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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. shammi says:

    Karan Johar should feel ashamed of himself that he feels the need to use dialogue that is so insulting directed towards the late great Mohd Rafi and in my opinion it is all done for publicity.

    He not so long ago told Naseeruddin Shah that he should not talk ill about Rajesh Khanna as he had passed away and should respect him, so what I’d like to know is where has his morals gone? The truth is that he has none and Mohd Rafi fans should boycott the film, I for one will never watch another Karan Johar film!!!!!!!!!

  2. shakeel ahmed says:

    Karanjohar should apologise for derogatory comments on Rafi saheb

  3. Anonymous says:

    Karanjohar should apologise for doing the wrong. He being the maker of the movie should not have acted in irresponsible way.Rafi fans will definitely not forgive him.

  4. shammi says:

    I agree Rajesh ji but I think the idiotic Karan Johar has deliberately used those blood boiling dialogues in his film to create publicity. I hope many millions of Mohd Rafi fans will join me and boycott the film and demand an apology from him. It’s absolutely disgusting that he insults the giant legend in this manner, especially as he passed away over 30years ago. I remember him telling naseeruddin shah that he should not speak ill of Rajesh Khanna as he has passed away, so why does the idiot not learn to respect others and pracice what he preaches. I will never ever watch another film that he has any connection with again. Words fail me in expressing my total disgust with Karan!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. P.C. Madrosiya says:

    Rafi Saheb ke bina bollywood ka sangeet adhoora hai.

    Salute to Rafi Saheb.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Karanjohar should apologise for derogatory comments on Rafi saheb in his latest movie. All Rafians should boycott his movie.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Has karan Johar gone mad or is he a fool? Was he out of his senses to allow such disgraceful comments on Rafi’ sahab in his latest movie. All Rafi ‘s fans demand apology from karan Johar.Rafi’ans should boycott his movie.

  8. Some thing appears to be wrong with Karan Johar – mentally, psychologically or biologically- how can he use such dialogue knowing the saint Rafi, who is an undisputed king of hindi music . Even a deaf knows who is the best. Karan Johar – Pl listen to Rafi again including songs from your late father’s films..

  9. Akash says:

    Better than mehdi hassan ? I think there was a benchmark ustad mehdi hassan created where no one reached and no one will ever reach

  10. RAFI ARUN GAUTAM says:

    करण जौहर कि फिल्म में मुहम्मद रफी साहब की निंदा का विरोध
    हाल ही में रिलीज करण जौहर की नई फ़िल्म ये दिल मुश्किल में अनुष्का शर्मा ने एक संवाद में कहा है कि रफ़ी गाते कम है रोते ज्यादा है । उनके प्रति ऐसे शब्दों का प्रयोग से उनके करोड़ों चाहने वालों की भावनाओ को ठेस पहुची है और ऐसे शब्दों का प्रयोग घोर निंदनीय है। मैं दुनिया के सभी रफ़ी के चाहने वालों की तरफ से सेन्सर बोर्ड, भारत सरकार और करण जौहर से अपील करता हूँ कि जल्द से जल्द इस विवादस्पद संवाद को हटाया जाए । इस भयंकर गलती के लिए करण जौहर को सार्वजनिक रूप से माफी मांगनी चाहिए । रफ़ी अरुण गौतम, करोल बाग, नई दिल्ली मोबाइल 9811447213

  11. Anonymous says:

    There is no one who can come close to the legend of alllegends

  12. Rajendra Prasad says:

    Mohammed Rafi Sahab is undisputedl the most versatile and an all time best singer the film industry has ever produced. he had a knack and unique trait of modulation of his voice as per actor and the situation. He has no peer throughout the world in singing all versions of songs, be it a ghazal, a classic, a prayer, a chakla, qawwali, geet, shabd. I love and respect this greatest genius. I adore him.

  13. samuel george says:

    It is not a matter of dispute who is the greatest.No doubt Moh Rafi is the greatest singer India has ever produced in all sense. Kishore,Talat,Mukesh ,Mannadey,Hemant Kumar ,Mahendra Kapoor all are good singers.But Moh.Rafi is far above all other singers,his songs are evergreen under all music directors.

  14. PRASHANTH L says:


  15. sazia says:

    My appeal to give bharat ratna to this legend

  16. sazia says:

    Really gr8 person he was
    all these qualities I told people who ask me why you like him too much thanx for making this khuda apko salamat rakhe mere Mann ki baat mere ehsaaas ko itni ache se shabdon mein perone ke liye ek baar fir us jannati rooh ko salam aur apka bht shukriya subhanalla haseen chehra khuda mahfooz rakhe har bala se

  17. Anonymous says:

    Really gr8 person he was
    all these qualities I told people who ask me why you like him too much thanx for making this khuda apko salamat rakhe mere Mann ki baat mere ehsaaas ko itni ache se shabdon mein perone ke liye ek baar fir us jannati rooh ko salam aur apka bht shukriya subhanalla haseen chehra khuda mahfooz rakhe har bala se

  18. RAFI ARUN GAUTAM says:


  19. Prashant Madhukar Bhosale says:

    Rafi sahab ke bagair sangeet ye sochana bhi mushkil hai.Aksar log kehete hai,ke shehed sabse jiyada meetha hota hain.Mujhe Rafi sahab ki awaz shehed kai guna meethi lagati hain.

  20. Pushpkumar Jaiswal says:

    Na Koi MD Rafi Saheb Jaisa Gaayak Pahle Paida Hua hai Na Hoga. He was a very Nice Human Being in the Universe.
    Kuchh Bhi Kahein Unake Liye Alfaaz Cum pad Jaate Hain.

  21. Murtaza Parekh says:

    Rafi sahab is an albert einstein of music industry. Rightly said, “khuda ki awaaz”.

  22. Bansi Chabria says:

    Waapas aa jao, Rafi Sahib!
    Yeh hamari sache dil se duaa hai!!

    Bansi Chabria
    Jupiter, florida

  23. Bansi Chabria says:

    I personally doubt if there will be another Rafi born for several hundred years.
    Difficult to fathom how a singer like Rafi Sahib could sing any song with ease and absolutely without strain even with the highest pitch songs sung by him.
    God gifted and this is rare, will probably never hear such a voice again!
    Bansi Chabria
    Die hard fan of the God of singing, Md Rafi Sahib.

  24. tahir says:

    no singer like rafi sahib .great rather greatest

  25. Sanjeev Kumar Dixit says:

    Right Swaminathan Sir, Truly described that why our Rafi sahab is the legend of the legends…. Nice article sir.

  26. Khaja Aliuddin, MD says:

    Swaminathan Ji,
    Fabulous, well researched and great writing.
    ” Jahan-e- mausiqui me aap sa rutba RAFI SAHAB
    Na pahle tha, na hai aur na kabhi hoga RAFI SAHAB ”

    Long live RAFI SAHAB

  27. samuel george says:

    though Iam born in kerala a non hindi speaking state , I am a steady listner of M rafi for more than last 50 years. all songs sung by rafi sab are equally good and it is difficult to point out which is better.old songs in baiji bawra,deedar ,shaheed,tum sa nahi dekha are some commendable

  28. Zafar Ahmad says:

    Unmatched singer of the world. Unlimited range, unlimited fun by Rafi Saheb

  29. Zain says:

    Great Mohammad Rafi sahab is always great

  30. Rohit says:

    Awesome. . . . . Glad that you have collected all this informations. . . . Thanks for sharing it among us. . . . .

  31. Anonymous says:

    Awesome. . . . . Glad that you have collected all this informations. . . . Thanks for sharing it among us. . . . .

  32. Nadeem Sundoo says:

    Mr. Rajan,

    A very nice and refreshing analysis. Thanks a lot for sharing this with us. I’m frankly amazed that you have come up with so many additional qualities for a good singer.

    It’s quite surprising that Naushad Sahib did not include “emotion” as a quality for a good singer. In my view every song reflects an emotion, and the ability to grasp and convey the correct emotion is as important as the 7 other qualities that Naushad Sahib mentions. Emotion is the soul of the song; an incorrect interpretation of the emotion can destroy a song. Yes, it’s correct that all singers automatically infuse an emotion into a song, but to be able to infuse the correct emotion and the correct level of that emotion requires what I call emotional intelligence. And in this ability Rafi Sahib was a Supernova among stars and planets in the universe of singers.

  33. Ali says:

    God made one Sun and one Mohd Rafi for our earth .Mohd Rafi is the number one and before one is zero after is two…

  34. anil Labroo says:

    Great analytical article about Rafi Sahab’s singing. Being fascinated with his singing since my childhood, I try to sing Rafi Sahab’s songs in my very modest way. The more I try, more I realize the the divine scale of his singing. He was simply a rare gift of God.

  35. shammi says:

    Sureshji, I couldn’t agree more with your comments and it’s so easy and clear to see that Mohd Rafis versatility makes him a legend that no one got get close to as far as popularity and talent goes and not only while he was living but since his demise. Unforunately, it doesn’t look like any justice will take place during my lifetime for him to get his due in the form of the Bharat Ratna. However, I will live in hope!!!!!!!!!!!!

  36. shammi says:

    Desai sir, I love the way that in the comments you have used a line from the songs sung in the films of certain actors and spelt ‘Mohammed Rafi Khuda Ki Aawaj’ absolutely brilliant!

  37. jayarajt says:

    well written post.nothing to add.
    To me in one sentence versatility thy name it Rafi!

  38. Dr Lateef M Khan says:

    Your in depth analysis is highly impressive, the ability of this great singer to pay attention to each and every word in a song with perfect vocalization is never observed in other singer, his ability to sing a song consistently in high pitch with modulation is insurmountable. The greatest of the great, yet so humble.

  39. Sal says:

    Good article. I wouldn’t have expressed it any better. Thanks.

  40. Mohan says:

    The Best. When K C Dey the Maestro prepared music for a song, Manna da took it for granted that he would be the singer. To his chagrin, he found his uncle asking for Mohd. Rafi Saab to sing it. That speaks volumes about the Farishtha

  41. Suresh says:

    Great article and right on. I have admired Raffi saab’s all moods. He can make you laugh, cry, dance, make you fall in love, take you to the spiritual heaven and energize you with the perfect rendition of high powered qawali. He could mold his voice from a comedian like Johnny Walker and Mehmood to romantic rendition for Rajinder Kumar to a serious songs for Dilip Kumar. Raffi Saab sang for every occasion, mood and age. I so strongly believe has not been given the due that he so richly deserves.

  42. A fine article and a way to pay tribute to the genius of singing – Rafi.

    Among all the reasons appended by the author in addition to what the great
    Naushad has said the last one I like most. Having heard Rafi twice in live shows almost all the songs he sang were better than originals. Just one example –
    Badan pe sitare lapete huve (Prince) Rafi’s exuberance and he returned to his boyhood days for a few minutes during siniging of this song. I have no
    apt words to describe how great is Rafi.

  43. Mahender Singh says:

    Dear Swaminathanji,

    Fully appreciate your love and articulation about this great soul. In recently launched book and the CD, I heard folks like Pandit Jasraj talking about Rafi Sahab and his genius. Having heard Rafi sahib through my life [even now listening to – Ishwar Allah tere naam sabko sammati de Bhagwan], having read so much about him, having visited his home and his mazaar, I still feel that even the words from all languages of the universe put together cannot sufficiently praise him. Mohammed Rafi is such an ocean. It is unfortunate that the Govt of Punjab has done nothing to ensure the deserved recognition for him, the way Maharashtra Govt did for Lataji.

    Best Regards
    Mahender Singh

  44. Sharad Desai says:

    M Mai pyar ka diwana Rajendra Kumar
    O Oho O oho O Aaj purani rahose Dilip Kumar
    H Hum aur tum aur ye sama Shammi Kapoor
    A Akela hu maiy is duniyame Dev Anand
    M Matlab nikal gaya hai to Manoj Kumar
    M Maine rakha hai muhabbat apane Mehmood
    E Ek hansi shyam ko Dharmendra
    D Dard E dil dard e jigar Rishi Kapoor

    R Roshan tumhise duniya Mahipal
    A Akela hu mai hamsafar dhundata hu Biswajeet
    F Falakse todkar dekho sitare log laye Rajesh Khanna
    I Itani hasin itani jawa raat Sunil Dutt

    K Kan me Zumaka chal me thumka Naveen Nishchal
    H Haye re haye neend nahi aye Jeetendra
    U Unaki julfe unake cheherese Shashi Kapoor
    D Dil jo na kah saka Pradeep Kumar
    A All line clear Johny Walker

    K Kaise jeet lete hai log dil kisika Vinod Mehra
    I Is bhari dunuyame koi bhi Guru Datt

    A Aa aa aa aaja aaja aa aa gale Chandrashekhar
    A Aja re aa jara laharake aa jara Joy Mukherji
    W Wadiya mera daman Sanjay Khan
    A Aaya re khilonewala Sanjeev kumar
    J John Johny Janardan Amitabh Bachhan

  45. Rafi sahib was one in a billion singer ever came to the universe I am a very lucky
    Person that I have got a chance to listen to him live on the stage two two times
    In New York One with Krishna Mukergee and with hemlata What a sight
    I hope and I wish that someone out there can put together all his life long live
    Shows and recording in the shape of a documentary and show the world his
    Thank you very much
    Muhammad Chowdhry
    Franklin Square New York

  46. shammi says:

    I think most playback singers didn’t even possess the 7 qualities listed by Naushad required to be a great playback singer let alone more. That’s why Mohd Rafi was head and shoulders above everyone else, and yes he was no just able to sing in every genre but outshine anyone who was considered to be a specialist in that genre. He was a master and genius in every sense of the word. I just find it sad that the music took a huge dive for the worse when Kishore Kumar started dominating the playback singing scene in the 70’s and 80’s no thanks to the likes of Rajesh Khanna and RD Burman. Even though Mohd Rafi may not have sang so many songs during this period most of the songs he did sing remain evergreen to date which is more than what I can say about Kishore Kumar.

  47. Thorough research Swaminathanji. Unmatched 8 qualities. Kudos for the write up.

  48. prem lata says:

    I too consider myself lucky to be born in an era where I could listen and enjoy the songs of this GENIUS. Unfortunately I did not have an opportunity to attend his live programs. I agree that he has few qualities which makes RAFI SAHIBJI an undisputed singer and GENIUS. No one can replace him.

  49. niaz samoo says:

    mohabat kei awaz hai

  50. VvRamachandrarao says:

    Raffisaab is a genius diamond gift of God to music lovers of entire globe.he is a complete singer.there is no substitute singer for him.

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