The singing legend is not present physically in this world but still he is very much alive through his unforgettable songs in the hearts of his innumerable fans. Rafi Sahab as he was popularly known had created an everlasting appeal during his 35 years illustrious career.
Mohammed Rafi, whose voice brought to life hundreds of melodies, was born in Kotla Sultan Singh village near Amritsar long before India attained its independence.Mohd Rafi had five older brothers ad his father’s name was Hajji Ali Mohammad. Lovingly addressed as “Pheeko” by his family, Rafi started showing his inclination towards music at a very early age when he used to imitate the chants of a wandering beggar in his village. In the year 1935, Rafi’s family moved to Lahore. Rafi’s love for music was recognized soon by his family and he was encouraged to pursue it further. Thus, Mohamed Rafi went on to seek training in Hindustani classical music from eminent personalities like Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan, Pundit Jiwanlal Matto and Firoze Nizami.
The song composed by Shyamsunder received tremendous applause. Rafi, who is still an inspiration for singers and music lovers, gave his first stage performance at the age of 13.
An interesting story, Rafi’s first public performance was at the tender age of 13. One day Rafi along with his brother Hamid went to attend a performance by the renowned K.L. Saigal. But there was a power failure at the venue and the legendary singer refused to sing. When the audience began to lose patience, Rafi’s brother Hamid requested the organizer to allow Rafi to keep the audience entertained till the power came back. He was allowed to do so and it turned out to be the correct exposure for him. Among the audience was seated the great composer Shyam Sunder who immediately recognized immense talent and untapped potential in Rafi. He invited Rafi to come to Bombay for a recording. From there on began the journey of the most versatile singer of India.
Rafi also sang songs composed by Naushad for the movie Pehle Aap in the year 1944. He also acted in a couple of movies named Laila Majnu (1945) and Jugnu (1947). Another splendid performance was in the year 1946 when he sang the song “Tera Khilona Toota Balak” of the movie Anmol Ghadi. With the movie Jugnu (1947), Rafi bagged his first major hit. The song “Yahaan Badla Wafa Ka” with Noor Jehan under Feroze Nizami went on to become a major hit with the public.
His music in the movie Baiju Bawara proved critics wrong and he went on to become one of the most demanded playback singers of that time. The film happened by accident. Talat Mehmood was the first choice for the film. Naushad, the music director caught Talat Mehmood smoking and was very annoyed. He then gave all the songs to Mohammed Rafi and the results were outstanding. In the year 1949, his song named “Suhani Raat Dhal Chuki” of the movie “Dulari” went on to become an anthem of sorts. There was no looking back thereafter and Rafi went on to produce hits after hits. He was the undisputed singer till the 70′s.
Besides, singing in Hindi, this versatile singer also recorded songs in Spanish, Dutch and English language.
In his 35 years long singing career, Rafi Sahab lend his voice for various types of songs, ranging from classical number, romantic songs, patriotic songs to ghazals and bajans.
He was patronized as the voice of the great actor Dev Anand during 1950′s and 60′s. He became the favorite singer of director O.P. Nayyar and sang many beautiful songs for him. Rafi also produced some of the greatest hits with S.D. Burman, which includes films like Tere Ghar ke Saamne (1957), Pyaasa (1957), Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959), Guide (1965), Aradhana (1969) and Abhimaan (1973). In fact, he even sang a playback number for the great singer Kishore Kumar for the movie Raagini. Apparently, O.P. Nayyar was so fascinated by Rafi’s music that he got him to sing “Man Mora Baawara” of this movie. Rafi sang with Asha Bhonsle and Lata Mangeshkar and belted out hits after hits. Rafi became the voice of noted actor Rajendra Kumar and sang many romantic songs for his movies. His boisterous style of singing suited the versatile actor Shammi Kapoor. One could not imagine a reserved and gentle person like Rafi singing the “Yahoo” number. But then, that was Rafi.
In his glorious career, Mohammed Rafi won the coveted Filmfare Award of best playback singer no less than six times. He was also given the title of Padmashri by the Government of India. Mohammad Rafi won National Award for his song ‘Kya Hua Tera Wada’ from the movie ‘Hum Kisise Kum Naheen‘ in 1977.
With the advent of Kishore Kumar as a major singing sensation, Rafi Sahab’s career received a slight jolt in the late 60s and the early 70s but he bounced back with verve in films like Sargam, Karz, Hum Kisise Kam Nahin, Poonam and his last song under the baton of Laxmikant-Pyarelal for the film Aas Paas.
The world of music lost one of its brightest luminaries on 31st July 1980 but his melodious voice still enthralls music lovers. He succumbed to the dreaded heart-attack, ironically the man was a teetotaler and a non- smoker. At the time of his demise, he was in his mid fifties. His funeral procession was one of the largest that the city of Mumbai had ever witnessed. Rafi Sahab had sung over 25,000 songs in his musical career, and when he died it was considered death of a musical era.