April 21, 2010

The Last Songs of Rafi

Teri Nazar Teri Ada; Singer: Mohd Rafi. Dil Walo Ki Toli Nikali; Singers: Mohd Rafi & Asha Bhosle. Mohabbat Karegi Asar Dhire Dhire; Singers: Rafi & Asha. Hole Re Dole Re; Singer: Asha Bhosle; Pyar Kiya Hai Aise; Singer: Rafi. Dekhoji Wada Karo; Singers: Rafi & Asha.
Music director: Chitragupta. Lyrics: Kafeel Aazar. Film: Sorry Madam / Teri Ada.

If none of us has heard – or heard about – these songs before, there is nothing to be surprised. Because Sorry Madam / Teri Adawas never made. And the songs, recorded in 1979, were never released. Not until now, that is.

I have just got my hands on a CD called Mohammed Rafi – The Last Songs. This is the CD that contains all these songs from this never-made movie that was to be directed by Dilip Bose (who had acted as Shashank in Ray’s Charulata and quite a few other films before directing several Bengali and Hindi – Chandi Ki Diwar (1964), Sansar (1971), Thokar (1974), Sikka (1976) and Badnaam (1976) among them – films. Sorry Madam was supposed to be a remake of his hit Bengali film of the same name, made in 1962. It was to star Raj Kiran and Kajal Kiran. But just after the songs were recorded in December 1979, Dilip Bose’s wife died suddenly, and he went into a depression. The film never made. Rafi himself passed away seven months later, on July 31, 1980.

Achille Forler, a Frenchman who lives in India, had a chance meeting with Bose’s sons Bobby and Rajesh in 2007. And it was from them that he got to know about the original tapes of the recordings lying in their house (though the songs had got the songs digitalized at a local studio fearing that the tapes might get damaged due to travails of time). Incidentally, Forler is the man behind Deep Emotions and Silk Road Communiations, dealing with music publishing and licensing. He knows quite a bit about Indian music, and definitely about Rafi. He took up the project to digitally restore and release the songs. The restoration was done at Belgium’s Equus Studios, specialists in audio heritage conservation. Now, the album is ready, under the Universal Music Group’s label.

Rafi is in great form, as always, in this album. Of course, he has sung much more complex and much more beautiful songs during his career. But these songs too are not ordinary. And the Rafi-Asha chemistry is in full display here too, like in so many other songs before these. If not for anything else, these songs are worth listening to for just one reason – these are Rafi’s last recorded songs, never heard before. And audio documentary in the CD has Anand-Milind, the sons of Chitragupta, and Bobby Bose sharing their memories about the recording of the songs (the audio documentary is also on
And yes, I spoke with Forler on the whole project, and his responses make for really interesting reading, especially the part in which he speaks about how no music company was ready to publish the CD even though Bobby was offering the songs to them virtually for free:

How did you first get to know about these songs and why did you decide to take it up as a project for Silk Road?

Through Anand-Milind, sons of Chitragupta who composed the songs. They introduced me to Bobby Bose, son of film director Dilip Bose, who owned the tapes. Bobby had approached several record labels; Bobby was not after money and did not ask for an advance, only respect for the album, but everyone turned him down. I ask: if a new album by Mohammed Rafi is not good enough for these labels, then what stuff are they selling? I was prepared to do shirshasana on a supari for one year to have a Mohammed Rafi album in my catalogue! I said to myself: “If these are my competitors, then the future looks good!”.

You sent the tapes to Equus Studios for restoration. wasn’t there any Indian studio that was equipped to tackle this work?

Equus studios are specialized in restoring sound recordings and they were recommended by a friend who had used their services. The quality of their work has won them clients from all over the world. Assuming there exists a studio in India doing restoration work, what business would it have when record labels don’t bother to restore even a Rafi album? Restoration is 90 percent experience and 10 percent equipment. And restoration of sound is the business of those for whom sound is business: you can’t just leave it to INTACH.

What kind of restoration work the songs underwent? In what condition they were on the original tapes?

The two spools had been carefully preserved by the producers’ family and were in excellent condition. But they were the optical transfer tapes made from the studio tapes; the studio tapes were probably re-used and are lost. Because Anand and Milind were present in the studio, we were lucky to know on which hardware the sound was recorded and the transfer done. Once you know what is lost in an optical transfer, you compensate by processing the sound ‘backwards’ as it were to come as close as possible to the original studio sound.

How viable is this project commercially, at a time when music market scenario has changed drastically in terms of content and delivery platforms?

The prime motive to release these songs was cultural, patrimonial, not commercial. Mohammed Rafi has become part of the country’s identity, uniting – not dividing – in his art people who are divided by gender, caste, income or religion. But if six unreleased songs of Rafi Saab are not commercially viable, then we must question not only the quality of what is called “commercially viable music” but also the taste, or lack thereof, of those who buy that music. To this day, there has not been any other like Rafi Saab, and Ashaji’s voice on these songs is in full flight.
Anand and Milind, who were present during the recordings, still have goose flesh when they recall the sessions. Even today, Anand switches off the radio ofter hearing a Rafi song because that’s it! Nothing more to add!

How do you plan to create awareness about this album?

Unlike current film music albums that need heavily concentrated promotion to extract the maximum sales over a few days, before word of mouth is out that the music is worthless, we have opted for a continuous promotion. Universal Music has been in charge of traditional promotion.
Being a small but growing label, Silk Road is concentrating on Internet promotion. We were surprised to find so many Rafi clubs online, more than any other Indian singer. All of them are very passionate, sometimes radical. As the project was a long time in the making, we got an irate email from a London-based Bengali fan who threatened to sue us if we did not release these tracks “because Mohammed Rafi belongs to all”! Rafi Saab was not only a giant among singers but also among men: humble, meek, punctual, professional to the core. He did not seek greatness though page 3, greatness came naturally to him.