Indian-American singer Falguni Shah on second Grammy nomination for best children’s album
Earlier this year, New YorkSinger-songwriter Falguni Shah, aka Falu, was taken aback by a question from her nine-year-old son Nishaad: “If you’re not white, what are you losing in terms of privilege?” ? Falu didn’t expect a deep question from the complex world of racism and identity. The pandemic had ended life, the murder of George Floyd had sparked nationwide protests and Black lives matter was a slogan that we heard everywhere. Nishaad also had a follow-up question, “Why do whites get away with things that people of color don’t do?” Falu is seriously considering how to answer these innocent but profound questions. “As parents, you don’t want to tell them it’s a horrible world. It’s hard to say that sometimes you’re going to stand up against people who sometimes don’t like your skin color. These kids see racism in school every day, ”said Falu, on the phone from New York, adding that it was a struggle to explain racial fairness to her child, who was brunette and studied with children. of various ethnicities.
So Falu decided to simplify things with music. She created the pencil analogy, a message to prepare her son that the world is neither black nor white, and has different colors and that they can live in peace with others. The result is the song, The pencils are beautiful – a soft song which recontextualizes the concept in an air loosely based on raag Pahadi and whose lyrics say “It’s magic, it’s beautiful, the way the colors get along”. “So we’re doing a song about being brown or our true identity. The story was simple: the pencils are all different colors, but they live peacefully in one box. I wanted to show him that being brown is good. And music crosses children much more easily. When you talk to your kids through songs and happiness, it easily enters their minds in relation to lectures, ”says Falu, who has included 11 other songs such as Happy, Rainbow, Kite, A Visit to the Farm and The Elephant Stomp, among others, to create the album A Colorful World (El Cerrito Records). It is also his attempt “to have fun too, because the children are going through a very difficult time because of the pandemic”.
What she didn’t take into account is that the album will give her a Grammy nod to 2021 in the Best Children’s Album section with Mexican duo Lucky Diaz and Family Jam Band (Children’s pencil), Spanish musicians 123 Andrés (Activate), 1 Collective Tribe (All a tribe) which features 26 artists from a black family and American politician, musician and academic Pierce Freelon (Black into the future) – making her one of the two Indians nominated this year. The other is songwriter and Grammy winner for 2015, Ricky Kej, who is nominated along with American composer Stewart Copeland, known as the drummer for legendary band The Police, for their collaborative album Divine Tides – a nine-song album. produced by Bengaluru. Lahari music. This is also Falu’s second appointment, the latest being in 2019 for Falu’s Bazaar, also an attempt to reassure his son about his roots and identity.
So come on January 31 and Falu will walk on Red carpet at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, as opposed to previous Grammys held at Staples Center, in the hopes that she will return with the sacred gramophone this time around.
At the start of last year – the 2020 Grammys – the best category for children’s music got caught up in a controversy, which rarely happens with this particular category. Three of the five nominees in the category refused to accept the nomination because the five nominees were “all white” musicians, including themselves. It was again in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter movement where America questioned and spoke about racial equity in the country. Musician Alistair Moock and actors Dog on Fleas and the Okee Dokee Brothers didn’t want to be nominated for the Grammys. The conversations that followed led to policy changes by the Academy, resulting in a very different type of nominating list around this time – five artists of color were nominated, including Falu. “A lot of people thought some areas of music just didn’t have a colorful enough representation and refusing the nomination was their way of saying it,” says Falu, who adds that the Recording Academy has also changed the way it chooses. a winner. Under the new policy, applicants in non-craft categories such as children’s music will be chosen by vote – a significant change from the lack of transparency that existed in the system. Falu’s own album contains a list of various musicians and producers. “We are from all walks of life, but music has united us,” she says.
The album is also unique because of the way it was created. The cello was recorded in Florida, the tracks were recorded in Spain, the gospel harmonies and piano pieces were recorded in San Francisco and Falu flew to the El Salvador studio in San Francisco to record her own voice. This results in a lot of overlays in the orchestration, which was not the case in his last album. “Because we weren’t confined to a studio, we had the flexibility to do more. Oscar Autie, one of the sound and mixing engineers, put it all together in a beautiful, cohesive way. Children in Spain, in New Jersey, one in New York, everything was recorded separately. Thanks to technology, we have been able to considerably expand our sound palette, ”explains Falu.
Growing up in Mumbai’s Juhu, Falu has heard music since she was a young girl. Her mother, a musician at All India Radio, sang for her and Falu loved the sound. His interest in music led him to training in music, first under Kaumudi Munshi and Uday Mazumdar, who taught him Gujarati folk music, ghazal and other genres that were not purely classical, followed by classical Hindustani training under the direction of Maestro Sarangi Sultan Khan and later under the Dean of Jaipur-Atrauli Kishori Amonkar. “Music at that time was also an escape for me because I was a little dark and the kids were mean. They called me kaali bhains (black buffalo). So to escape, I did chilla kaatna (a training ritual where the student is completely isolated and spends long hours training for days in a row), ”explains Falu.
His training in classical music allowed him to use a number of murkis and meends (glides) in the album. “What’s interesting is that my producers appreciated the nuances and variations I brought from my classical training,” explains Falu.
Falu moved to the United States in 2000 after marrying Gaurav Shah of the Karyshma group. Once there, she struggled like any other first generation immigrant in a different cultural setting. In 2007, she made her debut with Falu and followed with Foras Road (2013), named after Mumbai’s red light district. The album, featuring indie-Hindi tunes, was shortlisted for the Grammys but failed to make a major nominations. But Falu found some spotlight.
In recent years she has worked with a number of prominent musicians such as the American composer Philippe Glass and AR Rahman. In legendary cellist Yo Yo Ma’s famous Silk Road Project, she was the only classical voice.
She is also working on a solo career in addition to that of children’s albums. Is it difficult to transit? “I don’t think about that. It just happens. All of my gurus have always been very open minded and always wanted me to follow my heart and never limit creativity. But they also asked me to be open to failure. The process of finding something new and curious is so much fun. I am absolutely not afraid to take risks. I’m bad at jazz but I’m going to try it anyway, ”says Falu, who sees music as his healing mechanism. “When I’m sick, I sing,” says Falu, whose upcoming projects include the American Patchwork Quartet, where she collaborates with other musicians from New York and from various cultures, to reinterpret American songs of the past. The group received a $ 40,000 grant from the New York State Department to create an album. They are expected to do four shows in Dubai in the next few months. In the other project, she combines Indian folk music with EDM.