Mohammed Rafi was an Indian playback singer. He is considered one of the greatest and most influential singers of the Indian subcontinent. Rafi was notable for his voice, versatility and range; his songs were varied from fast peppy numbers to patriotic songs, sad numbers to highly romantic songs, qawwalis to ghazals and bhajans to classical songs. He was known for his ability to mould his voice to the persona and style of an actor, lip-syncing the song on screen in the movie. He received six Filmfare Awards and one National Film Award. In 1967, he was honoured with the Padma Shri award by the Government of India. In 2001, Rafi was honoured with the “Best Singer of the Millennium” title by Hero Honda and Stardust magazine. In 2013, Rafi was voted for the Greatest Voice in Hindi Cinema in the CNN-IBN’s poll.
He has recorded songs for over a thousand Hindi films and has sung songs in various regional Indian languages as well as foreign languages, though primarily in Hindi-Urdu and Punjabi over which he had a strong command. He has recorded as many as 7405 songs in many languages. He has the song in many regional Indian languages including Konkani, Assamese, Bhojpuri, Odia, Punjabi, Bengali, Marathi, Sindhi, Kannada, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu, Magahi, Maithili. Apart from Indian languages, he also sang songs in many foreign languages including English, Farsi, Arabic, Sinhala, Creole and Dutch.
Mohammed Rafi was the second eldest of six brothers born to Haji Ali Mohammad. The family originally belonged to Kotla Sultan Singh, a village near present-day Majitha in the Amritsar district of Punjab, India. Rafi, whose nickname was Pheeko, began singing by imitating the chants of a fakir in the streets of his native village Kotla Sultan Singh where his family lived. Rafi’s father moved to Lahore in 1935, where he ran a men’s salon in Noor Mohalla in Bhati Gate. Rafi learnt classical music from 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 “Soniye Nee, Heeriye Nee” with Zeenat Begum in the Punjabi film Gul Baloch (released in 1944) under music director Shyam Sunder. 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.
Early career in Bombay
Rafi moved to Bombay (now Mumbai), Maharashtra in 1944. He and Hameed Sahab rented a ten-by-ten-feet 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 Bombay and provided the opportunity to Rafi to sing a duet with G. M. Durrani, “Aji dil ho kaabu mein to dildar ki aisi taisi. for Gaon Ki Gori, which became Rafi’s first recorded song in a Hindi film. Other songs followed.
Rafi’s first song with Naushad was “Hindustan Ke Hum Hain” with Shyam Kumar, Alauddin and others, from A. R. Kardar’s Pehle Aap (1944). Around the same time, Rafi recorded another song for the 1945 film Gaon Ki Gori, “Aji Dil Ho Kaaboo Mein”. He considered this song to be his first Hindi language song.
Rafi appeared in two movies. In 1945, he appeared on the screen for the song “Tera Jalwa Jis Ne Dekha” in the film Laila Majnu. He sang a number of songs for Naushad as part of the chorus, including “Mere Sapnon Ki Rani, Roohi Roohi” with K. L. Saigal, from the film Shahjahan (1946). Rafi sang “Tera Khilona Toota Balak” from Mehboob Khan’s Anmol Ghadi (1946) and a duet with Noor Jehan in the 1947 film Jugnu, “Yahan Badla Wafa Ka”. After partition, Rafi decided to stay back in India and had the rest of his family flown to Bombay. 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).
Besides K. L. Saigal, whom he considered his idol, Rafi was also influenced by G. M. Durrani. In the early phase of his career, he often followed Durrani’s style of singing, but later evolved his own, unique style. He sang with Durrani in some of the songs such as “Humko Hanste Dekh Zamana Jalta Hai” and “Khabar Kisi Ko Nahin, Woh Kidhar Dekhte” (Beqasoor, 1950).
In 1948, after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, the team of Husanlal Bhagatram-Rajendra Krishan-Rafi had overnight created the song “Suno Suno Ae Duniyawalon, Bapuji Ki Amar Kahani”. 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
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