The Recording Academy, the organisation that celebrates artistic excellence through the Grammy Awards, has announced the appointment of Indian-origin musician Falguni Shah, aka Falu, as the governor of their New York chapter. Earlier this year, the musician had walked the red carpet at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles as India’s only Grammy nominee for 2018, in the Best Children’s Music category for her album Falu’s Bazaar. A 12-song album in Hindi, English, and Gujarati, it was born out of her son Nishad’s curiosity about her culture.
The role of governors in the Recording Academy can range from management to political to law. But Falu is interested in social justice and how music plays a significant role. “My vision is to do with social justice impact. At Carnegie Hall, I have been running a social justice programme for 15 years. We do ‘Lullaby Projects’, take music to maximum security prisons, senior centres, and women’s shelters. I plan to advocate the role of music not just in entertainment but also in healing for under-served communities in America,” says 39-year-old Falu, who has plans to do similar work in India as well. “Since I speak many South Asian languages, I think I can represent India at the Academy and internationally,” says Falu.
Growing up in Mumbai, Falu would listen to her mother humming ragas. She was charmed by RD Burman and The Beatles. She trained first under Kaumudi Munshi and Uday Mazumdar, who taught her Gujarati folk music and ghazal, and later under sarangi maestro Sultan Khan and the temperamental Jaipur-Atrauli doyenne Kishori Amonkar. She moved to the US in 2000. Her struggles as an immigrant and as a musician of colour in the US were one of the reasons behind Falu’s Bazaar. “I felt I was struggling in both the countries. I faced rejection and acceptance in both countries. Making it in music is hard in any continent because music is so subjective,” she says.
In 2007, she debuted with Falu. She soon followed it with Foras Road (2013), named after the red-light district in Mumbai. The album, comprising indie-Hindi tunes, was shortlisted for the Grammys but didn’t make it to the main nominations. Falu, however, was noticed. Grammy award-winning Danny Blume, who produced the album and also worked on Falu’s Bazaar, has called her “a revelation”. Over the last few years, there have been opportunities to work with high-profile musicians such as American composer Philip Glass and AR Rahman. In legendary cellist Yo Yo Ma’s famed Silk Road Project, she was the sole classical voice.
As of now Falu is working on a new album, “this time for adults”. The album, which will be in Hindi and English, will draw from Indian music and American pop and rock. “Just being nominated for the Grammys has opened so many doors for me. I don’t know what would have happened if I had won it. So many things have come my way. The community I have now started to know is so very welcoming and that’s beautiful,” says Falu.