Internationally recognized artist Falu (aka Falguni Shah) recently brought her latest creation, “Falu’s Bollywood Orchestra,” to Boston for a benefit concert by the Desai Foundation. The Desai Foundation is a non-profit that implements programs to assist women and children not just in the Massachusetts, but in India (mainly Gujrat) and New York City as well. The event was powered by Saavn, India’s leading music streaming app.
The event brought Falu to Boston for the first time and the talented singer was excited to be a part of a powerful event that coincides with her own beliefs.
“The reason I performed for this particular concert in Boston is for the betterment of society in India, ” Falu said. “Meaning, I love children and obviously, I’m very close to the Desai Foundation because they actually support the same cause that I do: helping women succeed in their lives, as well as supporting children with an education. These are two very dear causes in my life. So if I can do anything for India, for children, for the women of India, even three percent of what Bono did for Africa, I would be so honored.”
The Desai Foundation empowers women and children with programs like vocational training for women, health and hygiene training and treatments, computer literacy, community development programming, a full primary school, a sanitary napkin development and access program, and much more.
Desai Foundation director Megha Desai said “It’s exciting for us to share the rich music and cultural experiences of India with people in the United States while supporting the Desai Foundation’s core mission of fostering growth and prosperity for underprivileged women and children in India.” She added, “Falu is a long-time supporter and advocate for our mission, and we’re honored to bring her incredible show to Boston in support of our programs.”
“Falu’s Bollywood Orchestra” is Falu’s third project. Her debut album “Falu” was featured in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History’s “Beyond Bollywood” exhibit. Falu was pleasantly surprised by the unique honor received by her first album.
“It was an experiment,” Falu explained about the project, “but also it was an experience for all the people who immigrated, and I was so honored that something like this would ever happen in my life. I wish my parents had been there to see me at the Smithsonian, but before they came it went on to other cities. The next time they are in town they will be visiting the museum!”
Describing her musical style as “sensual, deep and fun,” Falu’s first album was about Indi-Hindi and converting raagas to English—a risk that clearly worked in her favor. Her second album, “Foras Road,” was shortlisted for the Grammys. Megha Desai of the Desai Foundation, whom Falu describes as her “little sister and good friend,” was actually the art director for “Foras Road.” “Falu’s Bollywood Orchestra” is her latest and third project which was inspired by the music she heard growing up on the radio or whenever she went with her parent’s to family parties in India.
“I thought, why don’t I embrace something that I grew up with? It’s so natural to me, ” Falu explained. “I grew up with it, and it’s in every household and it’s familiar. There was something about not taking risks the third time round. And here’s Bollywood Orchestra and that’s what was very organic and very easily done. I just put down all the songs that I loved growing up and that’s how the Orchestra started. It’s been going really well!”
Falu’s culture is deeply embedded in her music. The singer expresses her love for Indian music, religion and way of life every day by staying connected to her rich Indian heritage. How does she keep her culture embedded in her life?
“I wake up and I do a shloka, or I wake and practice meditation. Philosophy and music are so nicely, beautifully tied that one can’t escape the other,” Falu explained. “And I think that because I’m Indian, and that I grew up in a very traditional family those roots and that inheritance has come with me and has become a part of me, and has grown up with me. It has made me who I am. I identify with my Indian heritage very deeply, and I love it. I’m proud of it, and obviously, when I learned my classical music, there was a desire in me to do something else. So I tried to blend some of the traditions that I learned in the West and obviously held on to what I learned in India. Because that’s just amazing, it’s just priceless. What I have inherited is so deep, it’s so beautiful, it’s so pure that it’s priceless. I will never ever lose that. But I always want to add something to my own learning, and I’m always curious. Ultimately, I want to learn more and that’s what started the journey, and it’s why I’ll continue.”
Luckily we had a chance to chat with Falu about her childhood and her training. As the daughter of a musician and a businessman, it was a source of conflict at times regarding Falu’s future but the talented singer managed to bring around her hesitant father’s support.
“My father did not want me to be a musician and my mother wanted it. In the end, I am my ‘momma’s girl’ so she won,” Falu said. “But it was always given that I would blossom in music, and I had an interest and I really loved every bit of it. There was pressure from my dad to do something else, but he eventually came around, and he has supported me wholeheartedly ever since.”
Falu began her training at 3-years-old, with, of course, her mother as her biggest inspiration. However, it wasn’t until she was 6-years-old and a biking accident convinced her that music is where she wanted her future to be. It was her mother who suggested she start singing to cope with the pain while young Falu was in the hospital.
“I totally forgot about the pain,” she said, “at that point, I realized—yes, this is what I want to do my entire life—I want to sing. I thought ‘if this can help me get over any kind of pain then how can I not do this?’ So that was the determining moment for me…I’ve never looked back and I’ve always wanted to sing, and I will always sing.”
Falu has gone through rigorous training since her youth under the tutelage of Ustad Sultan Khan and later by Smt. Kishori Amonkar. She is ever thankful to her teachers but wishes she had the opportunity to learn from Ustad Amir Khan who was the teacher of Ustad Sultan Khan as well as Ustad Bismillah Khan.
“It would have also been great to learn a bit from Ustad Bismillah Khan who was again an amazing Shehnai player and a true legend,” Falu said. She continued to explain that unfortunately Ustad Sultan Khan and Ustad Bismillah Khan were two people she never had the chance to encounter.
“One passed away before I was born, and the second one died when I was still young. But yes, I do wish I had the chance to learn from both of them.”
She’s also been trained to play the harmonium and tampura but Falu but she hopes to learn to play the bass and drums in the future.
“I learned how to drum but I never fully completed my training, so I want to learn some more of that as well,” Falu said.
Falu moved to the states as an international professor and since then she’s collaborated with talents such as Yo-Yo Ma, Wyclef Jean, Phillip Glass, AR Rahman and more. She explains how lucky and honored she feels to be working with such artists.
“They were all a dream come true,” Falu said, “but the one artist I really wanted to sing with was Michael Jackson. I never got a chance to do it, but I look forward to collaborating with Akon, as well as Madonna—if God gives me a chance—and Steven Tyler. In a beautiful way and a musical way, these three are my idols.”
Not only has she collaborated with big names, she’s even impressed the First Lady of the United States! Michelle Obama heard Falu’s music and chose Falu to perform with A. R. Rahman at the White House for a special dinner. As expected from such a huge honor, Falu said performing at the White House was an experience like no other. She rehearsed with the National Symphony Orchestra for three days at the White House and even caught a few glimpses of the President walking by during practice. The singer was excited yet nervous because she wasn’t sure if President Barack Obama would like her music.
“I had butterflies in my stomach. I didn’t know what to expect when he would hear me,” Falu said about performing in front of President Obama, “but after he heard me, he came to us and we took a picture with him and had a conversation. He really was so much fun to hang out with. I couldn’t believe I was hanging out with the President of the United States! He was so cool and down to earth—a very real person. Both of them are! They are a great couple, and I felt so welcomed and so appreciated by them just by doing what I do. It was the biggest honor and such a great gift that I could sing with A.R. Rahman in front of the Obamas and the former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. I don’t think there is anything more beautiful and memorable in my life than this experience.”
Falu has reached such amazing milestones in her career and of course, she could not have made it without her biggest supporters: her husband, her parents, friends like Desai, and avid fans who have always shown her love.
She continues to feed her talents by following the examples of her inspirations, Akon and Bob Dylan—both who have taken home Nobel Prizes for their work. As well as The Beatles, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday.
“These artists are so high caliber in my eyes, and I respect them so much that they continue to inspire me every day” Falu said. Like her idols, Falu too wants to make a difference with her music and touch the lives of those in a unique way.
“Through my music, I hope to spread peace and bring amazing stuff to a country where sometimes it is not easily reachable,” Falu explained. “So anything I can do—monetarily or musically—to help out Indian children and women makes me very excited. Music is a way I can serve that community.”