Arguably one of Indian cinema's greatest singers, Mohammad Rafi's voice has inspired and moved generations of Bollywood music aficionados. Rafi sang an incredible 28,000 songs in his lifetime and ruled Hindi cinema right until his death in 1980.

The '80s thus became the era of Rafi clones, when as many as three playback singers did their best to sound just like the late great singer. This trio of Rafi-inspired singers — Shabbir Kumar, Anwar and Mohammad Aziz — burst upon the Bollywood music scene at almost the same time. (Funnily enough, all three also faded out of Hindi films at the same time in the early '90s, driven out by changing tastes of audience who now preferred remixes to Rafi soundalikes.)

After delivering a string of hits in the '80s, playback singer Kumar is now clawing his way to a comeback.
"Every man faces such a phase at some time in his life. Rafisahab had to bow out of the industry and he made a come back again after six years [from 1971 to 1976]. I am on my way too,'' he says, philosophically. "I have sung in a few recent movies; among them Aa Ab Laut Chalein, Awara Pagal Deewana and Aan — Men at Work.''

Playback for leading actors

He has worked with all the leading music directors, including RD Burman, Kalyanji-Anandji, Rajesh Roshan, Anu Malik, Ismail Darbar and A.R. Rahman. He has sung playback for leading actors from Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan to Govinda and Suniel Shetty.

But the film offers have been few and far between since 1990.
Kumar says he has been busy in the interim. "I live in the hearts of my fans all over the world who invite me for shows and love to hear me sing live. Besides studio recordings, I perform at live shows.''

For Dubai fans of Rafi, this weekend's concert should be a treat. Kumar's Friday evening concert, R For Rafi: A Tribute to Mohammad Rafi, reprises several Rafi hits as well as Kumar's own hits.

"I have performed a lot of shows in Dubai and I love the audience here. They demand rare songs which I enjoy singing. This is a city of music lovers. And I am thankful to Leo Art Event Management who have invited me, I am looking forward to meet my fans soon inshallah!''

Kumar believes his idolising of Rafi (whom he calls Rafisahab, as most fans do) was providence. The story goes that when Kumar attended Rafi's funeral in 1980, his pen fell into Rafi's open grave. Kumar interpreted it as a divine portent that he was to be Rafi's successor.


Today, Kumar continues to live in Mumbai city. "I have a beautiful loving family with my wife and my three children. My eldest daughter is married and settled in Dubai. All three of my children are blessed by Allah with the talent for singing. And my son has also mastered the keyboard and composes really good music.''

After so many years of performing Rafi hits, does he have any favourites? "I love all the songs he has sung, it's like asking me which of my three children I love the most. Each of his songs teaches me a thousand new ways to sing. I get to learn a lot.''

"I started my singing career in 1967 in Vadodara city, in the western Indian state of Gujarat,'' Shabbir recalls. "When I was starting out in music in Vadodara, the song which won me recognition was Mere Dushman Tu Meri Dosti Ko Tarse, sung by my guru, Rafisahab, from the film Aaye Din Bahar Ke. It was composed by Laxmikant Pyarelal and written by Anand Bakshi. Hence this song is very close to my heart.

Rafisahab's fans in different parts of the world have their own favourites. I get requests for ghazals, in other places for comic songs or romantic ones.''

"Zindagi har kadam ek nayi jung hai,'' he sings flawlessly, from one of his own hits. Translated it means, life is a new battle every step of the way. "I don't believe in quitting and am not out of the industry. I am still in it!, '' he says.

Notable songs

Jab Hum Jawan Honge from Betaab (1983)
Tumse Milkar Naa Jaane Kyon from Pyaar Jhukata Naheen (1985)
Jeet Jayenge Hum from Meri Jung (1985)
Naa Maange Sona Chandi (parody) from Mr India
Gori Hai Kalaiyan from Aaj Ka Arjun (1990)
Sochna Kya from Ghayal (1990)
Zeehal-e-Musqeen from Ghulami
Pyar Kiya Nahi Jaata from Woh Saat Din
Saari Duniya Ka Bojh from Coolie