Mohammed Rafi (24 December 1924 â€“ 31 July 1980) is one of the most popular and respected playback singers of India and widely considered the greatest singer of Indian cinema. He was one of the most versatile singers: his songs ranged from classical numbers to patriotic songs, sad lamentations to highly romantic numbers, qawwalis to ghazals and bhajans. He was known for his ability to mould his voice to the persona of the actor lip-synching the song. Between 1950 and 1970, Rafi was the most sought after singer in the Hindi film industry, Rafi received six Filmfare Awards and one National Film Award. In 1967, he was honoured with the Padma Shri award by the Government of India.
Rafi is primarily noted for his songs in Hindi, over which he had a strong command. He sang in other Indian languages including Assamese, Konkani, Bhojpuri, Oriya, Punjabi, Bengali, Marathi, Sindhi, Kannada, Gujarati, Telugu, Maghi, Maithili and Urdu. Apart from Indian languages, he also sang songs in English, Persian, Spanish, and Dutch.
Mohammed Rafi was the second oldest of six brothers born to Hajji Ali Mohammad. The family originally belonged to Kotla Sultan Singh, a village near present-day Amritsar in Punjab, India. Rafi, whose nickname was Pheeko, began singing by imitating the chants of a fakir in the streets of Bhati gate Lahore where his family lived. Rafiâ€™s father moved to Lahore in the 1920s where he ran a menâ€™s salon in Noor Mohalla in Bhatti Gate. His elder brother, Mohammad Deen, had a friend, Abdul Hameed, (future brother-in-law), who recognised the talent in Rafi in Lahore and encouraged him to sing. Abdul Hameed later convinced the family elders to let Rafi move to Mumbai; he accompanied him in 1944.
Rafi learnt classical music from Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan, Pandit Jiwan Lal Mattoo and Firoze Nizami. His first public performance came at the age of 13, when he sang in Lahore featuring K. L. Saigal. In 1941, Rafi, under Shyam Sundar, made his debut in Lahore as a playback singer in the duet â€œSoniye Nee, Heeriye Neeâ€ with Zeenat Begum in the Punjabi film Gul Baloch (released in 1944). In that same year, Rafi was invited by All India Radio Lahore station to sing for them.
He made his Hindi film debut in Gaon Ki Gori in 1945.
In 1944, Rafi moved to Bombay. He and Hameed Sahab rented a ten-by-ten-foot room in the crowded downtown Bhendi Bazar area. Poet Tanvir Naqvi introduced him to film producers including Abdur Rashid Kardar, Mehboob Khan and actor-director Nazeer. Shyam Sunder was in Mumbai and provided the opportunity to Rafi to sing a duet with GM Durrani, â€œAji dil ho qaabu mein to dildar ki aisi taisiâ€¦,â€ for Gaon Ki Gori, which became Rafiâ€™s first recorded song in a Hindi film. Other songs followed.
Rafiâ€™s first song with Naushad was â€œHindustan Ke Hum Hainâ€ with Shyam Kumar, Alauddin and others, from A. R. Kardarâ€™s Pehle Aap (1944). Around the same time, Rafi recorded another song for the 1945 film Gaon Ki Gori, â€œAji Dil Ho Kaaboo Meinâ€. He considered this song his first Hindi language song.
Rafi appeared in two movies. In 1945, he appeared on the screen for the song â€œTera Jalwa Jis Ne Dekhaâ€ in the film Laila Majnu. He sang a number of songs for Naushad as part of the chorus, including â€œMere Sapnon Ki Rani, Roohi Roohiâ€ with K. L. Saigal from the film Shahjahan (1946). Rafi sang â€œTera Khilona Toota Balakâ€ from Mehboob Khanâ€™s Anmol Ghadi (1946) and a duet with Noor Jehan in the 1947 film Jugnu, â€œYahan Badla Wafa Kaâ€. After partition, Rafi decided to stay back in India and had the rest of his family flown to Mumbai. Noor Jehan migrated to Pakistan and made a pair with playback singer Ahmed Rushdi.
In 1949, Rafi was given solo songs by music directors such as Naushad (Chandni Raat, Dillagi and Dulari) Shyam Sunder (Bazaar) and Husnalal Bhagatram (Meena Bazaar).
Rafi was influenced by the singers of that time like K. L Saigal and, most notably, by G. M. Durrani on whose style he based his singing. He sang with his idol in some of the songs such as â€œHumko Hanste Dekh Zamana Jalta Haiâ€ and â€œKhabar Kisi Ko Nahiin, Woh Kidhar Dekhteâ€ (Beqasoor, 1950).
In 1948, after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, the team of Husanlal Bhagatram-Rajendra Krishan-Rafi had overnight created the song â€œSuno Suno Ae Duniyawalon, Bapuji Ki Amar Kahaniâ€. He was invited by the Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, to sing at his house. In 1948, Rafi received a silver medal from Jawaharlal Nehru on Indian Independence Day.
Rafi made a comeback as a leading singer in 1974. That year, he won the Film World magazine Best Singer Award for the song â€œTeree Galiyon Mein Na Rakhenge Qadam Aaj Ke Baadâ€ (Hawas, 1974) composed by Usha Khanna.
In 1977, he won both Filmfare Award and the National Award for the song â€œKya Hua Tera Wadaâ€ from the movie Hum Kisise Kum Naheen, composed by R.D. Burman. Rafi sang for Rishi Kapoor in films like Laila Majnu (for which music was given by two composers Madan Mohan, and after his death by Jaidev), Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Sargam (1979) and Karz (1980). The qawwali â€œPardah Hai Pardahâ€ from Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) was a superhit. Rafiâ€™s notable renderings in the late 1970s and early 1980s include Bairaag (1976), Laila Majnu (1976), Apnapan (1978), Suhaag (1979), Qurbani, Dostana (1980), The Burning Train (1980), Naseeb (1981), Abdullah (1980), Shaan (1980), Asha (1980), Aap To Aise Na The (1980), and Zamane Ko Dikhana Hai (1982).
In December 1979, Rafi recorded six songs for the Hindi remake of Dilip Senâ€™s Bengali superhit Sorry Madam; the film was never completed due to a personal tragedy in Dilip Senâ€™s life. These songs, written by Kafeel Aazar and composed by Chitragupta, were released digitally in December 2009 by the label Silk Road under the title â€œThe Last Songsâ€. The physical album was released only in India by Universal.
Singers like shabbir Kumar, Mohammed Aziz and, more recently, Sonu Nigam, made their names by adopting to Rafiâ€™s style.
On 22 September 2007, a shrine to Rafi designed by artist Tasawar Bashir was unveiled on Fazeley Street, Birmingham, UK. Bashir is hoping that Rafi will attain sainthood as a result. The Padma Shri Mohammed Rafi Chowk in the Bandra suburb of Mumbai and Pune (extending MG Road) is named after Rafi.
In the summer of 2008, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra released a double CD titled Rafi Resurrected comprising 16 songs by Rafi. Bollywood playback singer Sonu Nigam provided the vocals for this project and toured with the CBSO in July 2008 at venues including the English National Opera in London, Manchesterâ€™s Apollo Theatre and Symphony Hall, Birmingham.
In June 2010, Rafi along with Lata Mangeshkar was voted the most popular playback singer in the Outlook Music Poll, conducted by Outlook magazine.The same poll voted â€œMan re, tu kahe na Dheer Dhareâ€ (Chitralekha, 1964), sung by Rafi as the #1 song. Three songs were tied for the #2 place: Two were sung by Rafi. The songs were â€œTere Mere Sapne Ab Ek Rang Hainâ€ (Guide, 1965) and â€œDin Dhal Jaye, hai raat na jayeâ€ (Guide, 1965). This poll was published in Outlook. The jury included people in the Indian music industry: Abhijeet, Adesh Srivastava, Alisha Chinai, Anu Malik, Ehsaan, Gulzar, Hariharan, Himesh Reshammiya, Jatin, Javed Akhtar, Kailash Kher, Kavita Krishnamurthy, Khayyam, Kumar Sanu, Lalit, Loy, Mahalaxmi Iyer, Mahendra Kapoor, Manna Dey, Prasoon Joshi, Rajesh Roshan, Sadhna Sargam, Sameer, Sandesh Shandilya, Shaan, Shankar, Shantanu Moitra, Shreya Ghoshal, Sonu Nigam and Talat Aziz.
In an article in Times of India, Rafi is described as â€œa versatile singer, who could render classical, rock and roll, indeed any kind of song with ease, he was Hindi filmâ€™s, favourite male voice through the 1950s and 1960sâ€. Music director Rajesh Roshan, who composed some of the songs with Rafi, remembers him as â€œa warm-hearted simple person with no egoâ€.
There have been appeals to the Government of India to honour the singer, posthumously, with the Bharat Ratna (Indiaâ€™s Highest Civilian Award)
Classical and playback singer Manna Dey, who was also a contemporary of Rafi said, â€œRafi and I could sing everything, and he was such a gentleman. He was a better singer than me, and I will say this â€“ that no one came even close to him! He deserved everything he got! We had a great understanding and it was never about one-upmanshipâ€. Veteran actor Shammi Kapoor said, â€œI am incomplete without Mohammad Rafi. I used to often go for the recording of my song, which was sung by Mohammad Rafi, only because I used to like telling him how I would perform on this song on screen so that he can sing it that way. Even he liked my involvementâ€.
Over 9,000 musical tributes were organized in July 2011 commemorating the 31st anniversary of the singerâ€™s death. A documentary about Rafiâ€™s life is under production by the Films Division of India.
Rafiâ€™s Baharon Phool Barsao was voted the most popular Hindi song in a BBC Asia Network poll commemorating 100 years of Hindi Cinema.In a CNN-IBN survey in 2013, he was voted the greatest voice of Hindi Cinema.
Mohammed Rafi Academy was launched in Mumbai on 31 July 2010 on the 30th anniversary of the singerâ€™s death, started by his son Sahid Rafi to impart training in Indian classical and contemporary music.
After his death, seven Hindi movies were dedicated to Rafi: Allah Rakha, Mard, Coolie, Desh-Premee, Naseeb, Aas-Paas and Heeralal-Pannalal.
Rafi is one of the recording artists mentioned in the 1997 hit British alternative rock song â€œBrimful of Ashaâ€ by Cornershop.
Rafiâ€™s song from the film Gumnaam (1965), â€œJaan Pehechan Hoâ€, was used on the soundtrack of Ghost World (2001). The film opens with the lead character dancing around in her bedroom to a video of Gumnaam. The song has also been used for Heinekenâ€™s 2011 â€œThe Dateâ€ commercial.
His â€œAaj Mausam Bada Beiman Haiâ€ is featured in the 2001 film Monsoon Wedding. His song â€œMera Man Tera Pyasaâ€ (Gambler, 1970) has been used as one of the soundtracks in the Jim Carrey-Kate Winslet starrer Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). This song is played in the background in Kate Winsletâ€™s characterâ€™s home while the lead pair are having a drink (at approximately 00.11.14 runtime).
Rafi married twice; his first marriage was to his cousin; Bashira and took place in his ancestral village.The marriage ended when his first wife refused to live in India following the killing of her parents during the riots of Partition of India and moved to Lahore, Pakistan.
Rafi had four sons and three daughters. He was very much a family man, following a recording-room, to home and to recording-room itinerary. He rarely attended film parties, did not smoke or drink, was religious, and was considered a humble man. He used to perform his riyaz (musical practice) regularly. His only indulgences were playing carom, badminton, and flying kites.