The Virtuoso: Mohammed Rafi remembered – An Interview with his grandson

Today marks the 37th death anniversary of one of the most loved singers of South Asia, Mohammed Rafi.  This great music legend was one of the most versatile playback singers of the Indian film industry.  The world lost this gem on July 31, 1980 but his heavenly voice lives on forever through his songs.

LAFZ Magazine was fortunate to have a few words with Mohammed Rafi’s grandson – Ali Rafi,  which we bring to you on this 37th death anniversary of the virtuoso.

How close a connection do you share with the late Mohd Rafi saab bearing in mind you was only one years old when he passed away?

I don’t have any actual memories of my grandfather although I do have a few photographs of him holding me in his arms. One particular photograph was taken on his last birthday before his passing in 1979 surrounded by his grandchildren with me in the centre as I was the youngest at the time – barely six months old. In some ways I connect to him in the same way as do his many fans – with a huge amount of respect and admiration for his great talent and contribution to music. I am also a massive fan and it’s almost like i have to remind myself from time to time that this is my Grandfather. But the fact is he is my ‘Dada Abba’ before he is Rafi Sahib.  My late father shares a striking resemblance with Dada and me and my two brothers we all have the Rafi hands.

How important has your late father and mother been in telling you about Mohd Rafi?

My father was the fifth of Rafi sahibs seven children and came to the UK to study from the age of eight along with his two elder brothers.  I feel that he wasn’t all that familiar with Rafi Sahib’s music because of this distance.  He didn’t look at his father as a celebrity or an icon but as most children would their fathers who had a job – and in this case his father had a job as a playback singer.  I don’t remember my Dad ever listening to Indian music although he was an avid music listener.  It is my Mother I have to thank for introducing us to the music of Rafi Sahib.  She has been a huge fan since she was a child and till this day has encyclopaedic knowledge of songs and movies from Indian cinemas golden era.

Being the grandson of the late singer how has it helped you develop into who you are today?

I do feel my grandfather has influenced me in many ways even though he passed away before I can remember.  Till this day I haven’t come across a single person who has a bad word to say about him even in cases in which people are not aware I’m his grandson. They remember him for his humility, profound love of his craft, and desire to use his talent positively.  I feel these are great qualities.  When you have someone so closely connected to you who has had such a positive impact on people you can’ t help but feel a  responsibility to continue that characteristic tradition.

Is it true that Mohd Rafi would wear shoes made in Lahore?

I haven’t heard of anything that suggests he wore shoes made in Lahore but it sounds like a great story if it is true.  Rafi Sahib was quite a dapper man actually and is seen wearing some really fine suits in photographs.

Impossible, but what is your favourite song of Mohd Rafi?

Quite rightly so – this is an impossible question to answer for the reason that the my answer changes so often, but to give you something I am really loving listening to the song ‘Hui sham unka khayal aa gaya’ from the film “Mere humdum mere dost” at the moment.  I really love the tone of his voice in that song.

Other than Mohd Rafi who else do you ardently listen to?

I was born and raised in the UK and only really started appreciating Rafi Sahibs voice and Indian music in my teens.  English and American music has been the predominant soundtrack to my life and since I can remember I’ve listened to the Beatles, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder grew up idolising Michael Jackson.

Of the current crop of Bollywood singers who would you say you would rate as a singer?

There’s no Indian artist I particularly listen to these days.  I occasionally hear a contemporary Indian song with a great melody or an interesting hook that catches my attention. I do see some amazing raw talent on those Indian reality TV singing contests though I wonder what happens to most of them after the shows have ended.

How would you sum up the genius of Mohd Rafi in a single sentence?

I’d sum up his gift in the same way he did so many times with a simple gesture – a soft smile and a raising of his finger  pointing up to the heavens – acknowledging his creator.

Is there any message you would like to give to Rafians around the world?

I’d say it is important that we continue to remember and celebrate Rafi Sahib because he represents such a positive force in the world and a link to a great tradition and musical heritage.

Ali Rafi is a film director. Examples of his work can be seen at khandera.com

Hui shaam unka khayal (Mere Humdum Mere Dost)