Muhammad Rafi — a full throat, tuneful, versatile singer — Part I

Muhammad Rafi — a full throat, tuneful, versatile singer — Part I

Formative Days: Before proceeding ahead with some of important songs sung by Rafi Sahib with other composers, I must talk about his background. Muhammad Rafi was ‘Amritsariya’ by birth, born in Kotla Sultan Singh on December 24, 1924. Noticing a natural flair for singing in Muhammad Rafi, his elder brother decided to get Muhammad Rafi tutelage from the two greats; Bare Ghulam Ali Khan and Ustad Wahid Khan. At the age of 20, Muhammad Rafi had already entered into his professional career as a singer. He sang his first song, a Punjabi number, “Soniye Hiriye” for the Shyam Sunder produced 1944 movie ‘Gul Baloch’, released on February 28. This music composer got so impressed by Muhammad Rafi’s performance that he used his vocals in all other movies he composed music for, including the movie ‘Gaon Ki Gori’. It should be added that earlier Muhammad Rafi was invited by Nasir, a well-known actor of those times to Bombay and by then, there was no turning back by 1948. The great crooners KL Saigol and Pandit Paulsikar appreciated his voice. It was during these days that Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated and Muhammad Rafi sang a song “Suno Suno Ay Duniya Walon” written by Rajinder Krishan with music by Hunslal Bhagatram. This song touched everyone and it became a great success.
As a singer myself, I have always believed in the fact that it is very easy for a full throat singer to get out of tune at times as applying force on vocal chords can easily make you sing a little above a note (sur charha) or below a note (kum sura). With due deference to famous singers Masood Rana and Mukesh, they fall in these categories respectively despite having given wonderful songs in their singing journeys. The exceptions in this domain were Nurjehan and Muhammad Rafi, both full throat singers but remained tuneful singers; a difficult craft to preserve. We shall talk about the life, songs and singing qualities of Muhammad Rafi in this discourse. Muhammad Rafi may have sung many songs that the music lovers started humming his songs before the song “Akele Main Woh Ghabrate Tou Honge” for the film ‘Biwi’ with music composed by Khayyam but this song played a lot of role in tuning the career of Muhammad Rafi.
Association with Khayyam: This observation drifts me away for a while from the main topic to the abilities of music composer Khayyam who played an important role in the formative days of Muhammad Rafi. Khayyam is a fine music director who created his own alcove but had to be among the highly talented, but not-so-fortunate, music directors in the initial days of his struggle. The main reason is, of course, that he was a victim of a) lack of giant banner films in his fold in his struggling days and b) sticking to his own original style of music compositions. These banners were monopoly of Naushad Ali, Shankar Jaikishen and SD Burman in those days, for which Muhammad Rafi too gave memorable songs as we shall discuss subsequently in this discourse. Due to perhaps this reason, after giving beautiful music in the movie ‘Shola Aur Shabnam’, Khayyam was seriously contemplating a total change in his style of music. By doing so, he was hoping that it would lead to greater success but in Khayyam’s own words in one of his interviews on Vividhbharati, that he once came across famous music composer SD Burman who had advised him not to change his own natural style at any cost! Sticking to his own style of composing music, despite spending some years not getting enough work, made Khayyam a great success subsequently. In the movie just referred to above, two timeless beauties by Muhammad Rafi are “Jane Kaya Dhoondti Rehti Hain” and a duet “Jeet Hi Lain Gei Baazi” with Lata Mangeshkar (a beautiful soft melody). Time has proved that though Khayyam’s repertoire with Muhammad Rafi was relatively small in number but all the songs sung by Muhammad Rafi are top class songs with lot of variety in them. They can be labelled anything but stereotype songs. Apart from the songs mentioned above, these songs are; “Ik Dil Nei Kaha” in the 1949 film ‘Parda’, “Hei Kali Kali Kei Lab Par Tere” in the 1958 movie ‘Lala Rukh’ (a happy rhythmic number composed in Arabic style of music), “Sab Ki Khair Ho Baba” in 1958 movie ‘Phir Subha Ho Gi’ (a Faqir song), “Chala Chal Chala Chal Gar Hai Andhera” in 1960 movie ‘Barood’, “Yeh Raat Bahut Rangeen Sahi” and “Tum Chali Jaaogi, Parchhayiyan Reh Jaayengi” (both romantic songs) in 1964 movie ‘Shagoon’, “Theherye Hosh Main Aa Lun” (with Suman Kalyanpur; a melodious number) and “Meri Nigah Nei Kaya Kaam” (with beautiful Santoor introductory piece) in 1965 movie ‘Muhabbat Is Ko Kehte Hain’, a beautiful melody “Aur Kutch Dair Theher Aur Kutch Dair Na Ja” from 1966 movie ‘Aakhri Khat’, another beautiful melody “Kahin Aik Masoom Nazuk” from 1977 movie ‘Shankar Hussain’ and finally “She’r Ka Husn Ho, Naghme Ki Jawaani Ho Tum” again from the movie ‘Shankar Hussain’. Continued

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