'Singing Jai Ho was one of the most amazing moments of my life'
Vocalist and composer Falu is a powerhouse of talent.
A classically trained artist who learned music in India for over a decade before moving to America over a decade ago, Falu has performed with Oscar-winning composer A R Rahman in the presence of First Lady Michelle Obama, television celebrity Oprah Winfrey and actress Elizabeth Taylor.
She even sang for the Dalai Lama and performed with Japanese cellist Yo Yo Ma's Silk Road Project.
Back in New York after touring several American cities to perform a traditional/classical concert at the famous Joe's Pub, Falu -- Falguni Dalal before her marriage to physician-musician Gaurav Shah -- speaks to Arthur J Pais about her music and her new album.
You are working on a new album. What would be special about it?
In my last album Falu I was saying something economic and social inequities. I like to write and sing about environmental causes, too. But the new album, which will be out in a few months and which is yet to have a title, will have strong classical elements.
Along with my collaborators, including my husband Gaurav, I make an effort to preserve the dying tradition of certain kind of vocals including thumri. The album also pays includes folk music from Rajasthan and Gujarat, and some regions of Uttar Pradesh.
Image: A R Rahman and Falu
'Classical music will always be where I am most at home'
Have you thought of turning to pure classical music full time?
Many times. In fact, that was my original goal, but other opportunities presented themselves along the way.
Did you feel anytime the regret for not being a pure classical singer?
Not at all, because classical music will always be where I am most at home. In classical music there are absolutely no age restrictions. The more you learn and experience in life, the more you can contribute to the field.
What are some of your favourite classical and movie songs? Who sang them and who composed them?
I cannot single out any in particular, but I like almost everything by Ustad Amir Khan and a lot of ragas by Ustad Sultan Khan (especially his Raga Jai Jaiyanti and his folk song Chandni Si Raat).
I love ragas Gaud Malhar and Alhaiya Bilawal in compositions by Kishori Amonkar. I think these were mostly traditional compositions, though some of Amir Khan's compositions were written by Amir Khusro centuries ago.
In film songs I'm a huge fan of the compositions by R D Burman and Khayyam.
Everyone has a fear or two about life, about their work and vocation. The writer Paul Theroux told me that he was not afraid of not getting ideas but he was scared that he might end up with a book that is boring. Do you have any fears?
In my work I fear not being able to hit the note properly sometimes. Most of all I fear losing my hearing, and a life without music.
'Sultan Khan told me to be careful about ego'
What has your Sultan Khan said about your pop classical music?
Both my gurus, Kaumudi Munshi and Sultan Khan, are very supportive of my work. in fact Sultan Khan blessed us by playing saarangi and singing on two tracks of my self-titled debut album.
You have talked about life lessons you have taken from Sultan Khan
The most important thing he had told me -- and which I remember every day -- is to be careful of ego. He would say ego enters through window, and the music will bolt from another. He used to say, 'Beta, aham kabhi mat karna [never get arrogant]'.
He used to also say that a singer -- and by extension, any artist -- should have exemplary behaviour. Egoistical people may succeed to some extent but they are not truly doing anything good for the society or for themselves.
Your husband is a brain cancer specialist. He is part of your music, as a singer and songwriter. How did you meet your future husband?
Gaurav Shah was born and raised in Texas. After graduating from Harvard, he decided to take a year off and came to India to learn music. He ended up in my class as we were learning from the same teacher.
How do you collaborate?
Collaboration happens very naturally for us because we connect on many different levels. Sometimes I write the melody and he does lyrics, while sometimes he writes the melody and I help with lyrics.
Sometimes we both help each other with melody as well as lyrics. We try to keep it unplanned and as organic as we can.
I remember once, while he was driving from Boston to New York, In the Rain, a song in our album was written in the car. He came home and told me, "Hey look I have a song". It is one of my favourite songs in the album.
What are some of your most memorable moments as an artist?
I was invited to sing Jai Ho [the Oscar-winning song from Slumdog Millionaire] with A R Rahman at Time magazine's 100 most influential people event May 5 last year.
It was attended by Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey and many other celebrities. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life.
Image: Falu on stage with A R Rahman