The brilliance of genius lies in simplicity. And one artist who personified this maxim in the world of music was none other than the legendary Mohammed Rafi since he rendered the most intricate phrases and imponderable patterns of music with immaculate simplicity and grace. If even forty-three years after his demise, the love and adoration for him has not dimmed and his voice rules the airwaves, it is because Rafi Sahab, as he is fondly addressed by millions, did supreme justice to every facet of singing, making a colossal contribution to film as well as non-film music.
The relentless outpourings of appreciation on every social media platform from YouTube, Facebook and WhatsApp to radio stations, television channels, magazines and newspapers confirm his eminent and eternal stature at the pinnacle. Four decades plus, the deafening applause for Rafi Sahab’s singing talent as well as humanism has still not subsided and continues to cut across barriers of land, language, race, religion and nationalities because he provided sublime pleasure with his immeasurable genius. To even speak in the past tense about Rafi Sahab is quite unjustified as his voice is omnipresent and none till date has been able to bridge his profound absence.
Generations have been captivated by his gigantic prowess of playback singing but the fact is that the magic of Rafi Sahab’s non-film creations have made an equally heartwarming impact upon the listening fraternity. If his awe-inspiring dexterity took film music to Himalayan heights of ecstasy, Mohd Rafi’s harmonious sheen provided dignity and stature to non-film compositions also. Connoisseurs know Indian music recording companies had several famous film singers on their contracted rosters, but the stature and respect for non-film artists grew only because of Rafi since his non-film renditions of songs-ghazals and bhajans brought in phenomenal revenues and sales.
Never allowing his market price to come in the way of creativity, the humble man collaborated and encouraged new composers as frequently as he worked with established musicians. Charging as little as one Rupee for his work, Rafi helped many newcomers like Shyam Sagar, Vinod Chatterji, Babul, Shyam Sharma and Taj Ahmed Khan to establish themselves alongside noted veterans like Hansraj Behl, Iqbal Quereshi, Khayyam and Jaidev. Several years ago, a senior executive of HMV, Mr MC Lilakar confided to me that no male or female singer had given as many non-film chartbusters as Rafi did for decades. In fact, Rafi Sahab paved the way for non-film singers like Chandan Das, Jagjit Singh, Pankaj Udhaas and Nazia Hussain to gain money and fame though here too, like the film world, he swept aside all opposition.
The reason is not too difficult to fathom. After all, who has got over the delight of Rafi’s non-film songs/ghazals like Mere Geeton Ka Singaar Ho Tum, Kya Yaad Tumhein Bhi Aaayenge, Do Ghadi Baitho Tumhara Roop Aankhon Mein Basalon, Tum Aao Runjhun Karti and Tum Saamne Baithee Raho, Main Geet Gaaon Pyaar Ke. Recorded almost six decades back, their melodic magnetism has not dimmed one bit and they are equivalent to any film song for their ethereal feel and fragrance.
Do remember these songs were recorded on shoestring budgets with a meagre number of musicians, yet their allure is mesmeric in terms of melodic unity and charm. Although many well-known playback singers, male and female, did join the non-film bandwagon, yet none scaled the dizzying heights of popularity like Rafi. Some stellar singers did manage a few hits in some specific genre but their overall non-film repertoire is poor in number as well as quality. In contrast, Rafi Sahab’s non-film ventures were best-sellers since, as music director Khayyam once confided, “Rafi was a devout student of music who contributed excellence to every creation”. No wonder, Khayyam’s non-film album This is Mohammed Rafi remained the best-selling disc on account of Rafi’s soft and tender vocals as the Sangam of the magnificent ‘teacher’ and the gifted ‘student’ resulted in a mesmerising creation of bhajans and ghazals that are still heard with delight and awe.
No listener can deny that they have heard anyone except Rafi Sahab rendering bhajans better than Paon Padun Tore Shyaam, Tere Bharose Hai Nandlala, Main Gwalo Rakhwaalo Maiyya or More Shyaam, Pal Pal More Mukh Se Nikle Nis Din Tero Naam. Each inflexion is so pure, so soothing and dripping with devotion that it is akin to Nirvana and legendary singer’s devotional plea of Paon Padun Tore Shyaam is so sublime and perfect that even agnostics are led to admit Rafi as God’s Own Voice.
If poets like Madhukar Rajasthani, Saba Afghani, Krishan Adeeb or Muzaffar Shahjahanpuri were brought to the limelight by Rafi, the intoxicating couplets of Daag, Mir, Ghalib and others were brought alive by Rafi’s golden inflexions. Listen to ghazals and nazms like Ghazab Kiya Tere Vaade Pe, Ye Naa Thi Hamari Kismat, Shauk Har Rang Pe, Diya Ye Dil Agar Usko Bashar Hai Kya Kahiye, Falsafe Ishq Mein Pesh Aaye Sawalon Ki Tarah and Kya Tumne Dil Liya Nahin Mera Jawaab Do that have all the ornamentation and intricacies rendered in a unique manner by the incomparable singer. The best ghazal singers are put to shade by subtle inflexions and vocal twists of the humble singer who spoke softly in real life but ‘roared’ on mike.
A noble singer, Rafi Sahab always gave his best, irrespective of whether the composition was for film, radio or stage. Music Director Ravi, who early in his career recorded Rafi for All India Radio for a pittance, once recounted that Rafi’s singing contribution would always be a hundred percent irrespective of the amount of remuneration or the genre; a genuine reason why Rafi Sahab’s film and non-film creations are equally popular and alive till this day. Old timers still swoon to the 1949 Rafi-Hansraj Behl-Rajendra Krishan composition Iss Dil Se Teri Yaad Bhulaayee Nahin Jaati which actually started the avalanche of non-film songs. They fondly recollect that it was Rafi’s non-film patriotic numbers like Watan Ki Abroo Khatrey Mein Hai and Awaaz Do Hum Ek Hain, penned by Sahir and Jaan Nisar Akhtar under Khayyam’s baton, that stirred the nation’s conscience during the war in 1962.
Recorded and released within a week after the China attack, these Rafi songs galvanized the Indian public to come forth in a manner that has never been seen before. Khayyam recounted to me that the songs were hurriedly written, composed and recorded in a matter of two days but “Rafi Sahab was cooperation personified at every stage of the creation.” Charging no money for his divine vocals, Rafi Sahab put such a ‘soul feel’ into the songs that they still inspire a ‘noble and pious form of patriotism’ within everyone’s breast. Thespian Dilip Kumar said Rafi was the favourite of Indian soldiers but then, he was and has been the favourite of everyone across the seas.
This humane singer may not have been accorded the Bharat Ratna Award, nevertheless, since decades, billions have been hailing Rafi Sahab as the greatest ‘Ratna’ or jewel of Indian music. And the overwhelming public sentiment is a pointer that the genius of this colossal artist is above all awards.