Ricky Kej a music composer, producer and an environmentalist by passion made India proud by winning the 57th Annual Grammy Awards for his world music album ‘Winds of Samsara’, being the first Indian origin album to top the Billboard charts!
Kej talks about his winning composition, his experience at the UN and his initiatives to protect the environment, making the world a better place to live in, in an intriguing conversation with loudest.in being the part of the Music Inc 2.0.
Talking about his journey and initial training in music Kej said, “Well I pursued a BDS degree since my father wanted me to be a doctor, but while I was doing Dentistry I was already doing music professionally. My formal training has been very different from the rest of the musicians because I started learning formally very late, after dabbling successfully into producing albums, so it’s been more of unlearning of what I have acquired over a year’s instinctively on my own, so I formerly learned western classical from the London School of Music and Indian classical from a tutor in India.”
Ricky Kej (L) and Wouter Kellerman pose with the award for best new age album for “Winds of Samsara” backstage at the 57th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California February 8, 2015.
Of course it’s an amazing experience to win a Grammy Award, as it seems to be an unattainable dream, but for me, I achieved it when I was 33, which has certainly helped in reflecting my work and a prize to whatever I was doing. The environment is my passion after I won the Grammy I decided to dedicate the whole of my life on the environment. So for the last four years, I have only created music on the environment, I don’t do film music or pop music, I only create music for our planet!
– Ricky Kej (Music Composer, Producer)
Talking on the winning album, Kej said, “I won the Grammy on an album called the ‘Winds of Samsara’ which portrays the ideals of love and peace as shown by the two great world leaders Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. It is a world music album, which had musicians from all parts of the world. This album was a No1 on the Billboard charts in America for 2 weeks and was in the top 10 for 12 weeks after I won the Grammy. So it was a very successful album.”
Being the ambassador at the UN, Kej tells about his Stint stating, “Yes I work very closely with the United Nations, and I am an ambassador with the UNICEF & UNESCO, so I work a lot on the environment and with children creating educational programs on environment and sustainability, teaching them how to live with more compassion. Being the UNESCO ambassador for kindness globally, I encourage people to be kind, to do more for society and contribute to life in general. I also work for WHO when it comes for health and also work with the United Nations Environment when it comes to the health of the forests and issues related to climate change… So I travel all around the world to perform and spread the message of saving the environment, like in 2019 I have already been to 11 countries to perform. I performed at the UN general assembly I have performed thrice in front of a small set of select audiences and am again performing in September. I have performed in front of more than a lakh and 80,000 + audience and am doing quite a lot of concerts in India too.”
Producing world music albums and working with global artists and musicians, Kej tells, “My albums are mainly world music, for example, my last the album had a choir from South Africa, a flute player from Ghana and a player from Vietnam and also worked with an 85 piece royal philharmonic orchestra from London, singers from Mongolia, so basically it’s a very collaborative experience to work with musicians from the different parts of the world.”
Talking on the digital and the Audio OTT platform scenario, Kej says, “I think it is very good since the equipment and software to create music is within everybody’s reach, and what you are limited by is your imagination, as you got to have to create good music, good songs, and an ability to tell stories through your songs, and once it is achieved, the execution of the song is in everybody’s needs.”
Talking about the independent artist’s scene in the Indian music industry, Kej says, “If you talk about the independent artists in India, I have a very controversial approach as it’s not going to happen here, as Bollywood industry is too huge and influencing to overshadow them. So I remember when before winning the Grammy when I told people that I’m a composer they used to ask which movie have you given music for and that’s how deeply it’s ingrained. It’s also with the fashion industry, which does not have supermodels as showstoppers, but now they are all Bollywood stars doing it. Although Bollywood is churning out a good amount of music which the people are consuming. The biggest problem in Bollywood is that people are making either a love song or an item song, but nobody is making music from the heart, although there are so many issues, nobody is chronicling our history in music, nobody is writing about our heritage, our culture, and we definitely need an independent industry here, but in my opinion its never going to happen.”
Kej gave insights on Meeting Modiji and working with him, ”Well I met him after I winning the Grammy and it has been an awesome experience meeting with him a few times. I am working with his office on the issues related to environment and advocacy. I have performed for him in South Africa and twice in New Delhi, Which has been a very good experience.”
Talking on creating a cultural policy for supporting musicians in India, ”I think it will take some time in India, because the government has different priorities, as I have seen how people need drinking water, hygiene and are below poverty on my visits to the rural India, where I have travelled extensively.” Talking on creating a cultural policy for supporting musicians in India,” I think it will take some time in India, because the government has different priorities, as I have seen how people need drinking water, hygiene and are below poverty and are suffering from famine on my visits to the rural India where children are dying because of pollution due to bad cooking fuels, where I have travelled extensively. Almost 350 million people in India don’t have electricity.”
Talking about his collaborations and future projects, Kej said, “I work with a brilliant flute player in South India Varijashree Venugopal, and with Pt.Vishwa Mohan Bhatt I have done 30-40 concerts all over the world, I have worked with Shankar Mahadevan and Hariharan too. I’m releasing an album called ‘Shiva’ which is an intersection of spirituality and conservation. So it was a concert that we did at a stadium in Chennai with 7000 live audiences, so now we are releasing the audio, which features me, and Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt along with global artists.”
Talking about his Music Inc experience Kej said, “Well it was great to have so many minds together, you come here once every year, you meet everybody and you know what is exactly happening in the industry and as composer what we need to do in the next one year within your music to subscribe to the entire fan base in India. So I am having a wonderful time here.”