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10 Reasons why Rafi Sahab is an undisputed genius

By Swaminathan Rajan


As per a blog in the internet, Naushad Ali ji, when asked the question about Mohd Rafi, he said Rafi Sahab was his most favorite singer. When the press reporter asked him the reason Naushad said for a playback singer 7 essential qualities are necessary and Rafi possessed an 8th quality too which was rare for a playback singer.

Then the press reporter eagerly asked Naushad what are the 7 qualities and which is the 8th quality that Rafi Sahab had. Naushad answered.

For a playback singer the 7 qualities are.

  1. Good Voice
  2. Classical training
  3. Diction
  4. Expression
  5. Voice modulation
  6. Clarity in Base voice
  7. Sur

He added apart from all these qualities Rafi had an 8th quality and that was he Is a very good person. He never had any ego or anything against anyone. He concentrated more on Riyaz and his work was everything for him.

But I would like to go a step or two further.

All great singers had most of the seven qualities and a few have the eighth too .  But according to me, in my humble opinion, Rafi Sahab went beyond this, and changed the face of playback singing and Hindi film music forever with these following additional traits.

This is what makes him an undisputed genius

  1. Passion and emotion:
    No other singer  could pack in passion and emotion that Rafi Sahab did.  As someone rightly mentioned in a tribute, the rest of the singers sang from vocal chords, Rafi Sahab did from heart
  2. Variations in Diction, and twisting a word:
    This in my view was unique to Rafi Sahab.  He could take up a word, throw it up in the air, play around with it with variations in diction, shifting the emphasis from one syllable to another.  He was a bit restrained in this in the recordings, but this was heavenly in live shows.  Take Subhanallah in KKK song or Sasur in Do Deewane Dil ke (Johar Mehmood in Goa), just as two off the cuff examples
  3. Versatility of genres:
    Most other singers were typecast in a particular genre (Manna Dey – Classical, Talat – Ghazal etc).  But Rafi Sahab could sing in all genres and even invent his own genres (like singing for paanwala in Aaana o bhaijaan).  In Qawalli he sounds better to me than the say Sabri Brothers, in Ghazal better than  say Mehdi Hasan.
  4. Demystifying Classical:
    One of the biggest gifts that Naushad Sahab and Rafi Sahab {and to a lesser extent many other MDs} gave to the public of India was demystifying classical.  Me (and am sure many others will confess to the same), are not even aware of the Raag, but are able to enjoy it to the hilt, unlike pure classical (of say Pandit Bhimsen Joshi), which classically untrained ears like me are not able to fully appreciate.  (Just like Sabri brothers/Mehdi Hasan analogy mentioned earlier).  It required a singer of Rafi Sahab’s caliber to do this.  Pure genius.
  5. Understanding the film situation:
    I am told Rafi sahab used to understand the situation and the film story whenever possible.  This shows his commitment and work ethics.  It also translated into the song fitting in perfectly with the situation from Pyaasa to Guide.

  1. Modulating the voice to suit the actor :
    Modulation has already been listed above.  But in countless songs, even without the video, you are able to guess the actor.  This is pure genius (My favorite in this it is the lazy nasal drawl of Sanjeev Kumar)
  2. Respecting the Captain, the music director:
    Except a few songs, Rafi Sahab never dabbled in music direction (he could not given his hectic schedule).  But he gave unconditional respect to the music director, whether he was a newcomer or a veteran.  He in fact is told to have admonished Usha Khanna, who out of fear and respect did not point out an apparent flaw.  In short he was not a back seat driver, the MD was in full control of the tune, irrespective of his/her stature. Mind you, this was in an industry with history of second class citizen treatment (in terms of banners and payments ) to the relatively lesser known music directors
  3. His willingness to adapt:
    In the late 50s/60s, there was a shift from classical to semi-classical; in the 70s it was a shift to “sadak chaap” gaane.  Rafi Sahab adapted, even at the cost of giving some “Sadak Chaap” gaane in 70s (unfortunately some others were better at it and it took him a while to catch up).  This for a Baiju Bawra singer was remarkable adaptation.
  4. Modesty and Willingness to learn:
    Right from following the fakir, to the apocryphal  story of learning to sing like Talat from Khayyam for Ghazals, Rafi Sahab, despite being a genius, was always willing to learn.  Modesty prevents me from saying anything further about his modesty
  5. Live shows- the litmus test:
    A recording room (even with the limited technology of Minoo Kartak) could edit out the defects in voice/sur (today’s singers of course have the luxury of plastic surgery).  The litmus test is in live shows.  You listen to Rafi Sahab live shows, they sound even better than originals.  Pure heavenly bliss.  Genius.

I consider myself lucky to be born in an era where I could enjoy listening to this genius.

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57 Blog Comments to “10 Reasons why Rafi Sahab is an undisputed genius”

  1. Sarmad Masood says:

    Hahhaha ..What You Just Said? Rafi Sounds Better In Ghazal Than Mehdi Hassan?
    Are you kidding? Rafi was indeed a great great playback singer but in ghazal he was no way near to the master mehdi hassan, Not Even 50% close.But He Was Good In Playback.

  2. Parminder Singh Jabbal says:

    Mohammed Rafi………is the greatest name n Greatest soul ever.I was a small kid in his time of singing but since then i m the fan of His songs until now.He is a true singing farishta in the Bolliwood.There is a short of words to truly describe his personality as singer and an as a human being.i can say a little word like saying…….

  3. Sara says:

    This is a good write up especially for those who love the mesmerising voice of Mohd Rafi but can’t pin point what it is exactly that makes him so great. However, for me the fact that his voice is so sweet, calming and can give me goosebumps is enough for me to have fallen in love with his voice. Since I was 10 years old I have worshipped this man and that has never changed, many other singers have come and gone, infact the great man himself passed away over 35years ago but my love and admiration for him will never fade.

  4. suresh malviya says:

    Blog me likhi pratyek bat sahi hei.Sachmuch rafi sahab dil ki gahraiyon se gate the. Anya singers ko sunte hein to gale ke thoda uper niche hi gate lagte hein. Rafisabek taraph baki singers doosari taraph antar saph dikhata hei. Parantu itna sab hote huve bhi ek bat bahoot akharati hei ki rafi sahab ko sirf padamshree award hi mila hei. Ek ginieus ki kitni barhi avhelna.Yadi bharatratna aur dada sahab phalke jaise award rafi sahab ko diye janye to ye awrd swayam sammannit honge.

  5. suresh malviya says:

    All things in the blog are very frue. It seems now very clearly that style and technique of singing of rafisahab is very differente from others. Rafisahab one side and all other singers one side no match in all terms. Really that’s very true.but sad thing is that where is bharat ratna or dada saha phalke award. If they would have given to rafi sahab they themselves shalll honoured.

  6. shammi says:

    I agree with you Irfan ji, Ranbir could have and should have corrected the dumb Anushka Sharma with her even dumber comments. The great Shammi Kapoor would have found the comments as do millions of Mohd Rafi fans totally disgraceful and unacceptable. Karan Johar needs to apologise without delay otherwise fans will not forgive and forget and if Karan doesn’t I hope he’ll be sued.

  7. Mohammed Irfan says:

    The irony in this ADHM incident is that anushka sharma’s character says this to RK’s character.It was really dumb of RK to not reprimand her on screen by mentioning Shammi Kapoor and his songs.This is the truth and would have been made a better impact .Also , being a Kapoor he could have easily got this mistake corrected.I wonder why he did not question the dialogue writer Niranjan Iyer or Karan Johar and just played along.

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