Falguni Shah on her Grammy-nominated children’s album Falu’s Bazaar, cultural identity, life lessons from her music teachers

Lakshmi Govindrajan Javeri

Feb 09, 2019 09:39:13 IST

When you think about children’s music as a genre, one gets the image of simple melodies with repetitive lyrics and catchy tunes. New York-based singer-songwriter Falguni Shah — who is known as Falu on stage — released an album in February 2018 that challenged popular notions of the world children’s music category. Musically rich and deceptively simple, Falu’s Bazaar blends powerful musicality with unfussy wisdom and tops it off with an easy-listening experience. It’s no surprise then that she’s nominated in the Children’s Music category of the upcoming 61st Grammy Awards. The awards will be held on 10 February while being telecast in India on 11 February.

“Falu's Bazaar was a way of giving my son (Nishaad) an identity in this country as an Indian American, and I think it is more relevant now than ever. In this time of American isolationism and mistrust of foreigners, I launched the album to showcase a proud mixture of ancient Indian musical roots and American children’s song traditions. I wanted my little son to know and be proud of who he is and where he came from – because assimilating is not just about conforming but about adding to the multicultural diversity that truly makes America great,” says Falguni.

 Falguni Shah on her Grammy-nominated children’s album Falu’s Bazaar, cultural identity, life lessons from her music teachers

Singer-songwriter Falguni Shah.

As an immigrant, one’s cultural identity is not always clearly defined. Local influences and traditional upbringing may align or may constantly be at war. How does creativity stem out of such chaos or does creativity work as an outlet? “Music is a huge relief and is a huge part of my identity. Music has helped keep me grounded and has always given me perspective when I am at any crossroads in my life. It somehow shows me the right path and gives me a lot of peace and comfort. Especially when I came here from India, it has always been that anchor for me as my life has continued to evolve.”

Where we come from inadvertently plays a big role in where we’re going. In Falguni’s case, it was the bedrock of her creative process. She adds, “My home was filled with lots of music and loads of love. My mother (Kishori Dalal), who had been a musician herself, encouraged my brother Darshan and I to learn music very seriously from the tender age of three. She sang to us and made us practice every day. That upbringing certainly influenced my entire life and especially Falu’s Bazaar. For example, the lullaby that my mom sings on the album has been sung in my house for five generations. We always intended to pass it on to our children so they can pass it on to future generations.”

Traditional music in India has a long oral history. Be it folk or classical, musical traditions have continuously passed on from one generation to the other. For someone who has been educated in the richest forms of classical Indian music, writing for children in a contemporary manner was effortless. She knew she wanted to communicate to children how diverse the Indian music landscape is, and they can take pride in that heritage. She says, “I think when you write music for children, you have to become a child yourself and see the world through his or her eyes. Children love catchy music that they can sing along to or participate in, either by dancing or clapping. Their world is honest and limitless, and their imagination is so vast; as an adult, you just have to let yourself become free of your world first. I found it to be very liberating to write for children.”

Mumbai-born Falguni has had a childhood steeped in music. After learning the Benaras style of Thumri, Falguni then studied music under maestros such as Ustad Sultan Khan and the iconic Kishori Amonkar of the Jaipur Gharana. Vast training in most ancient musical traditions has meant a lifetime of valuable lessons learnt. She says, “Besides giving me music lessons, they also gave me priceless life lessons that affected my music deeply. They taught me that music and life are connected, and I use these lessons in my daily life. My first guru, Kaumudi Munshi, always told me to focus on the positive things happening in our world instead of the negative. I have adapted that and made it a personal mantra for myself both in music and life. My second teacher Uday Mazumdar told me, ‘If you ever need any answers in life, always look towards music as it will always give you the answers to your questions and doubts’. Ustad Sultan Khan said to me once that people who learn to have patience in their lives will always achieve their goals. Kishori Amonkar said one of the most beautiful things: ‘Why are you looking for your musical notes outside? They are inside deep in your heart’.”

With generations of musical training by her side, Falguni, in 2000, relocated to the United States. She may have spent some time finding her feet in a new country, but that didn’t stop her from collaborating with some of the biggest names in the world of music. Musicians such as Wyclef Jean, Philip Glass, Ricky Martin, Blues Traveler, Yo-Yo Ma and AR Rahman have all collaborated with Falguni. She says humbly, “Every time I was with them, I learned something new and kept it in my heart. They continue to inspire me every day and have sown seeds of creativity and innovation that will forever be present in everything I do.”

Updated Date: Feb 11, 2019 13:21:02 IST