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Mohammed Aziz (2 July 1954 – 27 December 2018): The voice that reminded listeners of the great Rafi

While Mohammad Aziz could never quite scale the heights of Mohammed Rafi, he still left a lasting impression on the generation that grew up in the 1980s with his powerful and melodic voice.

Source: mdaziz.com

Shriram Iyengar

Mohammed Aziz died on 26 November 2018 of a heart attack. He was 64.

The above statement of fact does not capture the life and times of a singer considered by many to be one who reminded them of the great Mohammed Rafi.

For the generations that grew up in the 1980s craving for the joy and vibrancy of the great Rafi, who had passed away in 1980, Mohammed Aziz's voice offered a balm. Yet, despite having sung in 17 languages, and reportedly 19,000 songs, Aziz never quite managed to scale the heights that Rafi did.

Born in Ashok Nagar, West Bengal, Mohammed Aziz was a talented singer from childhood. As he recalled in a 2015 interview with Awaz India, he trained his voice mostly by listening to and accompanying songs on the radio. 

Encouragement by friends led him to take up a job as a singer in a pub called Ghalib in Calcutta. But Calcutta was never going to be enough to contain Aziz's talent. It inevitably led him to the city of Bombay [now Mumbai] in the hope of finding a foothold in Hindi cinema.

It was not easy. With singers like Kishore Kumar, Mahendra Kapoor and Bhupinder Singh, it was not easy to break through. Aziz had to slum it, struggling with hundreds of others who arrive daily in the city looking for a big break.

Then, Aziz chose a smarter route. In the interview, he recalled, "I persuaded someone to let me sing at the Bandra Durga Puja. I knew all the celebrated Bengalis like RD Burman, Bappi Lahiri, Hrishikesh Mukherjee attend the celebrations." 

It worked. Bengali director Shabda Kumar called him to sing for composer Sapan Jagmohan. The film was Jyoti. The film's Hindi dubbed version was released earlier but it did not click. But it was a start.

This break led to the more famous story of Anu Malik calling up Aziz to sing for Amitabh Bachchan in the Manmohan Desai film, Mard (1985). The song was 'Mard Taangewala', and proved the big break the singer was hoping for. 

The connection with Amitabh Bachchan lasted long. Aziz delivered several of his best numbers for the superstar. Songs like this one from Khuda Gawah (1992) have outlasted the film itself.

After Mard, Aziz's career took off with films like Karma (1986), Aakhree Raasta (1986), Ram Lakhan (1989), Hum (1991), and Saudagar (1991). 

With his powerful soaring voice and control of melody, Aziz delivered quite a few chartbusters that decorate the memories of those who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s. While his partnership with Laxmikant-Pyarelal remains memorable, Aziz also sang for composers as varied as Anu Malik, Anand-Milind, Jatin-Lalit and Bappi Lahiri. 

Yet, the shadow of Mohammed Rafi loomed large. Despite his obvious talent, Aziz was merely a constant reminder to composers and audiences of the late great. To his credit, the singer did not shy away from that connection. "He was a great man, and my guru," Aziz said of Rafi in the 2015 interview. It is no coincidence that he was chosen by Laxmikant-Pyarelal to be the voice for Amitabh Bachchan in this moving tribute to the great Rafi in the film, Kroadh (1990).

The rise of a new generation of singers like Kumar Sanu and Udit Narayan, as well as the changing demands of an audience weaned on faster-paced music, ensured that Aziz's career in Hindi cinema faded after the 1990s.

Yet, he continued to sing for over three decades in Odiya and Bengali films. While he might remain a name familiar to listeners from the 1980s, his songs have had a more lasting impact. The recent viral success of Sanjeev Shrivastava's dance on 'Aapke Aa Jaane Se' from Khudgarz (1987) is a reminder. 

Whether it was the audacity of 'My Name Is Lakhan' from Ram Lakhan (1989) or the sadness of 'Duniya Mein Kitna Gham Hai' from Amrit (1986), the singer could deliver songs with every shade of emotion. 

His death marks the end of an era for those who are nostalgic about the 1980s. Thankfully, they can turn to YouTube to rekindle those memories.