Only Indian at Grammys keen on southern songs

Falu Shah, nominated in the children's music category this year, describes her musical journey.
Last Updated 15 February 2019, 13:21 IST

Falguni (Falu) Shah was the only Indian nominated for the Grammy awards this year. Her album ‘Falu’s Bazaar’ made it to the Best Children’s Music category.

She eventually lost to Lucy Kalantari and The Jazz Cats for their album ‘All the Sounds’, but she says the experience of being nominated was exhilarating enough.

Trained in traditional Indian music by Ustad Sultan Khan, Kishori Amonkar and Kaumudi Munshi, she believes they have taught her many lessons that connect music with life. Kishori Amonkar told her to look for music inside her heart and not outside, while Kaumudi Munshi told her to look for answers to all her life questions in music.

In an exclusive interview with Metrolife, Falu spoke about her experiences:

What is ‘Falu’s Bazaar’ about?

It was inspired by my son Nishaad’s curiosity and his questions. I wanted to give him an identity and answer all his questions through music. So it relates to children, but adults can also enjoy it as it is a family sing-along album.

Do you think non-Americans are well represented at the Grammy’s?

They are starting to be recognised, and I am very proud and happy it’s becoming more inclusive and diverse every day.

How is it that so few from Indian make it to the Grammy and such other such awards?

I think it is starting to change now as the world is becoming more global.

You blend Indian classical ragas and Western music. How do you go about doing that?

I draw from both traditions freely, and at the same time try to remain true to both. It’s a fine balance that I have to find in my heart when I compose and sing the songs I write. Sometimes it works and sometimes it fails, but I try hard to make sure it touches my heart. If it doesn’t have an emotional connection, I move on from that song and work on a new one.

Was it hard for you to establish yourself as an independent musician?

Yes, it was super hard. I’m a first generation immigrant woman of colour and a minority, so for me to create my own audience was extremely tough. I faced so many rejections over and over, but I remembered what my guru Ustad Sultan Khan once said: ‘You are a rough diamond, and one day the world will see your glow. So learn to be patient.’ I followed his advice and learnt to be patient and kept working hard; I don’t believe in giving up.

Did you find more opportunities once you moved to the US?

I think I would have had the same opportunities if I had stayed in India. I think hard work and determination pays off in any country.

Many remixes and recreations are being made currently. What are your thoughts on the status of original music?

It is cool to do both. If you have amazing ideas to take an old song and turn it around and make it relevant to today’s preferences, I think that is super cool, and if you have a beautiful original song that touches people’s heart, I think that is golden too. Music has no limitations, and it always evolves, so why stop yourself from creating at all, be it a remix or an original song?

How different is the music scene in India and the US?

I’m unfortunately not aware of the music scene in India, and I’m dying to learn more about how it all works there so I can’t compare them. I would love to sing in Bollywood and find out the answer to that myself.

Any artistes you want to collaborate with?

Yes, there are many. I am a big fan of actor Aamir Khan and would love to work with him. I am also hoping to work with Bollywood and Chennai music directors as I sing in many South Asian languages and would love to sing in each one of them, for example, Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Bhojpuri, Punjabi, Urdu, Rajasthani and of course Tamil and Telugu.

Any advice to music aspirants?

Dream big, never give up!

Tell us about your future projects.

I plan to draw from the beautiful Urdu poetry of Ghalib and other ghazal and Sufi masters and present them in a way that speaks to a 21st century audience globally.

A journey from Mumbai to US

Originally from Mumbai, Falguni moved to the US in 2000. In 2006, she was appointed Carnegie Hall’s ambassador of Indian music. Falu, as she is known, performed for the Obamas at the White House and was also featured in the Time-100 gala in 2009. She has collaborated with well-known artistes such as Yo-Yo Ma, Wyclef Jean, Philip Glass, Ricky Martin, Blues Traveler and AR Rahman. Her children’s album celebrating the South Asian culture, ‘Falu’s Bazaar’, was released on February 16, 2018.

Nomination steps

Every year, the Grammys receive about 20,000 CDs and about 150 of them make the first cut. In the second round, 15 are chosen. The choice comes down to five in each category in the third round. One winner is announced from among the top five, Falu says.

(Published 15 February 2019, 12:43 IST)

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