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True Voice – Mohd Rafi

The following article was brought to my notice when Sharad posted it on MAS. The article has been trimmed down a bit keeping afloat Rafi details. However, anyone interested can go visit the source at

I am Swaminatha Iyer and I am 78 years old. I hail from Tiruchi and I am a part of music associations in Tiruchi, M’as as well as in West Bengal and Maharashtra.

I think it is wrong to condemn music or artists on either side of Vindhyas. Our Indian music is one of the few which has not been cleaned off by the western music though there has always been a influence. It speaks a lot of the richness of our music. Sometime back director of MTV had said that MTV westernized the music wherever it went but in India , MTV had to be Indianized for it to be accepted. A lot of this credit goes to the Indian film music.

I have been fortunate to have close personal association with Rafi, Sirkali, TMS, Dr. BMK, Kishore, SPB & KJY, PS, Mannadey and the one and only Lata Mangeshkar.

Comparisons are bound to come, but almost every artist or I have met considers Lata to be beyond comparison. Her talents are beyond anyone’s reach. Even Sirkazi used to talk of her singing like a die-hard fan as do countless others.

Now coming to the Rafi-SPB discussion. It might be difficult to convince an South Indian to believe Rafi is the better and at the same time Rafi crowd will never believe any other male singer comes anywhere nearer. There is one more mobile crowd, which is well conversant with Hindi and some south Indian language. Majority of them tilt to either Rafi or Kishore.

During one of my stays in M’as I had stayed with SPB. While talking of true voices he said, I don’t feel like half a singer when listening to Rafi. True voice is not a tech term but many in circle use it. Perfect example would be lata, but to understand consider our own PS who within her range is superb. People who do not have such true voices can never do justice to original. They generally underplay many parts of the song or fake it with bass/superficial singing. True voices make people like Sirkazi, Nusrat Fateh Ali khan, Lata… Inimitable. However since Sirkazi and Nusrat did not have the filmy voices their “real” following is limited to their local arena.

In addition to the true voice if the singer has a very good voice then in “most” cases he/she can better songs of others. It is this combination which makes Rafi stand out among the other male singers. There are many here who seem to have mistaken notions on a good bass and also on high pitch.

Bryan Adams does not require a monster bass in “Summer of 69″ to sound real manly. It is the punch which gives that feel and that is decided only by the comfort level in most ranges (that is by what your throat can support). This you CAN never disguise with bass. Since people have talked about lack of manly voice viz. a viz. Rafi it was necessary to bring this point out. I have had the fortune of listening to most singers in studio and some times without a mike, practicing with MD’s.When Lata or Rafi do, the level is so high that people hesitate to even hum. It felt silly to sing in their presence (and it feels silly when someone says his voice isn’t manly).

In RD’s tribute when SPB sang “Aaja Aaja mein hoon” or “Chaand mera dil” it sounded only sweet and lacked punch if you compare with Rafi’s original.

Yesu once told me God has been partial to Rafi. He said “god gift term anavasyamaa romba common aa ippo use aardu”.. but idu Rafi kee thaan 100% porundu”. This person could sing “as intricately as a lady without sounding thin”, “cover any mood”, “versatility odey perfect example Rafi”. Yesu said most important is the comfort level over ranges which makes you feel God has been partial to Rafi. (But Of course in Rafi’s early career (1950′s) the voice was relatively feeble).

To people exposed to Rafi’s talent, these or any amount of praise can only seem less. I just wish he was alive and you people could get a live chance to hear him. Probably you can get hold of the DD album for the Geet Gaata Chal series where the first four episodes were dedicated to Rafi. Rafi is on camera singing “O Duniya Ke Rakwaaley” and many other songs. If you see and hear the last part you will realize why SPB said “impossible”. I think particularly those people who have talked about scales w.r.t Rafi should see this album. Its a known fact in industry that Rafi ruled high pitch and there is no male singer better in switching notes so easily. There are artists who can go beyond but then they sound strained or they don’t have pleasant voices when they venture into those territories.

Many singers of today are his compulsive followers. But they end up inheriting only part of his quality. Md. Aziz ended up with a sad voice. Mahendra Kapoor with a thick nasal voice. Anwar with a nasal voice. Sonu Nigam with a feminine voice. Rafi neither had a soft voice nor a heavy (bass) voice he had a good voice. Importantly did not strain at high notes, and voice if at all only became better at higher notes. If you see him singing it will remind you of Janaki. However diff the song is or the note is he will be smiling and singing. It is unthinkable that he cannot sing something.

There seems to be lot of talk about “Shankara Bharanamo” song. SPB has sung many a great numbers and things being said about this song in this forum are rather amusing, particularly b’cos 3 out of 4 people who can be called as singers will be able sing it and at least one out of 10 will sing it with the same effect. There are lot of other songs of SPB where this great singer has played with songs in total control. You will find most south Indian singers who have had a good exposure say that it is beneficial to learn Hindustani as it gives better breath control and improves expression.

Rafi was not only able to glide over a song, the important thing was that he could express each word/sound when singing. It is one thing to hold your breath, start and reach a crescendo (high note), as like in “Shankara”, “Anbey (Yennai kaan villaye)” it is different ballgame if you have to do it from low notes or suddenly switch notes. With practice the former can be done, latter requires a special gift. Rafi had a natural ability to do the latter. In “Tum joh mil gaye ho” there is such a transition in the “karwaan mil gaya” part. I have never seen anyone do justice to most of his songs in my life time. In “parda hai parda” quawaali the similar part is “kar doon to, Akbar mera naam”. In fact most of his songs will have these specialty as it was his natural ability to sing freely in a wide range at the same time giving that extra expression.

Whereas SPB takes us to heavens with “Idu oru pon maali”,”Ilaya nila” “bisiladarenu”(kannada), when he sings Rafi’s song it lacks the punch or expression, though it has the bass. But at least most agree that SPB does some justice to original, whereas most others murder the original.

One trivial point I would like to add is that singing in Hindi is harder. There are more “JHA”,”CHA”,”HA”,”THA”, “KHA”,”JA”,”FA”. These take away the breath faster. The more expressive you are the more air you are using up. Just singing from Nabhi will not help, your throat also needs to do a lot, for singing in Hindi, Bengali etc. SPB makes you fall in love with his south Indian songs but same cannot be said about his Hindi songs. If you just glide through words having these sounds, you will never be expressive. Doing this as well as reaching high notes is not easy. Rafi had this gift and that’s why it is difficult to imagine anyone else in his shoes. Song “Chalkaaye jaam” has so much expression that it is unthinkable how anyone can sing it. When Rafi switches to a high note with “Mitwaa” in the song “Chaahunga mein tughey” you cannot replicate it with bass. Most others will sound as if they are shouting in such cases. That man’s throat had the ability to freely sing at such levels.

Versatility is not just the ability to sing in various styles, more important is how good you are singing in those styles. You have lot of Ghazal singers today but when Rafi sings a Ghazal you will sit up and take notice. You don’t have to be part of the Ghazal listeners crowd. This is one important aspect. Whatever style you sing you should be able to pull the common man to listen and not just a particular crowd. Pick “parda hai parda” or any qawalli and it will stand tall among other qawalli’s.

Variety is amazing :

songs of Guru Dutt’s Khagaz key phool or songs like abhi naa jao chod key, Aaja teri yaad aayi, Aaj kal mein dhal gaya, Aaj kal terey merey pyaar, Aasmaan sey aaya farishta, Dil ney pyaar kiya hai, Deewana mujh saa nahi, Din dhal jaaye, Duniya paagal hai, Jaane walon jara, Dil joh na kaha saka, Dil key jharokon mein, Dil kaa bhavar, Chalkey teri aakkhon sey, Kar chaley hum fida, khilona jaan kar tum, Woh jab yaad aay, Woh hain jara khafa, Vaadian mera daaman, Pathar key sanam, Chaand mera dil, Main zindagi kaa saath, Mainey poocha chaand sey, sun sun jaalima, Koi jab raah na paay, hum to chaley pardes, badan pey sitaarey, laal chadi maidaan, Tum jo mil gaye, O meri shaahey, Sau baar janam lengey, Tum mujhey yoon bhula, Tumney mujhey dekha, Terey merey sapney, Tumny pukaara hum chaley aay

Name a situation/mood and Rafi’s song will be there on the top.


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3,769 Blog Comments to “True Voice – Mohd Rafi”

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  1. Md Rafi has been held by majority of musical experts to be the greatest singer of India, even Manna Dey, Sanu Nigam, Sreya Ghosal and my mother’s younger sister’s Smt Purabi Mukherjee’s mentor GREAT AMIR KHAN SAHEB HELD MD RAFI ALONG WITH LATAJI AS THE GREATEST MODERN SINGER OF INDIA. This version I have heard her saying to me personally! So, who has the temerity to question his superiority as the most versatile singer of India, with his mesmerizing singing voice?

  2. Kapil says:

    Shammi Ji and Asif Ji,

    While I agree with most of your comments, I don’t think Suman was anywhere close to Lata, neither artistically nor commercially. In my opinion, Lata’s output in the 1950s was out of the world. Particularly in the early 50s, you may not like this but I think she was better than all her male and female counterparts. If given a choice between “Meri Kahani Bhoolne Wale(Deedaar 1951)” and “Beimaan tore nayanwa(Tarana 1951)” I would go for the latter, for Lata was extremely melodious in the early 50s with lots of innocence and fluidity in her voice.

    However, with the advent of the 60s, she started losing that innocence and fluidity. Her plight in “Dil tera diwana hai sanam” is miserable. Rafi outshone her big time in that song along with many others. Remember in the 50s, along with the slow songs, she could also sing “Shola jo Bhadke” or “Chad gayo papi bichhua” with an equal ease. Not sure what went wrong in the 60s, may be her deeds took a toll on her voice in the 60s. However, despite all shortcomings she was still more melodious than other female singers and hence preferred more. Asha, Suman, Geeta etc. were never a competition to Lata.

    With regard to 1970s, a while ago Mr. Haldar pointed out that take out RD and Rafi would have finished Kishore in a couple of days. I think the same goes for Asha as well. It was RD who came to Asha’s rescue in the 70s and saved her from the wrath of Lata-Laxmi-Pyare, Lata-MM, Lata-SD etc. With OP no more in the scene, if it were not for Piya tu ab to aajas and dum maro dums, Lata would have finished Asha in a couple of days. But in any case, it was Lata who ruled the 70s and the major credit for her commercial success goes to Laxmikant-Pyarelal who commercially ruled the 70s and no matter what always stuck to Lata.

  3. Asif says:

    Well said Shammi Sahab, Lata’s achievments and awards have more to do with her connections and dirty politics she played.

  4. shammi says:

    I think Asif sir you have summed it up beautifully. However, for everyone who thinks that Lata was and is so great there are many more that would disagree. I for one loved the sweetness in the voice of Suman Kalyanpur and it worked beautifully with Mohd Rafi’s sweet melodious voice. I personally find Lata’s voice irritating abit like herself.

    Lata and her sister Asha are so manipulative and I don’t care what anybody says but once again dirty politics come into play and she manages to pull so many strings her talent has very little with her her achievments and awards but more to do with her connections!

  5. Asif says:

    The author if this article says:

    “Comparisons are bound to come, but almost every artist or I have met considers Lata to be beyond comparison. Her talents are beyond anyone’s reach. Even Sirkazi used to talk of her singing like a die-hard fan as do countless others”.

    Has he gone cuckoo? It was Rafi whose talents were beyond anyone’s reach. Rafi was way ahead of Lata. Just contrast their tandem songs, while Rafi versions are still being adored, Lata ones have sunk into oblivion. Why there is so much bias against this saint? What a pity!

  6. Zafar Ahmad says:

    KK is far behind to rafi in every aspect. even lata is behind to rafi sahib

  7. Rajkumar Santoshi says:

    Shaan sweet interview
    he is saying that I sing kishore songs because they are easier, and Rafi’s songs are tough in both the range, adayiggi and modulation

  8. Musharraf says:

    Mahadevika. Post. 3760&3761

    The pleasure is all mine Behna. You are like a nannhisi gudiya to me!

  9. Maha Devika says:

    Thanks Musharaf Bhayya for considering me your behna, I love you for calling me with such a sweet-name

  10. Maha Devika says:

    Muhammad Rafi Sahab is the greatest thing that has happened to Hindi Music industry.
    A proof that how excelllent Rafi Sahab would sing in low notes as well.

  11. Musharraf says:

    Yes Behna,

    I completely agree with you!


  12. Maha Devika says:

    Rafiji will always remain the most beautiful voice world has ever heard in music

  13. Vishal says:

    @Balarykar – Prabhanjan

    I admire your lengthy post and do not find anything offensive or dis-respect towards any legends, but could overall understand that no legend can be underestimated. I know who won between ghantasala and ntr – ntr had to switch back to ghantasala without any other option. Next, I had never underestimated spb or kjy, in fact I never disputed their talents as well. They have their own great contributions, but just wanted to convey, going by practical experience that among the legends who are no more with us, I repeat among the legends who are no more with us – remember among the legends who are no more with us – ghantasala, rafi and kishore are the only ones who continue to be remembered by majority of music lovers (decades after their demise). That is what i wanted to stress upon. I respect spb and kjy’s contribution to music and admire your post since it supports rafi’s and ghantasala’s superiority and at the same time your intention of creation of respect for subsequent legends, namely spb and kjy for which I have immense respect – good keep it up.

  14. Kishorefan says:

    3736 balarykar sahab – an interesting post as you are known for such points – interesting analysis

  15. Kishorefan says:

    Balarykar sahab, Bahut dino be baad, aap bhi aa gaye edhar. Badhai ho.

    Ali and nandi sahab, just see this link – sehwag remembering kishore kumar while achieving his landmark record.

    Aap logon ko thik se samajhna chahiye hum kya kehna chahte hain. Kishore kumar’s popularity is undisputed, as I told in my previous post. If rafi is remembered in hindi, kishore kumar too is equally remembered – this cannot be changed – lol’s rafi fans.

  16. Balarykar says:

    Regarding Sachin and Sehwag: I do not think Rafi/KK fans should bother about them at all. Who is to say that a great cricketer is a good listener? Vice versa, why film artists have opinion about everything under/beyond the sun. They talk nonsense all the time.

    @Abhishek: “i have seen spb fans and kishore fans have immense respect for ghantasala and rafi respectively, but not vice versa – what could be the reason ?” I am translating your “vice versa” as “i have seen ghantasala fans and Rafi fans do not have immense respect for SPB and KK respectively, ” Correct me if I am wrong. It is not quite true as the vice versa part is among a very small but vocal fraction of the fans.

    A Joke: I am not sure, but I rarely see female fans of lata and asha debating over them. Same is true about janaki and susheela. is the fans fighting restricted to males :o

  17. ali says:

    The Sachin the greatest cricketer Favorite song is Mohd Rafi song,

  18. Ahamed Kutty says:

    masses are ther with rafi saab.that is why he had been
    chosen as the singer of the millennium by scoring 70%
    of the votes.that is why kk fans are desperately visiting
    this site for commenting something about their idol.

  19. Ahamed Kutty says:

    If we have a discussion or a programme about a particular type
    of song for exa.classical,qawalis,patriotoc songs,high pitch songs,
    national awards,associated with most number of singers or mds,
    producers we can see rafi saab’s name in that but we cannot see
    kk’s name.if somebody is nowhere how we can treat him number
    one singer?

    rafians already statrted enquiring or celebrating the birth anniversary
    of rafi saab.october 13th was the birht day of kk.even on that date
    no enquiry or not a single comment about him.what these kk fans
    are doing? only dreaming of to make him number one.

    gentlemen, instead of commenting here,can you do something for
    your idol in his site?we are not bothered about who is the favourite
    singer of veeru.even gavasker’s favourite is kk.common man who
    is so poor is constructing even bus shelter in the name of rafi saab.
    some fans even constructing temple on rafi saab eventhough he is
    a muslim.some fans treating the soil where rafi saab lived very
    divine and keeping the soil in their many told and untold
    incidents.such a vast and sincere fan following where we can find
    all over the world other than rafi saab’s?

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