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Rafi – The Innovator

By H.Krishnan

Mohd Rafi Sahab

Mohd Rafi Sahab

In the worlds of business today innovation is a great differentiator. It can make or break a business.  But Rafi sahib is the personification of innovation in playback singing starting in the 1950’s. he had a great voice, but he honed it to perfection as any artist will do. But to make an impact you need to innovate and stand out from the others. Rafi sahib was the first person to create a style for each of his heroes, by imbibing essential features of the hero and bringing out in his song presentation.

The high pitch for an exuberant Shammi Kapoor, a low soft tones for DevAnand. It is amazing that with the huge number of songs he sang for various heroes, he maintained the tonal quality very distinct for the hero. You can always imagine Rajendra kumar when you hear “baharon phool barsaao “ or “pehle mile they sapnon mein” in  front of you or Dilip Kumar in “aaj purani raahon ..” or the romantic Guru Dutt “chaudhvin ka chand..

As actor Biswajit remarked, “when rafi sahib sings  you don’t need to know how to act, His voice does it all”.  So what where his innovative practices.

Mohd Rafi Sahab

Mohd Rafi Sahab

  1. Modulate the voice to match the hero so that people can visualize him and the picture as compared to only listening to the singer
  2. Use your own initiatives in the song to bring nuances. Listen  to the multiple variations in the word “achchaa..” in the song “yeh zulf agar khulke bikar jaaye to achchaa..” from the film Kaajal.
  3. Bring out the emotion of the song by immersing yourself in the song. Listen to the break in the voice while rendering “babul ki dhuaen lethi jaa..” or  “phir who bhoolisi yaad aati …”
  4. Accommodate wide variety of songs classical, semi classical, high pitch, low pitch, fast, slow, gazal, qawwali so that any music  director will always find your skills useable.  For the sheer variety in the types of songs no one can match Rafi sahib.
  5. Be ready to learn from anybody. Is said that the legendary south Indian actor Sivaji Ganesan, while shooting outdoors, was waiting for his shot and observed a lame beggar hopping on a leg on the road outside and practiced the walk, adopted it  for  swaggering walk in the sand for a movie “Thiruvilayadal”. Similarly as many know it was Shammi Kapoor who suggested the shout “Taarif karoon kya uski..”  in the hit from “Kashmir ki kali” and it readily appealed to the singer, and used it in two variations in the song .
  6. Adopt and accommodate to the changing times, but never let go of lasting values. Throughout the 4 decades of singing Rafi sahib always adopted to the new styles from classical Naushad, folksy SD Burman, to lilting OP Nayyar to fast paced RD Burman. He sang with wide variety of other playback singers, and lifted the duet to greater heights whenever it was found sagging. His duets with Sharada, Suman Kalyanpur, are all remembered for the variations he brought in without overshadowing them. He has sang for free, lifted struggling music composers,” remember parasmani….” Which gave us Laxmikant Pyarelal. “Street singer”.. Sapan Jagmohan. “mahua..” Sonik-Omi.  His adaptability made him a darling of the filmdom.

Indeed we can conclude by saying that he alone made playback singing as “play front …” by  enriching the film, the song and the lyrics to give a great experience to the audience.

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15 Blog Comments to “Rafi – The Innovator”

  1. Satyajit Rajurkar says:

    Mr. Krishnan,

    The composer of “Street Singer” was not Sapan Jagmohan, byt Suraj. Most people think it was a psudonym used by Shankar (of SJ fame).



  2. S I Tanweer says:

    Thanks for the post.
    A very well written article on our beloved singer on innovation. I have been following and reading the forum but expressing my feeling my first time here. I am too a great fan of Rafi Sahab. I will share my observations on his singing style one day and hope Rafian would like it.

    Best regards,
    Rafi Sahab Zindabad,
    A Rafian

  3. salim says:

    Sunil ji, no one can sing that same the way Rafi Sahab did. RD Burman was lucky that Rafi sang this for him.

  4. sunil kumar says:

    Sir, I recently heard a song of RaFi sahib on Rafi radio . I had never heard this song before ” Elahi tu sun le hamari Dua” . Immediately the song struck me so hard that I started weeping and tears started rolling down. It immediately struck my mind that it must be a song of “Chote nawab” because of the character Mehmood saheb had played in that movie and style of singing by Rafi sahib matched that character. I downloaded that song and each time I hear it i start weeping sir can any one else sing that song the way Rafi saheb has done. Rafi saheb has put his heart out and portrayed the emotions of that character. I challenge any one can sing that song sir. So much pain in that song so much love for the parents only Rafi saheb could have brought out. A must for new generations how to get emotions out of your song . Rafi saheb was not only an innovator but how beautifully he understood the feel of the song and character is mind blowing. I sincere thanks to the administrator of this radio program for giving this song to me which i had never heard. Thanks

  5. Rajiv says:

    Innovation thy name is Mohammed Rafi. It is really amazing for a singer to get the style and behaviour of an actor, and incorporate in the voice. This makes people believe that the actor has sung the song. Mohammed Rafi saab is the epitome of playback singing. No wonder that Pandit Jasraj acclaimed Rafi saab as the most suriley (meaning singer singing in the proper sur and scale )playback singer”. He has sung songs for every mood. I do not have any doubt that Mohammed Rafi saab is gods gift to mankind. I am sure that Rafi saabs songs can be utilised for Music Therapy. His songs like Tere mere Sapne, Jis Raat ke Khwab Aaye and jo bat tujh mein hain or for that matter dil ki awaz bhi sun, can leave any listener relaxed and calm. Definitely a person with hyper tension or blood pressure can benefit.

  6. umesh makhijaji,

    kindly accept my heartfelt condolences on the passing away of your father. may the almighty give all the strength to you and your entire family during this hour of grief.

    may the departed soul rest in eternal peace.

    ramesh narain kurpad.

  7. santosh says:

    A Very sad news has reached me today.A Great Rafi Bhakt Umesh Makhija’s father has expired.Let us all come together in paying our due respects to the departed soul.Umeshji is one of the biggest bhakts of rafi saab today.

  8. Lt Col Javed Sayyed(Veteran) says:

    Well written article. But like always…there being so much volume to this personality we call Rafi Sahab that we always feel inadequate in covering even a fraction in any one dimension in our endeavours to write about him!!! And as Madam Chitta Ranjan Deka says above- Playback in true sense emerged because of Rafi Sahab!!! Can any one match this??

  9. saleem says:

    Good article Krishnan ji. Rafi Sahab was a total perfectionist, a benchmark that can never be matched.

    He was truly an innocator par excellence.

  10. Chitta Ranjan Deka says:

    Very well written and absolute true facts about Rafi Saab. In fact , it was Rafi Saab who gave a totally new dimension to playback singing by coming out of K L Saigal style of singing.

  11. jayarajt says:

    Versatile par excellence!Take Junglee for ex:he sings romantic ghazal to Yahoo and Sukku Sukku,and mere yaar shabbahair—all different forms of singing.In western world I cant think of any who is as versatile as Raffi.They have jazz singers,blues singers,rock,country etc.Raffi could do all of them be it rock,sad,quavvali,classical,folk you name it.That is the beauty of Raffi.

  12. rajnish says:

    ishwar ki inayat they rafisahab jab tak yeh duniya rahegi rafisahab ajar amar rahenge unki awaaz yunhi parwaaz chadti rahegi aur hum dewaano ko aur deewana banati rahegi jaiho

  13. mr.krishnan,

    your entire commentary on the life and times of rafi sahab evokes of one thought and one sentiment – such great and divine qualities in a human being sparkles and stands out only one is extra ordinarily gifted.

    many have said that ” god has been extremely partial to rafi sahab “.

    i feel the above is just a human reaction with respect to another human being.

    what we tend to miss out or overlook the eternal truth that at times – God comes down to this mother earth in various avataars.

    to our luck in this era – we had God coming down to teach one very important quality of a human being – apart from being so highly gifted and a legend of legends – all humility was rafi sahab.

    God came down as a ” singing avataar ”

    aur isee tarah hum sabh dhanya hogaye.

    krishnan sahab – i congratulate you on your short and sweet write up highlighting rafi sahab’s innate quality – ” an innovator “.

    ramesh narain kurpad

  14. Binu Nair says:

    well said….god’s own singer is mohd rafi sahib.

    took away bodily in 1980 but made immortal

    the magic never stopped right from the days rafi ji started his singing – first in gul baloch in punjabi way back in 1941.

    at 16 years rafi ji was already singing at a.i.r. the rest is unmatchable unparelled history.

    the magic continues and no one can come near the immortal songs of our mortal singer.

    the magic will never stop.

  15. Zaheendanish says:

    Krishnan Ji,

    Very well said, Rafi – the innovator a very apt title for the legend, one more dimension in his towering personality.

    Thank you for understanding Rafi Saab singing so well and writing this beautiful article.


    Zaheen Danish

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