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24 September 2014
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Midlands Masala


Mohammed Rafi
Mohammed Rafi

Mohammed Rafi

By Raj Kaushal, website user
The CBSO celebrates the legendary Bollywood singer Mohammed Rafi, Bollywood’s answer to Frank Sinatra.


Like Mohammed Ali, listen to another Mohammed who was simply the greatest.

Mohammed Rafi sung over 26,000 songs in a career spanning 40 years, most of those spent as the undisputed King of Bollywood playback singers.

When Mohammed Rafi was a little boy, a fakir used to wander by his house in Lahore singing songs. Captivated by the beautiful sounds, the little boy would follow the holy man and sing along.

So began the musical journey of Rafi, a magical trip that would lead him to Bombay, the blossoming Bollywood film industry and immortality as, arguably, the greatest ever male Hindi playback singer.

Born in 1924 in Punjab to a middle class Muslim family of barbers, Mohammed Rafi was not meant to enter the world of music. His strict father regarded singing as an inappropriate career for his son, but with the help of his older brother, the young Rafi changed his mind and by the age of 7 was being trained in Indian classical music.

By the age of 13 he had amazed an audience of thousands with his debut public performance, and by the age of 18 had arrived in Bombay, ready to conquer Bollywood.

Mohammed Rafi montage
Mohammed Rafi montage

It was clear from the beginning that Rafi had a unique talent which distinguished him from the other playback singers of the era but it was only when he teamed up with the music composer Naushad – most notably in the 1952 classic film Baiju Bawra – that Rafi established himself as one of the greatest playback singers in Indian cinema.

Rafi revealed a golden voice of unrivaled tonal quality and range, which had the power to pitch lyrics from the lowest modulations to high soprano.

This incredible versatility of range soon attracted all the stars and, during the 1950s and 1960s – unquestionably the golden age of Hindi film music – Rafi became the voice of all the cinema greats, from Dilip Kumar and Guru Dutt, to Shammi Kapoor and Dharmendra.

Rafi proved his greatness further with an astonishing display of vocal pyrotechnics that used intonation and inflection to ensure no actor he lent his voice to ever sounded like the other.

But Rafi was more than just an outstanding Hindi playback singer. During his 40-year career he sang over 26,000 songs in all the national languages of India, achieving an unequaled level of success in many genres of Asian music, from ghazals and geets, to qawwalis and bhajans.

Surprisingly, Rafi could have pushed back the musical boundaries even further but in 1980, at the age of 55, he died of a heart attack.

CBSO pay tribute

On the 7th April 2006, the CBSO pays tribute to the legendary Rafi with a concert that showcases many of his much loved songs. It is a creatively bold and pioneering step by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra as they are investing in  local artists who will play tribute to Mohammed Rafi

Whilst there are many South Asian musicians worthy of being honoured by the CBSO, it is difficult to think of a better starting point than Rafi to introduce the sounds of Hindi music to the West and the talents of the CBSO to the culturally diverse communities in and around Birmingham.

His influence stretched across generations and musical genres, encouraging and inspiring many of the great Asian singers in modern music.

"The singers performing at the concert are local to the West Midlands, yet also have an international recognition, such as Mehboob Chohan who had the privilege of receiving personal tuition from the great Mohammed Rafi."  said  Parminder Singh Jutla.

"The other singers are British Asian bhangra legends Shin, who came second in the tribute competition on the first anniversary of Rafi’s death, and Slinder Pardesi, who has recorded two tribute albums to Rafi."

Shin added: "On the night we will be reliving and paying tribute to the great Mohammed Rafi. The audience will have the opportunity to hear 18 tracks played to a live orchestra, similar to how they would have been originally recorded. It will truly be a magical night for all."

Written by Raj Kaushal, website user

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More details about the CBSO concert

last updated: 01/03/06
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