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RAFI: A Classical Approach to singing

By Nitish Sinha

Mohd Rafi with Madan Mohan

Mohd Rafi with Madan Mohan

“Mohd Rafi was not classically trained……”
“He had only working knowledge of music……..”
“Manna De, Ghantasala and Yesudas had better knowledge of Classical Music….”
“Classical stalwarts never had any word of praise for Mohd Rafi…….”

Lots of such type of ill baked  comments here and there compelled me to write this article.

First of all, let me say one thing :’Mohammed Rafi was the only singer among all his colleagues who had learned the music under guru-shishya parampara under one of the most respected Gharana of Hindustani classical music.’ It is another matter that Mohammed Rafi had chosen the playback singing career instead of going for a career in Hindustani Classical Music.It was his perfect training in classical music and constant Riyaz that make him a perfect singer within the field of playback singing what he chose.

Suresh Wadekar once told in an interview in a magazine: “It was the variation in singing that made him great…agar wo kewal madhuban me radhika nache re type ke song hi gaate to wo mahan nahi kehlate” The thing that made him great that he could sung anything with ease… from madhuban me radhika to man re tu kahe to mere mehboob to sar jo tera chakraye…….

It is just not a coincidence that disciples of Sirtaaj-e-Mousiki Ustaad Waahid Khan had chosen  different fields of music and became master of their field : Hirabai Barodkar andPt Prannath becomes a legendry khayal singer(who had the credit to popularize the khayal gayaki in USA), Beghum Akhtar became the one of the greatest ghazal singer ever. Feroz Nizami , the legendry composer, Ustad Shakoor khan became one of the greatest Sarangi Nawaz of all time and than THE MOHAMMED RAFI, GREATEST PLAYBACK SINGER OF ALL TIME.

Ustad Waheed Khan Sahab was not ordinary singer. For any lover of classical music, It is a well known fact that Along with Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, Abdul Waahid Khan is known as the doyen of Kirana Gharana and both had the credit of influencing a generation of singers along with Amir Khan and Bhimsen Joshi. Although Abdul Karim was most popular among different courts, Ustad Waahid Khan had very pious attitude towards life and also belongs to some sufi parampara (which certainly have some influence on our Rafi Saab) and accepted very few disciple in his life. Mohammed Rafi was one of them.

Mohd Rafi with Madan Mohan

Mohd Rafi with Madan Mohan

After going through such facts, is it possible to say that Mohammed Rafi had average sense of Classical Music? It is another matter that Rafi Saab was always a man of few words and was never interested in praising his singing. He was such a down to earth person that it was not an easy task for music directors to make him believe that he is capable of singing any type of song! Before the recording of MERE MEHBOOB TUJHE he exclaimed ek baar me itna lamba gana kaise ga paunga. But Naushad Sahab convince him and what a performance in singing! Heere ki parakh jauhri ko hi hoti hai na!

Even I think that playback singing is equally tough field as the singer  had to improvise his voice in a closed cell of composition and lyric and very limited number of singers had the ability to create the magic.

Mohammed Rafi was and is ahead of any of them. Every singer of the golden era of playback singer had their own charm but not without some limitations for some type of songs. Even Lata Jee with all her versatalities had some reservations for qawwalies and cabarets songs. But Rafi Saab had not.

Once I had the opportunity spending some time with  Ustad fahimuddin dagar ( the great dhrupad singer!) and amazed to find him discussing a song of rafisaab! Increasing my amazement, One of his disciple informed me that he always cherished to enjoy old songs of rafisaab and others!

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40 Blog Comments to “RAFI: A Classical Approach to singing”

  1. pankaj kumar lal says:

    what ever be the raags and raaginis rafi sahab and ghantasala ji were equally only two available in this universe at that time who have sung to their utmost and never some one will come like this in the coming 7 janams centuries so we have to start worshiping these two great legends Ghantasala venkateshwar rao and mohommad rafi — lal

  2. Dilip Vaishnav says:

    In a very less words………Rafi is the end of the world for his versatility.

  3. Bhattacharya says:

    30 singh ji, 34 rathoreji and 36 ramesh narain kurpad ji

    Very good posts, My appreciations, keep it up. Hope Mr. hans carefully reads them

  4. Bhattacharya says:

    Post 35 srinivas sahab

    We know those facts, those (and many others) have been discussed in kishore forum. People like Hans, claiming to be rafi fans, are just ignorant of those facts and start writing all lies. The kishore forum is a enlightenment to such people.

  5. music lovers in general,

    me included, we are being tolerated in this dedicated webdsite which belongs to ” rafi sahab “, solely because of our love for music and the love it spreads in all living beings including animals who cannot express themselves.

    such being the power of music, we humans, who are gifted by the almighty with a mind which can analyse the pure and sweet, a soul which beats for good clean music, should be grateful for this power we possess.

    let us not for heavensake abuse this power the almighty has granted us. i for one would never speak or write anything which after a shortwhile, scores of my own human friends comment – ” arrey yah aapney kyaa boldiyaa/likhdiyaa – aapsey yah ummeed nahee theee “.

    maintain decent levels of writing – kindly maintain absolute good language in expression.

    before writing anything remember ” this is a dedicated private website of rafi sahab “.

    when you write about rafi sahab ” adabb sey pesh ayiyeygaa janaab ”

    all are welcome to express themselves maintaining highest levels of decency, decorum and literary ethics.

    with malice towards none – i am just echoing the sentiments of our dear moderator, all senior authors and respected elders.

    rafi sahab always spread happiness, love and true bliss trhough his music and life.

    adaab rafi,

    ramesh narain kurpad
    member baar baar rafi
    member Rafifans egroup

  6. Hans 23
    let me clarify regarding ghantasala favourite playback singers. In the book written by his wife Smt. Savitri ghantasala titled “smruthi tarangalu”written in telugu in page22 she clearly says pankaz mallik, saigal,rafi are his favourite playback singers naushad the music director. ghantasala liked their songs.she continues”lataji requested ghantasala to sing the kuhu kuhu song with him but he refused as it was not proper for him as rafiji has already sung.In another incident when N.T.Rama rao the superstar of telugu films took rafiji to sing the songs for his film “Balle Thammudu” rafiji refused as Ghantasala is there to sing. He sang only after ghantasala requested him.They have high regard for each other and humble even when their are ruling the music feilds in their respective region. They are gods gifts . Finally post 23 dont be jealous as Bhattachrya rightly says jealous destroys self

  7. Rathore says:

    Vishal, Kishorefan, bhattacharya, Hans and my dear other music lovers:

    Many great singers have been produced by film industries in different languages. But majority of people feel and know that rafi’s influence has been tremendous in filmy playback singing and that is why he is generally preferred as benchmark. This does not in any way mean that other singers are not great and certainly some of the wrong comments of some rafi fans need to be absolutely not agreed to. There is no doubt that ghantasala ji was a really exceptional singer with a very brilliant voice and whosoever knows him always knows him as an exceptional playback singer like mohd rafi. However, you will agree that hindi industry is different from southern industry and both are two different corners. So while discussion on hindi industry, the influence mohd rafi ji has cast cannot be matched by any other singer of his age. Similarly, agreeing to your words, same will be the case with ghantasala ji too in his industry. So let us agree to respect the legends as they are and we need to be proud of such great legends produced by film industry and who continue to mesmerise millions of music lovers for a long period after they have departed from the world.

  8. Ganesh says:

    Rafi obviously had the classical background needed to sing film songs. It gave him the needed foundation to become the most versatile playback singer we have ever seen. It is a fact that Mannadey felt that compared to him, Rafi was not as trained in classical music. Mannadey was considered to be a specialist in classical songs and was the obvious choice for a lot of these songs. According To Shankar, Manna himself took 15 days to rehearse for the song “Ketaki Gulab Juhi…” to be able to stand up to a classical stalwart like Bhimsen Joshi. Even so, Naushad always considered Rafi for his classical based songs, SD had to revert to Rafi for “Naache Man Mora”, SJ needed Rafi for “Duniya Na Bhaye Mohe” etc etc. Rafi held his own in “Tu Hai Mera Prem Devta” with Manna. So Rafi may not have had the classical grounding of a Manndey but had the aptitude, dedication, vocal range and talent to match up to a respectable level. But then, Rafi was not just about classical songs. He had a lot more in his repertoire and that’s what made him a Rafi.

    I think this Ghantasala topic has been discussed over and over again and I think we all agree that he was a great singer, just not in the league of Rafi in the overall scheme of things.

  9. POST 23 let me clarify about ghantasalas favourite play back singers of hindi.In the book written by his wife Smt. Savitri Gantasala titled “srumiti Tarangalu” page 22 she clearly states that pankaz mallik,saigal,rafi are his favourite singers. He used to enjoy their songs very much.Noushad is his favourite music director. Rafi, kishore,Gantasala are legends. let us not forget how Humble down to earth they were even in the peak of there career.They are Gods gifts. Dont be jealous.

  10. Singh says:

    It is a pleasure to note that rafi represents india among the top 10 musicians in Who – that is our indian legends greatness.

  11. Singh says:

    stop these crap arguments, both rafi and ghantasala were great singers, each great in their own ways. With the exception of one or two genres which were unique only to telugu industry such as padyams, classical genre film songs, where ghantasala had a edge over rafi, remaining areas both were unique singers and their influence on people interested in music has been profound. This should be noted. Fighting over two great musical legends the indian film industry has ever produced is sheer ignorance, both are our people, our indian legends in playback singing, this kind of fighting is below dignity.

  12. Vishal says:

    Kishore fan – the hindusthani musicians are correct, Kuhu Kuhu is not a classical genre song : actually, excepting manna dey to a little extent, I do not think any other singer in hindi has rendered pure classical genre songs in films similar to the range of ghantasala. Moreover, after ghantasala in south (as he was the foundation for the rise of southern music) you can find down lane in current generation, yesudas etc. singing classical genre song. In hindi films such genres are generally not found similar to southern films.

  13. Vishal says:

    previous post small correction in 4th line from end .. “”but even some sanskrit padyams in hindi film suvarna sundari as well””” – the sanskrit padyam sung by ghantasala in telugu film was retained by adinarayana rao in hindi (ghantasala has not sung them in hindi) the hindi film contains the padyam.

  14. Vishal says:

    Hans, you are certainly wrong, rafi had admitted that he could not sing kuhu kuhu song similar to ghantasala in beauty, rafi had sung it well, but he had said that after hearing the original he was not sastisfied with his rendering, Moreover, it was stated that rafi took some more than 30 rehearsals for the song, Of course, all these points will be difficult to prove, nevertheless it is a fact that the telugu song by ghantasala and jikki (not suseela as you state- again you are wrong) is better rendered than the hindi version, and this statement I have heard from many many people, including many rafi fans, and on the top by rafi and lata themselves. Lata had even expressed her desire to sing the song with ghantasala, and it is said that ghantasala recommended rafi to music director Adinarayana Rao, who actually requested ghantasala to sing in hindi as well, and who refused to sing not only the song, but even some sanskrit padyams in hindi as well (they are not telugu or hindi), Adinarayana rao however retained the telugu padyam in suvarna sundari (telugu version by ghantasala ) in hindi film too.

  15. Bhattacharya says:

    Let us stop arguments with jealous people, kishore fan and others, we should discuss only with people who have capacity and capability to understand. Let us stop.

  16. Bhattacharya says:

    Post 23 – Burning with jealousy, mind going out of control which is making to use words out of jealousy, come out of it, jealousy destroys one.

    Kishore fan, Boseji had also said rani roopmati songs were not upto the mark. Both bose ji and khan ji, hindusthani musicians have supported rafi ji’s statement that ghantashalaji was superior. Anyhow, let us leave this jealous man Mr. Hans who has taken leave of his senses.

  17. Hans says:

    post 21

    “he openly stated that he cannot sing like ghantashala”

    what a joke. he openly stated that and rafi fans listened to that and still they dont know who ghantasala was.

    i dont know whether rafi stated that he cannot sing like ghantasala. but i will myself declare that rafi could not have sung like ghantasala, simply because ghantasala knew the greatest raag known by his fans “dhenchu raag” which rafi never could have learnt because his voice was so sweet.

  18. Hans says:

    srinivas – 20

    you have again picked up the thread after over 3 months. you cannot spell ghantasala’s name properly and also do not know the song was kuhu kuhu and not koho koho, but you will give your expert comments. and where and when ghantasala’s autobiography was published, can you give us facts about its publication. as per my knowledge he did not write any autobiography and you are spreading lies.

    stop spreading this crap of rafi saying he could not sing kuhu kuhu like ghantasala. you dont know that the kuhu kuhu tune travelled to telugu from hindi film ‘rani roopmati’s song ‘jhanan jhanan jhan baje payalia’ which was sung by rafi and lata. due to this reason kuhu kuhu was just a cakewalk for rafi and lata. that song was much more difficult in rendering and melodious than kuhu kuhu. but south people will go to any extent to tell their singers are better.

    ghantasala looks particularly bad as compared to p. susheela and there pair looks like kauva and koyal. to compare him with rafi in that song is just madness.

  19. Kishorefan says:

    Dear Mr. Srinivas and Bhattacharya

    We had discussion in kishore forum by hindusthani musicians such as Mr. Surajit Bose, mr. khan etc. Such musicians are of the view that kuhu kuhu song is not a song which requires classical skills to be displayed, it is one of romantic film song in which some musical notes have been specially used to give a unique attraction to the song. Strictly speaking it is not a classical song and rafi not being able to sing the song similar to ghantasala cannot be an excuse for rafi fans saying that the song belongs to the ” classical genre”. This is only a pure cover up by rafi fans for supporting rafi. Ghantasala’s style/attraction of singing was different which rafi also could not match, this is what rafi had expressely conveyed. Not that rafi was not a good singer, he was, but the style of ghantasala was certainly hard to match.

  20. Bhattacharya says:

    post 20 , you are correct, it was shared in kishore forum that ghantashalaji had praise for all the hindi singers, not only rafi, he had good words of praise for talat, manna as well equally, this fact rafi fans do not know. But yes and it was rafi who had very high regard for ghantashalaji, he openly stated that he cannot sing like ghantashala. Rafi fans out of their liking for rafi might have their own views, it is their liking, no issues but the views of legends need to be noted.

  21. SRINIVAS M says:

    After reading Rama krishna barti comments on Gantasala I am sorry to say that he/she doesnt know anything about cllassical music. even Rafi acknowledged that he cannot sing the koho koho song like gantasala.I think rama krisha doesnt know this due to his narrow partial view.and gantasala in his autobiogrophy sasy that he is Rafis fan.Ramakrishna should comeout of hie shell .

  22. Shikore Shumar says:

    Rafi was a good singer

  23. Raam Krishna Bharti says:

    People do recognize Yesudas though, but Ghantasala, I have heard this name for the first time. How can somebody be praised who is not known to masses. After heard his name, i listened to so many famous songs of him, but in my farthest imagination can’t I think that he was some sort of match for the Legendry Rafiji. His voice seems a mixture of Mannadey and Mukesh. I agree that wahtever songs, md had made Rafi sahab sung, even classical, he rose each of them to the zenith, this could never ever be done by Yesudas and Ghantasala. Although in my frank opinion Yesudas sings much better than Ghantasala. Even his most famed song Siva Sankari is just an ordinary song, much better songs are sung by Yesudas and SP than that one song considered the best of Ghantasala. Hence these South Singers are no match for the Class of greatest singer of all times, the legend of legends Rafi Sahab. Please never try to compare regional singers with HIM. I know regional singers who has sung much better than Yesudas and Ghantasala, and they are Atta Ullah Eisa Khelvi and Maratab Ali.

  24. Mohammed Ali A.P says:

    The world is not waiting for our resonse about the subject “”A Classical Approach to singing”” the great Yesudas himself clarified that “”Rafi sab is his GURU”” SPB inspired by rafi and started otherwise he would become an engineer. Lots of younger singers trying to learn ”rafian” style of singing…open ur mind and listen a song of Rafisab..and loud yourself “”RAFI is bagwan ka aadmi hey”” (lataji describe once)

  25. Jasbindersingh says:

    Rafi saab was undoubtedly the best male playback singer of the industry. Most of the playback singers have acknowledged the same. Manna De, the great playback singer, has was sharing his memories about Rafi saab in “Sa Re Ga Ma”, one of the popular realty show of Zee TV. According to him Rafi saab was the best playback singer of the industry. When such a great singer (Manna De), acknowledges this fact, then we Rafians have enough reason to anybody else’s negative comments about Rafi saab.
    One should know that Rafi saab, as male playback singer of the industry, has sung highest number of:
    • Songs
    • Classical songs
    • Gazals than any
    • Bhajans (that too being Muslim…)
    • Patriotic songs
    • Qawallies
    • Romantic songs
    • Sad & Serious songs than any other male playback singer and so on…
    The greatness of Rafi Saab’s voice quality and the emotions is that when you listen his song on radio or audio CD/Tape etc. actually you can visualize the situation. This happens only with Rafi Saab.
    Nobody till date has touched upon his style of delivery of words, voice modulations, throw of voice, very balanced Weightage to each and every word. Rafi Saab was the best in pronunciations, irrespective of any language-Clear and crisp pronunciations.
    An article published in Times of India on 24 July 2010 sums up his voice as, “If there are 101 ways of saying “I love you” in a song, Mohammed Rafi knew them all. The awkwardness of puppy love, the friskiness of teen romance, the philosophy of unrequited love and the anguish of heartbreak – he could explore every crevice of ardor. It wasn’t just love, his voice could capture the “Navras” of life – a failed poet’s melancholy, a fiery unionist’s vim, a debt-ridden farmer’s despair, really anybody at all. Rafi, whose career spanned nearly four decades, was a singer for every season and every reason.”
    There are limitations of words to express Rafi Saab singing style, voice quality and all that.. So I am stopping here…

  26. nandakumar.s says:

    Yesudas himself stated in an interview that he tried ‘n’numberof time the song Oh dunia ke rakh wale but never reached Rafi’s level and he always says God is partial toward Rafi.

  27. Narayan says:

    Excellent comment by u on post 13..

    Rafi Sahab and only Manna de have sung amongst themselves maximum number of male classical songs from the early 50 to 80s without any doubt..

    Rafi Sahab was the most versatile male playback singer singing every genre or type of songs from romantic to patriotic, from bhajans to quavalis, from philosophical to comedy, from sufi to pop, from lori to sad , etc etc


  28. Snehal says:

    Rafi is better than best

  29. akshay bisht says:

    k.k is the best

  30. Jae-Bee says:

    I agree with post # 6, the mds didn’t use rafi sahab’s enormous talent in classical songs, but when they did he excelled in that field too like any other. To the nay sayers I can only say the song Nache man mora magan digida digidigi – from meri surat teri aankhein, it was picturised on Ashok Kumar, so why did not the md burman dada pick his brother kishore(because he can’t sing classical) or even manna dey? The fact remains rafi sahab rules. He is at home even in foreign languages like Dutch check him out on you tube at concerts in Surinam and Holland.

  31. SAJID says:

    i loved his song , but wasnt a die hard fan, but when i seen his interview, i started admiring him, he is so down to earth, patient, simple,
    always smiling, its really hard to keep such attitute, when u are top of the world in ur field, hes really the best in all respect aspect.
    i pray , god have mercy on him and forgive his any sin and grants him jannah.

  32. anurag says:

    rafi sahab demonstrated his classical knowledge in every song. If closely listened, one would find most difficult murkis he has taken in many light and clasical songs, which can not be copied. And the sugar value has not reduced while singing difficult points; This quality, frankly, i have not noticed in any other one mentioned above, though others are also great singers in their own respect.

  33. says:

    Manna Dey, Yesudas, Ghantasala, PB Srinivas, Govindrajan, Sounderrajan,
    Dr SP Balasubramanyam are all great singers. SPB has acknowledged that Rafi Saab was his inspiration and was the finsest playback singer whom he wanted to emulate. He has said that he could never reach Rafi Saab’s level. All this talk whether Rafi Saab was a better classic singer than others is academic. Ultimately it is the voice that reaches ones ears and Rafi Saab was blessed with the finest voice of any singer. No one can dispute that. Rafi Saab was so busy singing, so many types of songs that he could not totally concentrate on classical songs and it is not required also . We,the people are the benificiaries that he sang all types of songs instead of just being a classical singer. Every classical and other songs sung by Rafi Saab is a gem and the ultimate proof of his greatness is the wide acceptance of Rafi Saab by the public and not of some critics.

  34. nitish sinha says:

    @vishal jee
    I do not require to compare the incomparable with ghantashala or any other singer. My intention was just to explain that rafisaab had great knowledge and marvellous sense of classical music and he transformed this knowledge in the best way than any one else for playback singing where the other singers(either trained or untrained) either failed or was unable to touch the zenith.

  35. Ahamed Kutty says:

    like gantasala saab and yesudasji in south, i think
    the mds of bollywood did not use rafi saab for
    classical type of songs.the classical songs rendered
    by rafi saab is excellent because of his voice quality.
    after rafi saab my favourites are yesudasji and t.m.
    sounder rajanji.

  36. Vishal says:

    I have some reservations on this article. While the author’s intention about rafi’s classical approach to singing is highly acknowledged and respected duly, without any doubt, there was never any need to compare rafi/make references with ghantasala and yesudas, who have their own unique contributions in their life, for which, honestly, mohd rafi also was not a match, as the southern legends contribution and achievements in their areas are beyond comparison and unique and again honestly, in their areas, rafi the great of hindi filmdom, was never a match for them. These are my honest views and i think, reference for mannadey can be accepted as he was a singer who sang along with mohd rafi and who has rendered some more tough songs from a classical point of view than rafi in hindi. Ketaki gulabi juhi etc. are such examples and I have not heard rafi sing any such type of tough songs in hindi. So manna dey was unique in his own way in his style of classical approach to singing in hindi filmdom if pitted against rafi. Remember the saying of none other than mohd rafi himself, that he hears manna dey songs, that itself is a testimony to manna dey by rafi and also rafi’s statement on kuhu kuhu song for ghantasala, when rafi stated that I cannot sing like ghantasala despite huge practise, though I again repeat comparison with the stature of legend like ghantasala is not correct as he was from the south, incomparable and rafi was from the hindi film world and he had no role in the south.

  37. Indeed only rafi saheb had the capability of sing any form of song whether classical,qawwalies,devotional, patriotic, romantic, sad or any mood depends on lyrics. He was par excellence. there is no match of this legendary singer.
    Today Rafi saheb is not physically present with us but his immortal voice and songs are forever till the world exist. Birendra Singh


  39. Gyan Prakash Agarwal says:

    Nitish ji – just great…Rafi Sahib was not only a versatile classical singer but a class himself with his adaaygee – unseen till now. In fact Rafi Sahib is a Gharana himself – followed my many aspiring playback singers even today AND WILL continue for ever (they just learn by listening Rafi Sahib’s songs again and again).

    Saudi Arabia

  40. H.A.K. Walijah says:

    Rafi Sahab had a rich and trained voice laced with a purity that was moving and trained under musicians Khan Abdul Waheed Khan, Jeevanlal Matto, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Firoze Nizami. Rafi Sahab’s amazing range and brilliance as a singer is demonstrated in the variety of songs he rendered – his songs ranged from classical numbers to patriotic songs, sad lamentations to highly romantic numbers, qawaalis to ghazals and bhajans, and from slow melancholic tunes to fast fun-filled songs.

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