiya Tere Vaade Pe ’, ‘Ye Naa Thee Hamari Kismat’, ‘Shauq Har Rang Pe ’, ‘ Diya Ye Dil Agar Usko Bashar Hai Kya Kahiye ’, ‘ Falsafe Ishq Mein Pesh Aaye Sawalon Ki Tarah ’ and ‘ Kya Tumne Dil Liya Nahin Mera Jawaab Do’ that have all the ornamentation and intricacies rendered in a unique manner by the incomparable singer.

But then Rafi was a noble singer who always gave his best, irrespective of whether the composition was for film, radio or stage. Music director Ravi, who had early in his career recorded Rafi for All India Radio for a pittance, once recounted that Rafi’s effort and contribution would always be hundred percent irrespective of the amount of remuneration or the genre; a genuine reason why Rafi’s film and non-film creations are equally popular and alive till this day.

Old timers recollect how the 1949 Rafi-Hansraj Behl-Rajendra Krishan composition ‘Iss Dil Se Teri Yaad Bhulaayee Nahin Jaati ’ started the avalanche of non-film songs and how Rafi’s two non-film patriotic numbers ‘ Watan Ki Abroo Khatrey Mein Hain ’ and ‘ Awaaz Do Hum Ek Hain ’, penned by Sahir and Jaan Nisar Akhtar under Khayyam’s baton, stirred the nation’s conscience during the war in 1962.

Recorded and released within a week after China attack, these Rafi songs galvanised the Indian public to come forth in a manner that has never been seen before. Khayyam recounts the songs were hurriedly written, composed and recorded in a matter of two days but “Rafi Sahab was cooperation personified at every stage of the creation.”

Charging no money for his vocals, Rafi put such heart and soul into his voice that the songs still inspire a “noble and pious form of patriotism” within everyone’s breast.

No wonder, actor Sachin proclaims “Rafi Sahab’s songs are part of our lives since they become us”, a sentiment echoed by Dilip Kumar in his biography that Rafi was the favourite of Indian soldiers on the borders!

Published in TheHindu
Dated : 10-Aug-2018 (View)

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