Rafi didn’t want royalty for songs, reveals biography


UK-based Yasmin Rafi famously refers to herself as a fan of Mohammed Rafi, before she became family. Yasmin, who married Khalid Rafi, the son of one of Bollywood’s most renowned playback singers, has written a biography in Hindi, ‘Mohammed Rafi My Abba – A Memoir’ translated into English by Rupa Srikumar and A K Srikumar. Both versions will be launched on November 25.
The biography is peppered with anecdotes that reveal the cordial relationship Rafi, who was at one time the most sought-after playback singer, shared with most people in the industry.
The book also touches on an old controversy that was recently resurrected by Lata Mangeshkar, Rafi’s co-singer in several films, and his son Shahid Rafi, in September 2012. Mangeshkar claimed in a recent interview that she had only agreed to sing with Rafi after he sent her a letter of apology. To which, Shahid Rafi threatened to sue Mangeshkar for the comment, saying, “I think she is insecure about my father’s fan following and that is why she has done this.” Excerpts from the interview with Yasmin and her book:
Two months ago, Shahid Rafi threatened to sue Lata Mangeshkar because she spoke of a letter of apology that Mohammed Rafi had written to her about the royalty issue. What came of that?
I’m not really in a position to comment on what Shahid said as till this day, I’m not sure what was said. However, I did read the news on Lataji’s statement and I must say it was hurtful to read. There was no such letter written by Rafi saheb. I have always respected Lataji, not only for her amazing talent but for being a good person and that has not changed, even after this incident. You and your family are not of the same opinion as Rafi saheb on the matter of royalty, the biography reveals.
There is no doubt that most members of the family were, and perhaps still are, bemused at why he did not explore royalty payments. I don’t really have an explanation for this apart from the simple fact that he strongly believed that a singer should only receive a one-off payment and nothing more. What I can tell you is that in later years, there were times when he admitted his mistake to my husband. Extracted with permission of the publisher from ‘Mohammed Rafi My Abba – A Memoir’ by Yasmin Khalid Rafi and translated from Hindi by Rupa Srikumar and AK Srikumar In the beginning of 1960, there came a phase when Lata Mangeshkar fell out with Rafi Saheb and stopped singing duets with him. They did not work together for two or three years. Lata Mangeshkar sang with Mahendra Kapoor and Suman Kalyanpur sang with Rafi Saheb during this period. The late music director Jaikishen finally effected reconciliation between the two.
The first duet they recorded together after this episode was for the film, Palkon ki Chhaaon Mein. Their differences had arisen over the issue of royalty payments on the songs sung by them. Lataji wanted to be paid royalty and raised this issue with the producers; she expected Rafi Saheb to support her point of view, which was in fact justified. But contrary to her expectations, Rafi Saheb took a different stand. He opined, ‘When the producer pays the fee the singer demands for a song, thereafter the singer should not have a share in the royalty.’ This was probably a hasty decision, taken without careful consideration. The singer breathes life into song, so then why should he not share the profits? The issue of royalty was discussed several times in our household, during Abba’s lifetime and after he passed away, and continues to be today.
Khalid would say, ‘When I came to know of this issue for the first time and was able to comprehend the enormity of what had happened, my mind was paralysed.’ While talking about this in London, Khalid told Abba, ‘Dad, out here when somebody creates one song and it becomes a hit, that singer becomes a millionaire, overnight. You have done countless songs, how much would all that royalty be worth?’ Abba was silent for a while, and then said, ‘All I ever thought about was that one would sing a song and get paid a fee for it. The other party should not incur a loss.’
After Abba’s passing away, Amma raised this issue many a time with Khalid. ‘Kaka, do something about this matter if you can. I’m quite sorry it turned out this way. It’s wrong, horribly wrong that almost everyone in the world is making money out of Abba’s name. And what do we get?’ ‘Do you think it’s going to be that easy, fighting these people? It will take years. As the saying goes, it will be like putting one’s hand into a snake’s pit. But, we shall see.’