Falguni Shah, who goes by her stage name Falu, is a perfect blend of East and West, the old and the modern. In her early years in Mumbai, the artist trained rigorously in the Jaipur musical tradition and in the Benaras style of thumri. The New York-based singer-songwriter’s song Falu’s Bazaar, dedicated to her son, got a nomination at the Grammy Awards this year.
Falu’s Bazaar talks about the journey of an Indian mother who is trying to do all the things that will help her son remain connected with his roots and yet not lose his identity in the Western world. Falu has the rare blend of an inventive style with a formidable classically-shaped vocal talent. Falu’s Bazaar competed in the ‘Best Children’s Album’ category at the 2019 Grammy Awards.
Here’s chatting her up...
How did the idea of creating a song for your son come to you?
I created this album when my four-year-old son came home with questions like, ‘Why is our food yellow?, ‘Why do we speak a different language at school?’ and ‘Why do we count our numbers differently?’. I thought music was the best way to answer all his questions and also help him have an identity in the US as an Indian American child. My son’s curiosity and quest to find out about his own background and culture inspired me to write.
Getting a Grammy nomination for your debut song is a big achievement. How has this recognition changed things for you as an artist?
It feels like a little bit of a shock even now. It’s funny how Grammy plays a crucial role in an artist’s life. The minute the word Grammy gets attached to your name, people start taking you seriously and they could be the same people who thought that you would never get anywhere in life. As for me, I consider myself a lifelong student as I learn a new lesson every day of my life.
How do you ensure that your son stays true to his roots and identity in this fast-changing world?
I think a parent can only try their best to install all the values they want in their children but at the end of the day, it’s the child’s choice to either adapt your culture and heritage or walk a new path. I will definitely keep trying my best with ways that interest my son so that he is always curious about his culture and heritage. The album Falu’s Bazaar is a step towards it.
Is it tough being a mother in this era?
I totally love being a mother. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s the best love I have ever felt for anyone. I feel this love is majestic in nature and the most selfless among all other types of love. I have my own challenges as a working and a touring mother but I embrace each and every challenge that motherhood brings.
You are the only Indian ambassador to Carnegie Hall. How are you inspiring and helping young aspiring musicians?
One of the main missions of Carnegie Hall is to take music to underserved communities and as their ambassador, I try to passionately work towards the goal. Part of our work is to take music to maximum security prisons and youth juvenile facilities in NYC, and write songs with the inmates so that the next time they are angry and violent, instead of pulling out a gun, they will pull out a pen and divert their negative and destructive energy into a constructive one. I think music is one of the highest tools we can use to bring about change in society.
You performed with AR Rahman at the White House for the Obamas and also performed with Ricky Martin for a song in his album. How was the experience? How does your global presence impact the way Indian music is perceived internationally?
I love working with almost everyone I collaborate with and if I can think of some amazing moments that stand out, they were when Rahman and I worked together for President Obama’s First State dinner for the former Indian PM Dr Manmohan Singh. The first few minutes of working with him at the White House showed me how humble and focused he is in his music and art. To him, it does not matter if he is singing for one person or 1000 people, he completely surrenders himself to the higher power. I learnt surrendering oneself completely in music from him.
Ricky Martin was also a great to collaborate with. His openness to sounds from all over the world and his quest of learning about world music from different parts of the world was infectious. He was definitely brilliant in using Indian sounds with Latin music.
Indian music is so rich that it speaks for itself. I’m barely an instrument through which it decides to flow. I think our music is already so global that I ride on it every time I sing.
We have a dearth of music for children in India. Do you agree?
Yes, totally. We need to specially make great music for children that is age appropriate, both lyrically and musically. We should be careful to expose them to the highest quality of music that we can, in their formative years. Studies and researches show that there are many inherent benefits of listening to classical music from around the world when children are very young — 0 through 5 years.
You are also working very closely for a cause at the prisons to create a project which helps the inmates heal with music. Do you look at music as a medium to heal and soothe?
Absolutely! Music is much more than just a tool for entertainment. It is a power that can be used for healing and inspiring in all aspects of life. We have first hand seen the transformation in an inmate. Instead of acting violent, he expressed how he feels through a poem. It has been miraculous how a violent energy can be channelled so beautifully into a creative songwriting session. I have witnessed it and will continue my efforts in using music as a tool for bringing social justice.
What are your upcoming projects?
I’m working on a couple of projects right now. Writing an original album with songs that draw from Indian classical and rock genres. For more info, stay tuned on www.falumusic.com