Falguni Shah makes the west sing Hindustani classical ragas

Growing up in Mumbai, Falu would listen to her mother humming ragas. After a few years, she found herself cocking her ears to RD Burman hits and The Beatles.

Written by Suanshu Khurana | Updated: September 8, 2014 1:05 pm
Falguni Shah; with AR Rahman and Obama at the White House in 2009. Falguni Shah; with AR Rahman and Obama at the White House in 2009.

An extended, single movement structure on violins, viola and a cello opens a track called Bahar. A bandish in the raag of the same name in a female bass voice joins in, goes up to mid-range, and finds itself paired with the heaving strings in a five-minute composition. Soon this is topped with dollops of difficult aakar ki taans, a hallmark of Jaipur-Atrauli gharana and the regular bol taans. What is interesting is that the scrupulous string writing can be heard throughout the track.

As wild as this mishmash sounds, the moment it plays out, reminds us of an old-world melody. The string quartet comes with written notes and discipline. The twain meet and create Bahar, which Grammy award-winning Danny Blume, also the producer, calls “a fantastic number with a George Martin-style string arrangement”, and Falu, “a revelation”.

Foras Road is the red light district in Mumbai. But it is also the moniker for Falu aka Falguni Shah’s album that is making the West sing ragas such as Bairagi Bhairav and Desh. The album was shortlisted for the Grammy Awards last year and Falu continues to tour with it. The songs, most of which are forgotten by many who live in this infamous Mumbai neighbourhood, had Falu drawn to them. Her pouring over these songs through her gurus resulted in Foras Road.

“I call this album indie-Hindi. It has musicians from different musical worlds creating things from each of their influences. Foras Road is a way of paying homage to my roots,” says New York-based Falu, over a phone conversation from Mumbai, after completing a session with her guru Kishori Amonkar.

Falguni Shah Falguni Shah

She recalls the days of lugging around a taanpura in Mumbai locals to learn from singers Kaumudi Munshi and Uday Mazumdar, and later from sarangi maestro Ustad Sultan Khan.

Growing up in Mumbai, Falu would listen to her mother humming ragas. After a few years, she found herself cocking her ears to RD Burman hits and The Beatles. Her moment in the sun came with a performance for the Obamas at the White House alongside AR Rahman for the President’s first state dinner in 2009.

Since then Falu has collaborated with the likes of ace cellist Yo-Yo Ma (Silk Road Project), iconic American composer Philip Glass, and Latin popstar Ricky Martin.

“It’s been a very blessed journey so far,” says Falu, adding, “This wouldn’t have found takers 15 years ago. New York was extremely open to my music. I hope India can now love it too,” says Falu, who is now in talks with producers from Bollywood.

suanshu.khurana@expressindia.com

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