Washington, D.C. — It’s been more than 30 years since the unexpected death of Bollywood singer and music legend Mohammad Rafi. Now, a remarkable VOA tribute to the late singer has touched the hearts of people in both India and Pakistan.
Longtime VOA broadcaster Subhash Vohra was one of the few people to have ever interviewed the shy but wildly popular singer, who dominated the Bollywood music scene for decades. The 1977 interview, recorded by Vohra when he worked for the BBC, was conducted before one of Rafi’s final performances at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
“For many years, I thought of doing a program about Rafi, in fact, we discussed it before he died and he even selected the songs that he wanted to be used, but we never completed the program because of his untimely death,” Vohra says.
Earlier this month, all those years later, Subhash Vohra, and his VOA colleagues, Razi Rizvi and Rashmi Shukla, with special permission from the BBC to use excerpts of the interview, finally produced the long-contemplated program for the VOA Urdu service on Rafi’s death anniversary, to the delight of audiences in and around India and Pakistan.
“My generation feels so nostalgic about [Rafi] that it appears as if it was yesterday that his voice resonated the bazaars and narrow lanes of India; we virtually aligned ourselves in [sic] the themes and the tunes, rhythms of the songs written by great musicians and sung by Rafi. May his soul rest in peace! My salutes and compliments to the organizers and presenters of the program, which kept me spellbound,” a 78-year-old VOA listener wrote in.
More than 30 years after his death, Rafi is still remembered by contemporary artists, some of whom contributed to the tribute. Ameen Sayani, India’s famed broadcaster, music presenter, and a Bollywood household name in South Asia, says “Rafi’s contributions to the Bollywood music will always be treasured as a rich Indian heritage.”
“The VOA program tracks Rafi’s amazing versatility and rekindles so many memories among the people who loved his music in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the diaspora,” Vohra says.
“With this tribute to Mohammad Rafi, VOA Urdu has won the hearts of many people here in Pakistan, and undoubtedly also contributed to building a bridge between the people of Pakistan and India, in a very subtle way, as Rafi is equally loved and respected in both countries,” a listener from Pakistan wrote.