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Musical Mama

By Poornima Apte Email By Poornima Apte
April 2019
Musical Mama



Falguni Shah has been a fixture on the South Asian music scene for a while, gracing prestigious national concert halls in the United States and even performing for the Obamas at the White House. Her latest endeavor brought her much closer to home and a Grammy Award nomination.


What drew you to music and when did you start formal training?
Coming from a musical background and home where both my mom and my grandma sang, music was always a part of my upbringing, whether it was my family singing or listening to the radio. My mom spotted that I could sing in pitch very early on and started my formal training at 3 years old with my first teacher, Kaumudi Munshi.


You moved to the U.S. in 2000 to Tufts. What did you teach there and how did that opportunity come about? Where do you live currently?
I applied to around 75 universities to teach, and Tufts was the first one to give me a job. So I took it right away. I created an entire syllabus to teach Indian music in its entirety from North Indian classical to folk to semiclassical, for freshmen to senior-year college students. I live in New York City.

How has your music evolved since your early years in music?
It's evolved a lot and it keeps evolving every day. Music is as deep as an ocean—the deeper you swim, the more you realize that you know very little about it. First I was scared to write on subjects that are controversial, but now I trust more than ever that music can help people. I have gathered the courage to write music on subjects from rape to child abuse. Every time I have grown, my music has grown with me.


How would you describe your style of music to the layperson?
It oscillates between the English and Hindi languages, has flairs of both Indian folk music and contemporary Western music along with melodies based on the five-thousand-year-old ancient Indian scaled music called raagas.

What would you say has been your biggest achievement in the field?
I would say performing for the Obamas was an incredible experience.

The music industry is evolving. How difficult is it for artists like you to ride the tides of that change and still stay strong to your core principles?
It's very difficult, but artists are strong in nature. I keep my passion alive every day by finding new ways to innovate musically and especially seeing firsthand how music can change lives through my education efforts at Carnegie Hall.




What prompted you to work on Falu’s Bazaar? How does your son like it?
When my son was four years old he came from his preschool exploding with questions like "Ma, why is our food yellow? Why do we count our numbers in a different language and not English? Why do we speak Gujarati at home and not English?” And I thought the best way to answer these questions was through music—hence my album Falu's Bazaar was born. He is obsessed with it and does not allow us to play any other music in our house or in our car! I also wanted him to be proud of his heritage, not embarrassed by it when realizing he was different from the other kids in school. I wanted him to be excited to share his roots, and provide an opening for other kids to do the same.




You have collaborated with many artists over the years. What is the one lesson you have learned from such collaborations?
I have learned that humility goes a long way.

What is your next project going to focus on?
I plan to draw from beautiful Urdu poetry (Ghalib and other ghazal/Sufi masters) and present it in a way that speaks to a 21st century global audience. I love the complexity and depth of this poetry and am excited to bring my approach to it.







Poornima Apte, a widely published freelance writer, editor, and book reviewer, is based in the Boston area. Learn more at WordCumulus.com.

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