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A Musical Odyssey

Feb/03/2024 / by abhijit-masih

How Grammy-winning artist Falu turned her passion into a successful career in music

Falu’s musical journey is a testament to the power of dedication, passion, and the pursuit of one’s dreams. From the time she was 6 years old, she received the best training available due to her mother’s understanding of her unique musical sensibilities. Her unwavering dedication to music led her to practice for up to 16 hours a day, turning her passion into a profound pursuit. The Grammy-winning artist, who is nominated once again this year, shared insights into her musical journey, discussing the influence of family, dedication, collaborations, and the fusion of diverse musical genres.

Family Roots and Training 

The Grammy-winning artist emphasizes the importance of a support system which she found within her family and the role it played in her success. “I was born in a very musical family. My mother is a singer as well. And the minute she saw, as a two and a half year old that I could sing, she started my training,” she recalled. She received training from stalwarts of Indian classical music like Kishori Amonkar, Ustad Sultan Khan, Kaumudi Munshi and Uday Mazumdar. Reflecting upon this early chapter of her life, Falu acknowledged the profound impact of such an upbringing. The confluence of access, support, and love has admittedly shaped her identity and illuminated the path toward a meaningful and greater success.

Arriving in America and Facing Challenges 

Falu’s transition to a professional musician in the U.S. was marked by the challenges of making a living in a foreign country. She narrates how love led her to the United States, where her musical journey took a collaborative turn with her spouse. Alongside her husband, a musician himself, she worked tirelessly as a student to pursue her musical ambitions. The pressures of an International student were surmounted with the challenges of finding gigs, making contacts, and struggling to establish herself in the music industry. “It’s never easy to start making money in a different country that you don’t know anything about,” she reflected on the challenges faced as a student in the U.S. Their joint efforts included touring, writing, recording, and overcoming the hurdles of starting anew in a different cultural landscape.

Grammy Glory 

Earning a Grammy nomination is the ultimate validation and the sweet fruit of success for all the labors of the past. Falu’s first album—”Falu’s Bazaar,” was nominated in 2022, for the most coveted award in the music industry. She did not win that year. The following year her second album ‘A Colorful World’ was selected again in the category for Best Children’s Music album. “The first time I got nominated, I didn’t win. So when I went for the second album I had no expectation. I also follow Gita where it says that ‘karm karo, phal ki chinta mat karo’ (Do your duty without thinking about results). So I try to follow that and went with no expectation and having fun as a nominee,” she reflected on the significance of being nominated and the surreal experience of winning a Grammy, citing it as a pivotal moment in her career. “For that minute, I think my heartbeat stopped,” she remembered the moment when her name was announced. “That was an unimaginable, beautiful and blissful moment for any artist in their life when they win their first Grammy,” she says. 

True Value of the Recognition

For her, the true worth of the award lies in more than just the applause of music enthusiasts or passive listeners. It emanates from those who, like her, breathe life into melodies as their livelihood. Knowing that your musical peers, individuals immersed in the very craft, have not only heard but appreciated your work adds a layer of profound satisfaction for the singer. In my extensive experience in the music industry, I’ve observed singers hesitating to perform spontaneously, particularly when they are being recorded on camera. The mark of a skilled singer lies in their confidence to effortlessly break into song, showcasing a surety in their abilities and talent. A quality that Falu possesses and demonstrated with singing a verse from her Grammy nominated song this year. “Abundance in Millets,” which is nominated in the Best Global Music performance category incidentally also includes a speech written and delivered by the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi.

Meeting Modi

Falu shared the remarkable encounter with the Prime Minister who inspired her to use her music for social change, leading to a collaboration with him on a campaign promoting healthy living. “I had an invitation to go and meet him at his residence in Delhi, which I did. And for 20 minutes we talked about the power of music and he said to me, ‘Beta, why don’t you use music as a powerhouse to help farmers and help spread awareness of millets.’ So I asked him very innocently, would you want to write it with me?” Falu recalled the meeting with Modi and his acceptance to be part of the song. Falu, her husband and their son were one of the few people that Prime Minister Modi met during his state visit to the US last summer.   

Collaboration with Influential Figures 

Over time, the talented singer has learnt to create music that skillfully extracts and blends diverse elements. She recognizes the harsh truth that not every song emerges as a chart-topper but that each song is a journey that embraces a spirit of experimentation and pours all her emotions into the creative process. Falu’s collaborations with various musicians, including experiences with renowned personalities like A.R. Rahman, Yo-Yo Ma, Wyclef Jean, and Ricky Martin, showcase her adaptability and openness to different genres. “Every collaboration is great and you learn so much from them. My first collaboration was with Yo-Yo Ma and his humility and his approach on how to hold a note or how to look at a note was something I learned,” she shared her experience which gave her music a new perspective. In her forthcoming ventures, which include collaborating on an album with the American Patchwork Quartet, she showcases her dedication to delving into varied musical terrains. Scheduled for release on the 9th of this month, the album features a reinterpretation of American folk songs, peppered with a touch of Indian influence. “We have re-imagined American folk songs from the Appalachian region and gave it a little pinch of Indian,” she describes the upcoming album. 

Embracing Spontaneity and Emotion

Asked about her approach to fusing different music cultures, Falu dismisses the idea of a predefined process. “No, there’s no process,” she explains. “A melody line will come to me walking on the street. And on the subway, the beat will come. The most important thing for me is the emotion of the song.” Her creative process is organic, driven by inspiration that strikes unexpectedly. The spontaneity of these musical moments becomes the foundation for her compositions, with the emotion of the song taking precedence.

Navigating Tradition and Technology

In the ever-evolving classical music scene, where tradition meets innovation, Falu emerges as a force with a nuanced perspective. Addressing the advancements of technology, she embraces its role in shaping classical music while staunchly emphasizing the irreplaceable essence of the human voice and traditional instruments. “Classical music doesn’t need technology,” Falu asserts. “You can always take a little bit of technology but you can never replace a voice or an instrument. I embrace technology but not in a way that hurts the purity,” she added. Her words echo a sentiment that technology and classical music work together, improving things without losing the genuine human expression.

Advice for Aspiring Musicians 

Offering advice to aspiring musicians, Falu urges them to explore fusion and to connect with their emotions. “Music is all about the feeling. It’s not just notes, but the emotions and feelings that it portrays. If the artist is feeling it themselves then that will transcend into others also. So, it’s important that they feel it first.” Her words resonate with a profound understanding that transcends musical genres – the core of music lies in the emotional connection. Falu offers advice to aspiring musicians, urging them to explore fusion and embrace their feelings and emotions in their musical journey.

Beyond Awards

What can be the next goal for a Grammy winner? As the conversation shifts to her aspirations, Falu responded with a philosophical perspective. “I feel like in music there are no destinations, but there’s the journey. That’s what I enjoy the most.” Her focus is not on achieving specific milestones but on relishing the daily process of creating music. “I don’t think about the destiny because every day is a new day to make music,” she shared. Falu’s philosophy mirrors the essence of her musical creations – a seamless blend of tradition and technology, guided by emotion and an unwavering commitment to the journey. Falu’s approach serves as a reminder that, in music, the human touch and emotional depth remain unparalleled.

Side Bar 1:

American Patchwork Quartet 

American Patchwork Quartet, a collective of award-winning musicians from across artistic and cultural backgrounds. Featuring vocals from a pair of recent GRAMMY winners – Clay Ross (a recipient of two Best Regional Roots Album awards) and Falu (the first Indian-born female singer-songwriter to win; and once-again a nominee in 2024) – APQ have reworked “Lazy John” into a celebration of all we have in common. With a mission to reclaim the immigrant soul of American roots music, the group reinterpret the country’s centuries-old folk songbook by uplifting its underrepresented voices – infusing these standards with elements like classical Hindustani vocal work. Throughout the debut album’s tracklist, we find potent symbols of unity in diversity, exploring universal truths through a range of musical languages and cultural lenses – themes like longing, heartbreak, desire, fulfillment, tranquility and love…ultimately revealing the joys, sorrows, and unwavering hope of a nation crafted by shared dreams and diverse histories.

Side Bar 2:

Falu’s Favorites 

Favorite musician – Bono

Most memorable moment – Singing at the White House for President Obama 

Favorite fan girl moment – Meeting Michelle Obama 

Favorite Indian song – Raina Beeti Jaaye from Amar Prem. 

Favorite collaboration – Yet to come 

Favorite performance venue – Carnegie Hall  

Pre-show ritual – I Meditate 

Favorite drink – Ginger Ale. 

Favorite place to vacation – Tahiti

Person living or dead you’d like to have dinner with – Gandhiji

Favorite Book – War and Peace

Favorite Author – Sulman Rushdie

Favorite instrument – Tanpura

Favorite movie – Pather Panchali

Favorite actor – Hrithik Roshan

Favorite Actress – Jaya Bachchan

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