The Colorful World of Falu
Two-time Grammy-nominated artist Falu talks about her cultural roots, diversity in the music industry and what her latest nomination entails
Falguni Shah, more commonly known as Falu in music circles, has had her fair share of experiences in the Grammy’s realm. For the New York-based singer-songwriter, her second Grammy nomination has levitated her exhilaration to a whole new level.
“I was very excited and grateful at the same time,” Falu opens up in an exclusive interview with Rolling Stone India. She continues, “Grateful to everyone who supports my album and to everyone who made this possible, including all [those] who participated in A Colorful World. It’s particularly important getting this great news during this difficult time that we are all experiencing. I feel even more thrilled and excited than the first time I was nominated.”
Born in Mumbai, Falu spent her formative years training in the Jaipur gharana, devoting nearly 16 hours a day to master the music form. She was focused on this for 10 years, before hearing her vocals echo through the microphone. Perhaps it is this very diligence and Falu’s innate musical aptitude that earned her this recognition of being a two-time Grammy-nominated artist.
Falu bagged a Grammy nomination for Best Children’s Album for her September 2021 release, A Colorful World. While the nomination in itself is a huge honor, Falu is also the only South Asian artist to be nominated in this year’s category, painting a larger picture of how the vocalist has strived to promote traditional Indian soundscape and culture at a global level. “In a way, I feel I am not only representing South Asians and particularly India (my country of birth), but also women, and women of color,” the talented artist explains.
Being a seasoned, collaborative musician, Falu understands the honor is equally shared by all the diverse creative minds that worked on the record: “The album has a great diversity of musicians, producers, and engineers in terms of race, ethnicity, and geographic location. It’s a colorful album made by colorful people.”
Immersing myself in Falu’s latest record was an unforgettable experience. For a young South Asian girl who grew up outside the borders of India, A Colorful World was a breath of fresh air that immediately transported me to my childhood. A time in my life where I was physically away from my roots but emotionally tied down to it through an unbreakable bond. While the record was primarily curated for children, no adult can escape Falu’s nostalgic magic. A quick rundown of the album was enough to remind me of the gloomy Sunday mornings I spent glued to my screen watching Panchtantra DVDs my dad lovingly bought back from his work trips from India.
Promoting diversity on Falu’s record is not limited to her team only. Through the album, Falu embarked on a journey to help young children understand their unique identity in society and how unity truly lies in diversity.
“A Colorful World was intended to be an album for children that is sheer fun, uplifting, and full of color,” Falu elaborates on her artistic vision. “We want children to see the world as colorful as it really is. We hoped to convey that people of different backgrounds and colors can all live together on this planet peacefully, lovingly, and happily, just like the crayons in a box or a rainbow. Each color conveys its own emotion, and collectively they create magic and beauty. I was also trying to have some fun with the kids. I love making kids’ music.”
In an interview with Rolling Stone India, Falu reflects on how her roots continue to be a huge influence on her artistry, genre-blending and what her varied musical endeavors have taught her thus far.
In terms of sonic identity, what kind of soundscape were you going for in A Colorful World? Do you often reflect on the kind of music you enjoyed as a child and include those cues into your work or try inventing something fresh with every release?
Every time I make an album, it’s always influenced by my past, while considering a future-forward vision. I wanted to do something fun and uplifting first and foremost, and as we worked on these tracks, the combination and arrangements of the lively instrumentation including piano, bass, drums, keyboards, cello, horns, and guitars along with harmonies and children singing made this spot-on for a children’s album.
While the instrumentation on this album is very Western, you will hear a lot of Indian inflections from the Indian classical world and folk traditions in my vocals, which reflects my upbringing and musical training. That balance is very hard to find when you’re trying to do anything new, sonically. If you want to do something fresh you always have to look deep. This year, I went through some major family and personal challenges, and it opened something new in my creative core which made this unique collaboration possible.
The album is a collective effort that started with the vision, followed by the songwriting and arrangements, followed by the flavor that every musician put into the recording, and we ended up with an outstanding production and engineering. I would have never imagined making an album like this, but my fabulous producers, Kenya Autie, Mario Sanmarti, and Tina Kids presented me with ideas and demo tracks; when I heard them, it made perfect sense. They were very keen on keeping my authenticity but bringing my vocals and songwriting together with incredible musicians that were like-minded but from completely different musical genres.
Nona Brown brought marvelous harmonies into the project, Tammy Hall played an amazing piano, Mario Sanmarti added a lot of magic with his keyboard, Dave Sands’ bass just gave it the bottom it needed, Oscar Autie brought the backbone with those drums, Ivette Falcón added so much warmth with the cello, Camilo Landau played an edgy and cool guitar, and (El Niche) Romero just made my heart feel so elevated with the trumpet. The children’s beautiful vocals made it fun and authentic. The producers brought their Latin experience in a wonderful way, and then I matched my Indian tradition to meet them halfway. It was all very organic. Emily Eagen co-wrote five songs with Mario and me on this album, and our associate producer, Mia Moravis assisted all of us.
When I went to El Cerrito Records in the San Francisco Bay Area to record my vocals, all the music was already in place and thoughtfully orchestrated with my Indian tradition in mind, so I had a great foundation. I am also grateful to the additional engineers who made the recordings of some children’s background vocals and the cello possible: Boris Larramendi, Akash Shah, Gaurav Shah, and Jesse Kassette Hanes. The cherry on the top was the beautiful cover created by Daniel López Márquez.
Your artistry is so varied and diverse. From creating music with your band to writing and singing songs for children. Is there any difference in the way you approach the various projects you take up?
There is not a lot of difference in the way I approach the different projects. I like to immerse myself in the creative process. The music I write and the way I interpret it is a result of my feelings and experiences, but I also follow my instincts. When I feel a creative moment, I seize it and use the opportunity to create music.
Have you set any larger goals you wish to accomplish with the children’s albums you work on, be it creatively, socially or culturally?
Yes. Absolutely. I envision a world that is peaceful, accepting, fearless, and that gives children a chance to be themselves. I want to sow the seeds of equality, diversity, tolerance, and I want to teach kids to embrace each other‘s differences.
My goal is to use music as a tool to bring change in our society. Music heals and changes people’s minds. It can give children the courage to embrace their identity, it can help children accept each other and live peacefully with one another in unity.
Music is bigger than an individual or a dream or a desire. It’s majestic, magical, and without boundaries. As quoted by Ustad Amir Khan, my guru Sultan Khan’s guru, “Music is such that a soul sings and soul hears.”
As an artist of color blending various Indian and Western influences into her music, what has this journey taught you so far? What has been the greatest learning you’ve experienced?
I have learned a lot, but I still have a lot more to learn. As an artist of color, trying to succeed in a foreign country has been challenging. I have learned about the culture, the work ethics, the way people work with each other, the way things work in the music business. This journey has taught me to never give up and to continue dreaming big. I had to envision that the sky is the limit. I also learned to not be scared of failing. When something fails, I take that as a learning experience. I have learned from my mistakes, and that making those tumbles is an integral part of my journey.
How has your experience of blending Hindustani classical with American pop-rock been? Is creating music out of two drastically diverse genres challenging?
Creating something out of two or more genres is a very big challenge. The balance between the aesthetics and the message you want to convey is all subjective. I just ask myself: Is this the direction I want to go in? Is this where my song is going to land? Is this what I imagined? Sometimes goals change, and that’s okay. Ultimately, it’s a great experience.
Do you have any advice for young musicians trying to find their style/artistic identity?
Yes. Believe in yourself and believe in your music. Dream big and go for it. Surround yourself by a great team. Work hard every day and continue creating music. Consistency is key.
Stream A Colorful World below.