January 19, 2022
Falu was 3 when her mother, a trained singer, noticed the sur, a musical quality, in her voice. “Before I could speak, I sang. That’s what my mother said,” said Falu. Her first teacher was Kaumudi Munshi, often called the Nightingale of Gujarat, an expert in thumri, dadra, Banaras gayaki. But she was 6 when her life and relationship with music changed forever. “I was admitted to the hospital after a bike accident and was in so much pain that I was screaming. So my mother said that instead of screaming, I should sing. I started singing on that hospital bed, and I never stopped,” she told me.
Years later, when the singer’s son Nishaad started going to school, he started bombarding Falu, who now lives in the U.S., with a barrage of questions: Why does Indian food use so many spices? Why does he speak a different language at home? “Every immigrant here struggles, especially after you become a parent. I am always confused which Indian or American values I should impart to my son,” she said.
So Falu, now in her 40s, created a fictional story of an Indian child who travels to a bazaar and discovers new things. For Falu, she was creating an Indian Dora the Explorer. She sang about the rainbow’s seven colors; numbers in two languages; and the pots, pans, and masalas she uses to make food in her first children’s album Falu’s Bazaar. What Falu did not expect was a Grammy nomination for Best Children’s Music in 2019. “Who will listen to a South Asian mother singing for her son? I wrote the album to teach South Asian culture to my child,” she said.
In the summer of 2021, Falu released her second children’s album, A Colorful World. It, too, emerged from a question Nishaad had asked, about racism and privilege. Falu turned to music again and used the analogy of crayons to explain that different colors can live peacefully in “Crayons Are Wonderful.” This album, too, has been nominated for Grammys, in the Best Children’s Album category this year. But how did Falu — a trained classical singer from India — use her craft to create two Grammy-nominated children’s albums?