Falguni Shah- Singing of a diverse, colourful world

Falguni Shah, the first female Indian origin artist to bag the Grammy for Best Children’s Album for ‘A Colourful World’, wants to take Indian music on the global platform again

Falguni Shah- Singing of a diverse, colourful world

Roshmila Bhattacharya

The track ‘Crayons are wonderful’, Shah confided to interviewers after winning the Grammy, was a result of her trying to simplify the conversation about racial equity for children who face racism every day.

“The story was simple – the crayons are all of different colours but they live in one box together peacefully… When you talk to children through songs and happiness, it penetrates into their mind more easily compared to lectures.”

Excerpts from the interview with Roshmila Bhattacharya:

You performed the opening number at this year’s Grammys, then took home the award for Best Children’s Album for ‘A Colourful World’. Five years from now, when you look back on this special evening, what will you recall?

I will recall representing India on the global map. The reason I was at the Grammy’s had nothing to do with me and everything to do with our beautiful Indian classical music which is so amazing that it survives even after 5000 years on an international platform.

In 2018, you were nominated for ‘Falu’s Bazaar’, but didn’t win the Grammy then. Did you think you stood a better chance this year with its follow-up album, ‘A Colourful World’?

Honestly, I went with no expectation. I hadn’t won the last time and I didn’t want to go back home crying again. But I went with a lot of hope, prayers and positivity.

And what was it like holding the Grammy in your hand?

I was ecstatic, I felt so fulfilled, like God’s grace was shining on me. I had never felt anything like this before. It was a proud moment for not just my ‘Colourful’ team, but for every person from India. As I said before, it’s not me who got the trophy really, it’s our country. I am just a vehicle.

Given that ‘A Colourful World’ is a children’s album, tell us one unique reaction you got from them after your historic win…

Sometime ago, my young niece who lives in Mumbai, had sent me a video of the ‘Happy’ song from the album, the first one I wrote. They had choreographed it in school and she sent it to me, saying, “Look phuphi, they are dancing to your song.” Surprisingly, maybe because she is so young, while they were working on the piece, she did not tell anyone that I was her aunt. It was only after I won the Grammy and her teacher asked her “Isn’t this the song we did?” that she told them that we were related. After that the girls sent me the most beautiful card which came from the joyful realisation that the “Happy” song was from album of Famia’s bua.

And does your young son, Nishaad, understand that his mom is a Grammy winner now?

(Laughs) He’s clueless! I asked him to hold the trophy and he was like, “Mum, how heavy is it? I’m scared of dropping it.”

I told him to hold it tight, with both hands, after eating bread with lots and lots of butter for strength. I then gave him a good breakfast and handed the trophy to him.

What is the biggest challenge you faced with A Colourful World?

Hmm, that we could all never be in the same room. A part of the music making process is singing and playing together and recording this energy live. But because two of my producers were in Spain and one in San Francisco, because some parts of the album were recorded in Florida and some in Argentina, I just never met everyone.

And even though we eventually went on to create a really beautiful album while working from different places, the next time I will definitely try for us to all be in the same room. We will record something live and see how that turns out.

Let’s reel back to another special evening in 2008, Time magazine’s annual gala celebrating the 100 most influential people in the world. You performed ‘Jai Ho’ alongside Slumdog Millionaire’s Oscar-winning composer AR Rahman before a star-studded audience which included Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Stella McCartney and Liv Tyler.

That was a magical evening too, my first show with Rahman. Michelle Obama who had become the First Lady just nine months ago, was on the first table with Oprah Winfrey, just five feet away from me. And when they saw a South-Asian girl rocking the night with another South-Asian, the legendary Rahman, well, there was an instant connection.

We hardly spoke that evening, they are not my friends, but later, when President (Barack) Obama and Michelle were hosting then Indian Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh) at the White House for their first State dinner, they remembered us and Rahman and I went back for another collaboration. Music does this, it connects people without words and without boundaries. It’s an amazing, powerful tool.

What was your first impression of Rahman?

I was star-struck! Even though I had performed with Yo Yo Ma and Wiclef Jean, with Rahman it was different perhaps because he came from my country and gave me the biggest break of my life. I am one of his biggest supporters and he is one of my close believers.

Will your collaborations continue?

Of course, he’s a genius and he’s become a dear friend. We meet every time he comes to New York. He texted when I won.

You have won a Grammy now, what’s the next big dream?

Oh, there are so many… I want to take Indian music on the global platform again, with an Emmy or a Tony, maybe even an Oscar.

Well, I’m not an actress, but I’m very interested in writing music and singing for the movies. I want to present my songs in a movie soundtrack, maybe even sing in one that wins an Oscar. Hell, why not?

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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