Mohd Rafi, A Role Model for Aspiring Singers
Written by Mr. Amarjit Singh Kohli, Chairman, Yaadgar-e-Rafi Society
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 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