When it comes to the New York music scene, one name in particular stands out amongst the noise on the streets and elevates to the ethereal. Her name is Falu and her sound is a perfect fusion of classical Indian vocals floating over indie jazz and rock, or as Falu calls it, “Indie Hindi.” Falu and her band have just released their latest album, Foras Road, marking the occasion with a sold-out concert at the Highline Ballroom.
Born in India, Falu has been singing since she was three and has been trained in the Jaipur tradition and Benares Gharana tradition of thumrie, a style of singing originating from the royal courtesans of India. She was also fortunate enough to study under the late Ustaad Sultan Khan, a member of Tabla Beat Science along with Zakir Hussain. In 2000, Falu moved to New York and found herself as the lead vocalist for Boston-based, Indo-American band Karyshma while also serving as a visiting lecturer at Tufts University. She quickly established herself as a bonafide vocalist moving on to work with such artists as Karsh Kale, Wyclef Jean, Yo Yo Ma, Philip Glass and AR Rahman to name a few. She has performed for President Obama and at the Time 100 party for the likes of Oprah Winfrey and has also sung the American national anthem at Yankee Stadium. Her band members are accomplished musicians in their own right and each plays a variety of world instruments that add to the eclectic sound of the group. Mark Tewarson, an award-winning songwriter and musician plays the guitar and the dobro. Grammy-award winning Danny Blume plays bass and serves as producer on the album while Dave Sharma and Deep Singh are featured on Drums/Percussion and Tabla. Gaurav Shah sings vocals and plays the harmonium and also holds the additional title of being Falu’s husband as well as a doctor.
As a collective, the group ‘Falu’ has a sound that seamlessly blends soaring eastern vocals over melodic western beats flavored with the global sounds of exotic instruments. Their sophomore album, Foras Road, is culmination of the sounds of the courtesans that inhabit its namesake in Mumbai. The songs are mostly in Falu’s (the singer) signature style of thumrie, where the subject matter is love, eroticism and devotion to the beloved, often times synonymous with God. Each song on the album stays with the listener weather it is the haunting “Savan,” to the classical “Bahaar,” to the upbeat “Tarana.”
First tell us about your music…What are your style influences? My influences vary from Indian Classical to Country to Jazz, Soul, Hip Hop and now the latest one EDM (Electronic Dance Music)
Tell us about your inspiration for the album? The album was initially inspired by a song that Gaurav wrote in our first album called, “In The Rain.” It was an English thumrie, and it got me thinking, ‘why not make an album of thumries in its original form?’
Why Foras Road? Foras Road is the name of the red light district in Mumbai where one can hear amazing music that has been passed on from one generation to the other and still has survived in its original form. I have inherited a lot of these songs and wanted to pass this music on to the next generation myself. Hence Foras Road, the album, was created.
Who is this CD intended for? I know everyone always says this, but it’s really an album that everyone can enjoy – young and old, Indian and non-Indian, those who understand the lyrics and those who don’t. The music taps into universal themes like love, devotion, loyalty – and you can feel all those things even if you don’t understand the lyrics.
You sing in 7 different languages? Which is your favorite? A lot of them are dear to my heart but Sanskrit and Avadhi are on the top.
You perform live on a regular basis. How do you prepare for a concert? Right before a concert begins, I simply shift mental gears from wife, mom, friend, etc and enter my singer’s world. When I get on stage, what comes out is what’s within. It’s not as planned as you would think, there’s no formal ritual or anything!
How does your band contribute to your full sound? All of the bandmembers are trained in various backgrounds starting from jazz, to classical, to other forms of music and they bring their influences from that and blend them seamlessly to make our sound unique in Foras Road. When we all sit in a room to rehearse, magic just happens.
Falu Foras Road is available on iTunes.
Photos by Lia Chang