Remembering Rafi


Saleem Zamaan’s voice brings back memories of Bollywood’s legendary playback singer

He dominated the film industry from the mid-40s till his demise in 1980. The name Mohammed Rafi became synonymous with background singing in the Hindi film industry. Rafi Sahib could modulate his voice to fit any genre and any actor. It seemed as though he could delve deep to see the emotions of the lyricist who coined the words, understand the tonality set by the music director, and inject emotions to suit the actor in any story situation. His inimitable versatility and skill continues to mesmerise and charm listeners even today. On 9 August a musical night will honour this great artiste and celebrate his musical prowess.

SaleemZamaan’s voice has a touch of the legend in it. He replicates Rafi classics with a finesse and soulfulness that is very rare. His rendition of Rafi Sahib’s songs are so close to the original that they take listeners to a different era. Saleemji organised his first concert in the memory of Rafi in 1981 in Hyderabad for which he received many accolades. He was invited to record many an album as a tribute to Rafi Sahib. His impeccable singing talent has impressed music directors like Shri Ravindra Jain for whom he recorded Sanskrit shlokas for the tele-serial Krishna. He has also had the proud distinction of recording all songs featuring Salman Khan for the movie Maine Pyar Kiya in Spanish. He has sung with popular mainstream singers like Kavita Krishnamurthi, Udit Narayan, Shankar Mahadevan, Sadhana Sargam, Mohammed Aziz, to name but a few. Saleemji has also performed in hundreds of concerts around the world.

Saleem Zamaan talks about his musical  journey.

How old were you when you started getting involved in music and singing?

I grew up in a family where music was always in the air, as my parents loved music. I was five when I first performed in public.

That is amazing. What was the occasion?

It was during a prize distribution ceremony and I was in grade 1. I remember the day as though it was yesterday. The chief guest for the event was the Air Vice-Marshall of India as it was at the Air Force School in Belgaum. I had practised the song ‘ChuppaChuppi’ with my father. I was to march up to the stage and sing the song after receiving an award. The air force officer’s wife was so impressed with my singing that she actually gifted me with a car load of toys after the event. It was a day I will never forget.

How did your family encourage you?

Since my first public performance, my parents have always been very supportive of my talent in music, but like most conservative Indian parents, school education came first. They were very strict about it.

Who else sings in your family?

My daughter Adeeba has grown up with my SangeetMehfils, and loves listening to me sing the golden oldies. She attempts a few songs off and on. She is also an ardent fan of Beyoncé.

That is good to know. Do you play any musical instruments?

Yes, I play quite a few instruments as the musical understanding comes naturally to me. It makes me feel blessed. But I have never pursued any one instrument (except the mandolin, which is more of a hobby) as singing is my passion and my forte.

Who or what inspired your love for music?

The radio played a lot at home when I was growing up. But I was inspired by Rafi Sahib’s versatile songs … a song for every mood!!! Ever since, I have been a dedicated student of his playback singing, treated it like an art, practised hard and always prayed for the talent to sing like him.

Have you ever thought of planning to make music a full-time career?

Due to family values and ideals, music has had to take the back seat. But when I set up a branch of my business in Mumbai, I was fortunate enough to pursue some playback singing opportunities in Bollywood in the early 90s and got the opportunity to sing with some famous singers during the short 2-3 year period while I was there.

Do you prefer a specific genre of music over any other genre? If so, what genre and why?

Yes, all my life, I have been immersed in soulful, light film music, and I enjoy the nuances of good lyrics, apt compositions, the art of playback singing (in recording studios), the company of musical geniuses and creativity, in general.

Tell us about your musical journey?

My musical journey started off with singing at school functions and competitions, followed by singing with live orchestras during my college days. After my post-graduation in England, I pursued my dream in playback singing for 2-3 years in Bollywood, which exposed me to several concerts and recordings with music maestros and contemporary musicians. I was also given the opportunity to record for Rajshri Productions (with my voice for Salman Khan) and other music labels. I have also been fortunate to be given the opportunity to write lyrics, compose and sing nine songs for a small-budget telefilm (a dream come true for me) and have sung with singers like KavitaKrishnamurti, SadhanaSargam, KavitaPaudwal and Ella Castelino in that production.

That is indeed quite an achievement. Now, for your performance on 9 August, tell us more about it.

The loss of Rafi Sahib, my ‘guru’, has created a sort of a vacuum in my musical pursuit, and so since 1981, in my own small way, I have organiseda homage every year to remember the Legend. Rafi lovers have always been supportive to make these events memorable. I intend to continue this tradition as long as I can. In these events, I not only try to emulate his versatility and recreate his magic as a playback singer, but also bring out his ‘angelic’ personality that is talked about widely in the film industry. I would like to invite all Rafi lovers to come and join me and the others and make the event a true musical rhapsody.

Outside music how would you describe your daily life?

Well, after migrating to New Zealand in 1996, and now to Sydney in 2012, my full-time occupation involves providing consultancy services as a mortgage broker and investment property facilitator. I keep my singing talent alive by rehearsing regularly in the car during my drives to client meetings, and by performing private sangeetmehfils periodically for music lovers who enjoy taking a journey down memory lane! I also get some opportunities to exhibit my creative talent in writing song lyrics, composing and producing music for aspiring youngsters and local production companies.

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