The mesmerizing, melodious voice with impeccable tone and timbre. Pitch perfect control. The playful, soulful caressing of the lyrics. The subtle modulations and variations. Yes, these are qualities that make Rafi’s romantic songs such a wonderful, fulfilling listening experience, and truly we are blessed that he left us with so many.
A lot has been said and written about Rafi’s classical music grounding, his versatility and range that enabled him to render all those unforgettable songs. But I want to talk about an understated aspect of his singing, which for me, is inimitable, and adds so much to the mood of the songs and makes them truly beautiful – and that is his diction. It is unlike any other singer and I just cannot imagine those songs being sung by anyone else. The list is endless, but I want to mention a few, which I think count among Rafi’s best.
Let me start with one of my favorite playful numbers – “Sar Jo Tera Chakraye”, from Pyaasa. SD Burman made it merry and jaunty, with a happy tune. Listen carefully, though, when Rafi sings “Jaye” and “GhabhRaye” – he just glides and skims over the heavy Ja and Ra sounds in those words, and makes it so much more inviting (for a maalish), mischievous and playful. I would definitely want a maalish after listening to that (preferably from Johnny Walker).
It is this uncanny ability to adorn the song with variations in pronunciation and diction that makes Rafi so special. Another of my favorite songs is “Is Rang Badalti Duniya Mein” from the movie Rajkumar. Shankar-Jaikishan created a beautiful melody and Rafi has brought it to life. Listen to how he starts the song with a soft “Iss” and maintains the soft touch on all the words. See how he adds flirtation in the first antara with the soft but elongated “Cheda” in the phrase “Cheda Na Karo” and exposes the innocence of the “Naadan.