Mohammed Rafi — ‘Jaan Pehchan Ho’

Poster for 1965 Indian movie Gumnaam

If this pandemic lockdown had happened ten or fifteen years ago, I like to think I’d have managed equally as well as I am now. Just as I have done for the last year, I would have been working online from home — in Paris, not Dublin. I would have been running and training as usual, though with the Seine and Eiffel Tower within my 5km loop.

And I would still have been listening to loads of music and inflicting it upon my friends. Since last March I’ve made regular Spotify playlists that I’ve shared on social media. Back in the ’00s and ’10s I would have put those playlists on mix CDs and posted them to my peeps. All of them were generally appreciative, or at least none of them ever sent one back.

What was I putting on those mix CDs, I hear you ask, and where did I get it? Ten or fifteen years ago I was still in my side racket as a music writer, specialising in the bands and concerts of my local Paris scene and generalising in whatever review copies (mostly godawful English landfill indie) I received in the post. I also lived near a public library that, thanks to high French taxes, had a huge and diverse music collection that allowed me to experiment and investigate. Every Saturday morning I went to the library and came out with a rake of CDs under my oxter. I particularly enjoyed samplers, compilations and soundtracks as they usually contained one or two hidden gems which I would then pass on to my benighted friends through the medium of mix CDs.

I never set out to make CDs that were wilfully obscure, but I assumed that my friends already knew and loved your Waterloo Sunsets, your Dancing Queens, your Teenage Kickses and the like, so there wasn’t much point in including those. Also, I hoped that they would reciprocate in kind and send me mix CDs full of tracks for me to discover. And in fairness, some did. (Others didn’t, but they still have time if they’re not currently busy.) Finally, and perhaps most accurately, as a music lover I just hoped that they would also love these tunes, tell me about their love for them, and in that way we connect through the crackling electricity of brilliant pop music.

Anyone who has ever received a mix CD from me (and some people have received several, because they’re lovely people and I had their postal address) will recognise an absolute belter of a track called ‘Jaan Pehchan Ho’ by an Indian singer called Mohammed Rafi. It’s the one about which I’ve been most often asked “where did you find THAT?” Answer: it was on the soundtrack of an obscure ’00s US film called Ghost World starring a young Scarlett Johannson, whose character sees it performed on TV. I dare say it has also popped up on some TV commercial or other since then.

You don’t need to know any of the following to enjoy ‘Jaan Pehchan Ho’, but anyway: Mohammed Rafi was famous in India in the ’50s and ’60s for singing songs that appeared in musical movies where the stars would mime along to the track. This particular song is from a 1965 movie called Gumnaam, scored by the prolific partnership of Shankar Singh and Jaikishan Dayabhai Panchal, pretty much the Lennon and McCartney of Indian cinema soundtracks. Rafi himself was even more prolific — he is known to have recorded somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 songs. And if his name rings a bell for you, Mohammed Rafi is the first of the cultural icons listed by Tjinder Singh in the original pre-remix version of ‘Brimful of Asha’ by Cornershop.

‘Jaan Pehchan Ho’, for those of you meeting it for the first time, sounds nothing like the overfamiliar Bollywood soundtrack staple. Its scorching electric guitar, thunderous drum fills and blaring brass are signs that the ’60s US west coast sound was picked up in India as much as in Europe. On top of all that you have Rafi’s wonderful voice: sometimes playful, other times swaggering. And the whole thing barrels along at breakneck speed like some Californian boy racer on the highway. (US pop culture is just as exotic and potent for me in Europe today as it clearly was for Rafi and Shankar-Jaikishan in ’60s India.)

Here’s ‘Jaan Pehchan Ho’ as originally featured in the movie Gumnaam; the white-suited cabaret singer in the clip is a choreographer called Herman Benjamin, miming along to Rafi. Dig out your old mix CDs from me and give it a re-listen:

Writing about music, films and books of note to me. Other stuff (more music, running, Paris) online elsewhere if you Google hard enough. Tweets @aidancurran17