Falguni Shah was the only Indian woman nominee at this year's Grammy Awards. Music, she says, makes her journey through motherhood meaningful, keeps her rooted and...led her to walk the red carpet!
By Monali Bordoloi
A child’s first teacher is its mother — Peng Liyuan, a Chinese contemporary folk singer and performing artist.
This year’s Grammy nominee, Falguni Shah, has a delightful story to share! She made a music album for children, in the hope of answering her little son’s endless questions around their Indian culture and traditional roots. And, as luck would have it, that album, Falu’s Bazaar was nominated in the Best Children’s Music Album category at the 2019 Grammy awards. Such a commendable feat and what a heart-warming story!
New York-based Falguni, popularly known as Falu, was the only Indian woman nominated for the Grammys this year. She didn’t win but, her album has brought Indian music and the large Indian diaspora into the limelight.
In fact, Falu migrated to the US from Mumbai in 2000 and continued her musical journey. She collaborated with renown musicians like A R Rehman, Ricky Martin , Yo-Yo Ma, Philip Glass and Wyclef Jean. Falu gained prominence after she performed in the White House for President Obama's State Dinner. This talented musician also performed before the Dalai Lama as well as in prestigious places like Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and at the Time 100 Gala.
ParentCircle caught up with this enthusiastic mother to know about her exciting journey — from singing lullabies to her son to walking the red carpet at the Grammys! Read on.
When and how did the idea Falu’s Bazaar come about?
When my four-year-old son Nishaad started preschool, he used to ask lots of questions as he observed how different he was from the other children at school. He also noticed the cultural differences among people of different ethnicities. So, he would ask: "Why is our food yellow?" or "Why do we count our numbers differently?" and "Why do we speak a different language at home?" As a mother, I thought the best way to answer his innocent questions would be through music. So, I started writing songs to give him a sense of identity as an Indian American child growing up in New York City. This is how Falu's Bazaar came about.
Watch here: Falu's Bazaar
What makes your album unique?
What makes Falu's Bazaar different from the crowd is that it draws inspiration from both cultures — Indian and American. It also captures a unique sound — both instrumentally and culturally.
Your favourite song in the album?
My favourite song in the album is ‘Nishaad's Lullaby’. My mother used to sing that song to my son. In fact, this lullaby has been passed down over five generations. Now, it is enriching my son’s generation too and I hope it will continue to be relevant for future generations to come. That idea inspired me to include it in my album and my mother agreed to sing it.
Watch an exclusive video shared by Falguni Shah with ParentCircle, wherein she is singing the song 'Nishaad's Lullaby'!
Tell us about your experience at the Grammys.
My family and I were super excited and deeply humbled by the whole experience. My son realised how hard his mom worked to get to that moment. It was a life lesson for him that you can achieve anything if you focus and work hard to get it. As a first-generation Indian immigrant, it felt good for me to be able to share Indian culture and music, with others. And of course, being nominated was an honour.
Can we teach children through the art of music?
I think music holds an innate power to heal, teach and touch hearts in a beautiful way. Children can learn a lot through music, if it is creative and enjoyable for them. I wanted to create an album that is both educational and fun — children tend to relate more to music than words.
What role has your family played in your success?
My family, especially my mom, played a huge role in my upbringing and my success. Both, my brother Darshan and I were encouraged to take up music from childhood. Growing up in Mumbai, we had a musical atmosphere at home as both my grandmother and mother are musicians. I have a strong foundation in classical music. I am blessed to be born into a loving and supportive family. Because of their constant support, I have been able to pursue my dream.
Further, my husband Gaurav, is a musician too and sings with me in our band. Additionally, he is an oncologist and the CEO of a company in the US. Music brought us together and there has been no looking back since. My in-laws are also hugely supportive. There have been countless times when my in-laws took care of my son while I toured. I will forever be grateful to them for everything they did.
How do you balance work, home and kid?
I must admit, balancing is hard, more so with young kids. You need to set your priorities right. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my life. Finding a balance wherein I must stop working and then give myself fully to my family. Sometimes, this can be tricky. Work never ends and neither does my love for my family. Some days, I can balance it very nicely and some days, I just can't; so it’s very organic. To date, I struggle to find that perfect balance between family and work.
How do you spend quality time with your son?
We have a house rule: No phones while having dinner. Also, I enjoy spending weekends with my family when I am not working. We spend a lot of time doing music and reading together. I make it a point to teach my son Hindi and also, Hinduism. We go to a Hindu school (Bal Vihaar) every Saturday as a family. We also meditate together. We try to include our son in our social outings too.
How difficult or easy is it to raise kids away from their roots?
It is indeed difficult and we have to work even harder to keep our culture alive and teach our son about his roots. They say it takes a village to raise a child and I truly believe that. Extended family does play a big role when you want to raise your child with Indian values. We live in a joint family and I think this has enabled me to embark on my musical career and journey. My parents and my in-laws were and still are, my pillars of support and stability. Apart from that, both my husband and I are also very active in our Indian community.
New York City is the melting pot of cultures from all over the world. Living here, it is easy to teach kids about diversity. He is growing up with the best of both cultures.
Can you share a challenging moment in your life and how you overcame it?
I was bullied in school and dealt with it through music. The more I was bullied, the more I practised my music. Those were traumatic days. During my teenage years, I used to practice for 16 hours a day! Sometimes, I feel I missed out on my teenage years, but then, in the long run, I gained so much from all that extensive practice.
If you could change something in your life, what would that be?
I would go to business school first and then study music. Being in the music business, I realised that having business acumen really helps in taking your music forward. If I could go to business school I would do it even now.
What is your success mantra?
My success mantra is to dream big and never give up. Like the quote that goes, 'Try and try till you succeed!'
Who is that one woman you look up to? Also, what does ‘Women’s Day’ mean to you?
It would be definitely my mother. The way she raised us — inculcating the right values while at the same time giving us the freedom to do what our hearts seek, is exemplary. If I can do even 10 per cent of what she did, I'll be super happy and content. Women's Day, to me, is day of liberation and reassurance that we women can do it all and in the best way possible! I'm so happy and proud to be a woman of the 21st century.
What are your future plans?
Bollywood has always fascinated me, so I would love to work for Bollywood movies. Also, I hope to compose and perform my music in India. I look forward to an opportunity to bring everything I have learned in America, back home to India.
Falguni is the perfect example of someone who is connected to her roots and aims for the skies. This mother's desire to teach cultural values to her son, led her to walk the red carpet at the Grammys! Here's hoping Falu fulfils her every dream. More power to you!
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