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Mohd Rafi, A Role Model for Aspiring Singers

Written by Mr. Amarjit Singh Kohli, Chairman, Yaadgar-e-Rafi Society

Rafi Memorial Function, held in Chandigarh on 6th Dec, 2009

Rafi Memorial Function, held in Chandigarh on 6th Dec, 2009

Born on 24th December 1924 in a small village in Amritsar District, Rafi made his debut in Punjabi Film ” Gul Baloch” in 1944 with the song “soniyi ni heeryi ni” set to music by Shyam Sunder. Rafi was so enamoured of Kundan Lal Saigal that he participated as a chorus singer in Saigal’s song in film Shahjehan (1946) “Roohi roohi roohi, mere sapnon ki raani“, composed by Naushad.

Rafi remains till today the most versatile of all the singers who could sing any type of song. In classical he rendered masterpieces like ” madhuban mein radhika“; in comedy “sarr jo tera chakraye“; in pop “laal laal gaal“; in softness “suhani raat dhal chuki“; in boisterousness ” kaan mein jhumka“; in anguish ” yehi armaan lekar aaj apne ghar se hum nikle“; in ecstasy “ jiya o jiya kuchh bol do“; in qwwali “aaj kyon hamse parda hai“; in bhajans ” man tarpat hari darshan ko aaj“; in patriotic “kar chale hum fida jaan o tan saathiyo“.

So indispensable was Rafi to Indian film music that music director OP Nayyar asked Rafi to sing the classical song “Man mora bawra” (film Ragini, 1958) in which singing star Kishore Kumar was the hero & the song was picturised on him. Again Rafi playbacked for Kishore Kumar in ” Ajab hai dastaan teri ae zindgi” (film Shararat, 1959) set to music by Shankar Jaikishan. In the film “Laala Rukh” (1958) in which singing star Talat Mehmood was the hero, music director Khyyam asked Rafi to sing the song “Hai kali kali ke lab par” picturised on Talat Mehmood. The fact that even such legendary singing stars had to borrow Rafi’s voice occasionally shows the extent of faith the famous music directors had in Rafi’s capability.

In Lata Mangeshkar’s words with the death of Rafi “An era of music has ended”.  Such versatile geniuses are born in a millenium.

I  have been connected with organising homage programmes on Rafi in New Delhi since 1983 & was the founder Chairman of Yaadgar-e-Rafi Society in New Delhi in 1983. We have been organizing music competitions every year on 31st July starting from 1984 onwards. These programmes became more and more popular and singers from all over India started participating in it. After its immense popularity after 1985 throughout India, I started getting lot of brickbats and criticism from the newspapers and the “gurus” who taught non-filmi music to students. They blamed me for corrupting the young singers by asking them to copy Rafi’s voice.  Everyone suggested that I should stop organising Rafi songs programmes and should start organising programmes of non-filmi songs, ghazels so that singers can develop their own style. I retorted that the mass of youth have no access to such “ustads” who demand high teaching fees. Moreover, no untrained singer ever gets a chance to sing on stage and there is no organisation which is ready to evaluate the singing talent of amateur singers in an open competition. The Gurus merely promote their disciples in return of high teaching fees they extract from rich disciples.

I told the press and ustads that every singer has some idol and Rafi has perhaps the biggest following amongst budding singers. I said that even famous singers like Mukesh and Kishore had KL Saigal as their idol. Both Mukesh and Kishore followed Saigal’s style in the beginning in their initial songs as playback singers, but soon developed their own style. I said that I am sure that once a singer wins such a talent competition and his career graph moves upwards, he will develop his own style as per the demands of the time. I insisted that the tag of Rafi will not be stumbling block in his career, but a stepping stone. There was always a duel between me and the newspapers on this point.

But God has proven me right now. Sonu Nigam who won our Rafi competition on 31st July, 1988 at the age of 15, is the most famous playback singer of filmdom today. Rafi was and still is Sonu Nigam’s idol. But today he has an independent style & is one of the most versatile singers. It can be said that he has inherited Rafi’s versatility but developed his own style. Today there are many promising singers whose idol is Sonu Nigam. The cycle of idols will go on. Today there are many products of these competitions who have achieved fame. Even Sonu Nigam’s father Agam Kumar Nigam won the Rafi Competition on 31st July, 1986.

My message for young singers is that since they are Rafi’s fans they should try to copy all types of Rafi’s songs as closely as possible not only in timbre but also in sur and taal. Rafi is such a versatile singer that he will never prove to be a stumbling block in their singing career, but only as a stepping stone. If they are successful in competition, then they will be encouraged to learn more from the ustads & then develop their own style.

Mohd Rafi will continue to inspire young singers for generations. No other playback singer can match his versatility.

Report of Homage Function held on 6 Dec, 2009 in Chandigarh

At Rafi Memorial Function, held in Chandigarh on 6th Dec, 2009. Sh Shatrughan & Sh Badal releasing the Souvenir.

At Rafi Memorial Function, held in Chandigarh on 6th Dec, 2009. Sh Shatrughan & Sh Badal releasing the Souvenir.

At a glittering Function held in Chandigarh on 6th Dec, 2009 presided over by the Finance Minister of Punjab Mr Manpreet Singh Badal, the Annual Rafi Memorial Award 2009 was presented to Sh BD Sharma of Chandigarh for his outstanding contributions in keeping alive the memory of legendary singer Mohd Rafi through music competitions for the last 24 years. The Award was instituted by Yaadgaar-e-Rafi Society, New Delhi in 1983 & was presented by its founder Chairman Amarjit Singh Kohli of New Delhi in the presence of Chief Guest actor-politician Mr Shatrughan Sinha. The Function was organized by a similar named Society “Yaadgar-e-Rafi Society” formed in Chandigarh in1985 by the award winner Sh BD Sharma. Yaadgar-e-Rafi Society, New Delhi has been organizing music competitions in New Delhi since 1983 & many of its winners are today playback singers including Sonu Nigam.

Speaking on the occasion Sh Manpreet Singh Badal said that Mohd Rafi was an extremely humble and simple man who had all qualities of head and heart. He lamented the absence of good Urdu Shairy in the lyrics of film music today & said memorable, timeless and immortal songs can come out of only good lyrics. He said that the abolition of Urdu by the first Chief Minister of Punjab Sh Gopi Chand Bhargav was not a laudable step. He talked about music director Roshan, inititally known as Roshan Lal Nagrath, who had composed many memorable songs sung by Rafi like “Jo vada kiya nibhana padega

Sh Shatrughan Sinha said that Mohd Rafi was a very upright man. He exhorted the politicians to emulate the ethics followed by Mohd Rafi who had not charged fees from upcoming producers who could not afford it.

The Function was followed by a musical programme of Rafi’s songs by amateur singers who were also given prizes for their performance, including Ankit who was repeatedly lauded by Shatrughan Sinha

(L to R) Actor politician Shatrughan Sinha, Amarjit Singh Kohli,, Chairman Yaadgar-e-Rafi Society, New Delhi , Sh Manpreet Singh Badal, Finance Minister, Govt of Punjab, other members of Society at Rafi Memorial Function, held in Chandigarh on 6th Dec, 2009. Sh Shatrughan & Sh Badal releasing the Souvenir

(L to R) Actor politician Shatrughan Sinha, Amarjit Singh Kohli,, Chairman Yaadgar-e-Rafi Society, New Delhi , Sh Manpreet Singh Badal, Finance Minister, Govt of Punjab, other members of Society at Rafi Memorial Function, held in Chandigarh on 6th Dec, 2009. Sh Shatrughan & Sh Badal releasing the Souvenir

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11 Blog Comments to “Mohd Rafi, A Role Model for Aspiring Singers”

  1. mohamedparvez says:

    congragulation to amarjit singh kohli ji chairman ,yaadgar -e-rafi-society and entire members of yaadgar-e-rafi-society,for their great work,i would like to inform every body , i have ,uploaded documentry on rafi saab,produced by films division of india, i have uploaded over 200 rare songs of rafi saab,also i would like to inform every body, i have created rafi saab”s blog, ihave posted scanned articles,to read this article, click on articles,also i have posted rare songs,rare pictures,and many more,total over 500 pages are there,to go to next page,kindly click older posts,you will find bottom of every page,don”t miss any page,kindly visit this links,take care,

  2. karan nigam says:


    i read this article and I AM LITTLE IMPRESSED.see mukesh and kishore kumar never copied kl saigal ji. mukesh developed his own style in the year 1946. but initially rafi sahab copied kl saigal in anmol ghadi, dilligai,anoka pyar, took many years for him to develop his own style. but sonu nigam initially copied rafi sahab. in early 90’s he sang 92%of rafi sahab but today he has developed his own style and that makes him the best best singer in bollywood .
    kishore kumar always changed his voice actor vice. he developed his own rhythmic change in big b . but his voice for dev sahab was extraordinary.all music directors preferred him for dev anand because kishore had more westernized voice than rafi sahsab. no doubt rafi sahab is a greatest singer but kishore was the best in 70’s.
    talat mahmood and hemant kumar also copied saagal but they developed their own style soon.
    best male playback singers list
    1 rafi sahab
    2 kishore kumar
    3 kl saigal
    4 sonu nigam
    5 manna dey
    6 bappi lahiri(P
    ersonal fAVOURITE)
    7 SHAAN
    9 mahaendra kapoor
    10 talat mahmood
    11mika singh
    12 himesh reshamiya
    13 mukesh
    14 ashok kumar
    15 surendranath
    16 yesudas
    17 daler mehndi
    18 udit narayan
    19 abhijeet
    20 kumar sanu

    top 20 male playback singers in bollywood.
    please comment

  3. javed ahmed says:

    Never Heard Before Unreleased songs of rafi sahab
    vist my youtube channel for all songs of album teri ada
    songs are
    1.teri nazar teri ada. Rafi sahab
    2.dil walon ki nikli . Rafi sahab & Ashaji
    3.mohabbat karegi asar dhire dhire . Rafi sahab & Ashaji
    4.pyar kiya hai aise . Rafi sahab
    5. dekho ji wada karo . Rafi sahab & Ashaji

  4. Padmanabhan NR says:

    Very well done, kohli saahab. Congratulations for holding your own against such negative tirade against you.

    Indeed, none of these people who criticise retro music understand the initiation into music. You first understand it as a child through your mother who in most cases is not an accomplished singer but hums you to sleep. Music in any form is just divine. It offers you scope to develop your own style. It is impossible to be a good singer if you are a bad listener. You will evolve your own style only after hours and years of riyaaz, realizing your own limitations and potentials. None of the music gharanas or different forms of music derides the other as non-sense. otherwise, each style will be perennially fighting against each other.

    Although, I do understand and relish classical music, folk or even soofiana kalaams etc, I would be the first to admit that I started understanding them only after being a listener to appealing retro songs in all languages, hindi, urdu, tamil, malayalam, bangla etc. And not everyone will become a tansen or bismillah khan or Rafi saahab.

    It is so easy to be so critical of light music. But such of those who are lesser endowed in terms of understanding one or the other forms of classical forms of music – where do they go as listeners or singers? If you want to be equitable and fair, give everyone ample alternatives and independence to chose one for himself.

    It is because of these facts that I find your attempts at going ahead with your own convictions so very noble. I wish you all success in your endeavours.

    Padmanabhan NR

    Rafi foundation, hyderabad & baar baar rafi, Bangalore.

  5. toufique says:

    i think— hai kali kali lab par is not picturized on talat mahmood.

    ruhi mere sapno ki rani is not a chorus. rafi had two solo lines. so its a duet.

  6. Shailendra says:

    Dear Mr Kohli,

    It is really nice to read ppl talking real worth of Rafi Sahab’s voice after all the trash we see on youtube. Some ppl try to claim singers like Rafi Sahab on the lines of religion or borders…..we tried to do the same for gr8 poet ‘Kabir’ and lost the pearls of his teachings in the bargain. Let Rafi Sahab’s name spread message of religious tolerance in today’s fractured society


  7. santosh says:

    Great work Sir,

    I salute to you for your efforts in keeping the memory of our dearest rafi saab live.My thanks to you.And you are right that rafi saab is a guide for up comming singers.One can learn how rafi saab captured the mood of the song so well , the manner in which he pronounced certain words etc.

    Again may god bless you for your efforts.

  8. Lt Col Javed Sayyed says:

    Dear Mr AS Kohli,
    Bravo for your dedication in furthering the passion of rafi bhakts & lovers & doing so much in organising the various functions. As rightly said by Rafi sahab himself “suraj ko hatheli se nahi chupaya ja sakta!” Talent will eventually emerge if it gets the right support & encouragement. RFI SAHAB IS AN INSTITUTION IN HIMSELF. We become graduates & then moveon on our own making our own mark in life!! Similarly, aspiring singers rehearse rafi sahabs songs, try to emulate every nuance, verve, & then only can a singer be ready & capable of branching out on his/her own. Established singers -Rafi fans who were his shisyas/inspired by rafi sahab are mahendra kapoor, suresh wadkar, Sonu nigam, yesudas, Rafi of south, mohd aziz, Anwar, Shabbir Kumar…… The list is endless. Even Mukesh used to urge & encourage his own son Nitin Mukesh to sing Rafi sahabs Numbers in stae shows-because they are more popular & liked by the masses!!
    The good show must go on. Do well. we are always with you.

  9. Narayan says:

    Amarjeet Singhji,
    Adaab Rafi Sahab,
    Hearty Congrats for organising a good show…. Is it possible for the Punjab state Govt to organise and give Mohd Rafi award to legends in the film industry ? This is becoz Madhya Pradesh govt has installed award in the name of lata and now for kishore…
    This is also due to the fact that Rafi sahab was declared the singer of the millenium by the Punjab Govt and has sung many punjabi films songs with Gurubaani the sacred Naam of the Sikh community…….
    Baar Baar Rafi Fan Club

  10. AHAMED KUTTY says:

    Dear Kohliji,
    may the almighty be with you for the work you are doing
    for promoting rafi saab and his songs.according to
    yesudasji,rafi saab is the cause of livelihood for thousands.
    it is a fact.i believe rafi saab is the cause for the respectful
    position what film musicians today having.

    long live rafi saab and best wishes for your future activities.

  11. A S MURTY says:

    sir amarjit singh kohliji. many many congratulations to you and to your ‘yaadgar -e-rafi-society new delhi” for organizing such a grand function and also to shri b d sharma ji of the ‘yaadgar-e-rafi society, chandigarh’ for receiving the mohammed rafi award. we came to know about your organization and its pioneering work through mehtabji who wrote an extensive and good article only a few weeks back. bd sharmaji is a well known figure, keeping a low profile being his virtue. it was great reading your write up and also we concur with your views that rafi sahab’s songs can only be a stepping stone for the budding singers and not a hindrance. very well said, sir. keep it up.

    a s murty
    rafi foundation,
    hyderabad chapter.

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