Music composer Ricky Kej shares his thoughts following his third Grammy award

He lets us in on his future projects, working with Stewart Copeland and more
Ricky Kej
Ricky Kej

Indian music composer and environmentalist Ricky Kej won his third Grammy earlier this month. This was his second Grammy award while working alongside legendary drummer Stewart Copeland for their
album Divine Tides. He has produced over 15 albums and has received many awards including Green Influencer of the Year, Excellence and Leadership Award as a Global Humanitarian Artist, and many more. As an environmentalist, Ricky has worked with global organisations such as UNCCD, UNESCO, UNICEF and Earth Day Network. The musician aims at spreading awareness through his music on topics such as climate change, refugee crisis and land degradation.

You recently won your third Grammy. How does it feel representing the country at such a grand stage?

It is always very surreal to live through the moment of winning another Grammy award. The nomination itself came as a huge surprise to all of us. It is a huge honour to compete and win in a category where global superstars such as Christina Aguilera, The Chainsmokers, etc were also nominated. I am extremely grateful for all the love and I am incredibly thankful for having had another opportunity to make my country proud again on the biggest platform in the world for music.

Divine Tides won two Grammys. What was the idea behind the album?

Divine Tides is a tribute to the magnificence of our natural world and the resilience of our species. I believe that music can transform our planet by evoking a powerful emotional response in its listeners. The music that I create is an extension of my personality and very often a celebration of our natural world. Through this album, we wanted to make our listeners fall in love with our natural world all over again.

Tell us about your experience of working with Stewart Copeland.

The Police are one of the most famous rock bands in the world and have sold over 75 million albums. Stewart Copeland is considered to be one of the best drummers ever. He has pioneered his own style and has influenced so many drummers of the modern era. He also regularly composes for operas, orchestras and for over 50 Hollywood movies including the Oscar award winning Wall Street. Despite reaching the pinnacle of success, he is constantly evolving and learning by exploring new sounds, traditional music instruments and rhythms. As so many others, I grew up listening to The Police and I have been a life-long fan. In 2016, I was privileged to collaborate on a song with Stewart for a benefit album I produced. This time I mustered the courage to ask him to collaborate with me on a complete album, and what followed was one of the most fulfilling personal and musical experiences I could ever ask for. Stewart is not just a living legend but also an extremely humble human being filled with knowledge, wisdom and positive energy. Winning two Grammy awards alongside him is an absolute dream come true.

If you could choose one, which would be your favourite song till now?

It really is hard to choose one song from the album as that keeps changing but if I have to pick one at the moment, it will be Himalayas.

Which are some of the artistes or bands you follow?

I am a huge fan of independent and folk artistes in India and I have had the pleasure of collaborating with many of them on my albums. Legends such as Pandit Ravi Shankar, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and AR Rahman are always on my playlist. I am also a closet metal-head and grew up listening to some of the most iconic bands in the world such as Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Black Sabbath.

Winning your first Grammy is always special. Can you describe what was going through your mind at that time?

As an independent musician from India, I used to feel like winning one Grammy was an unattainable dream and now I have three and it’s all still so surreal. The first one will always be extremely special and I still remember how nervous and excited I was when the nominations were announced and when my name was called out on the big stage. It is also special that I won my first Grammy for Winds of Samsara which is based on the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

Can you tell us the role Bengaluru has played in your music career?

I have lived in Bengaluru since I was eight years old and completed all of my education here. Bengaluru has always had a thriving music culture not just in terms of listeners but also live performances. It was when I was in college that I started performing live as a part of our band ‘Angel Dust’ and it was a huge learning experience for me. The city also has an extremely vibrant and rich Indian classical music heritage and I still frequently collaborate with some extremely talented artistes from Bengaluru on all of my albums and concert performances.

Tell us about your experience working as an environmentalist.

I only make music from the heart and the music that I create is an extension of my personality and beliefs. All my songs are about protecting our environment, peaceful coexistence and to raise awareness
about various social issues around the world such as the refugee crisis, land degradation, war, and conservation. I work very closely with several global not-for-profit organisations and serve as an ambassador for United Nations Refugees, UNICEF, UNCCD, UNESCO-MGIEP, and Earth Day Network. I am excited to continue to collaborate with these amazing entities and to work hard by putting my creativity to make this world a better place for everyone through my music.

Which is that one artiste or band you look forward to collaborating with?

I am a huge fan of collaborations and have had the amazing opportunity to collaborate with some of my musical heroes from around the world such as Stewart Copeland, Peter Gabriel, Senegalese legend Baaba Maal, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Philip Lawrence (Bruno Mars) etc. I strongly believe in working with people who I personally feel are more talented than me as that drives me to push myself. I have always been a huge fan of Hans Zimmer and Pharell Williams and would love to collaborate with them someday.

Music in India has gone through a lot of transitions. What trends are you witnessing in music in India?

The independent music scene is steadily gaining popularity in India but the Indian film industry still holds a vice-like grip over the music industry and that is worrying. This is the reason why I decided to base my career abroad, although my music is primarily Indian and also the reason why I decided to never be a part of the film industry. There is a lot more opportunity now for upcoming independent Indian musicians with access to social media, technology, and marketing. There is still a long way to go and I urge upcoming Indian musicians to stay true to themselves and keep working hard without worrying about seeking validation from the film industry. Hard work can compensate for any lack of talent that one might have. I do hope that Indian record labels actively seek and recognise local talent to support their careers.

You have worked with many artistes. What are some of the learnings you received from them?

It is always a huge learning experience for me to work with artistes from around the world. It helps me learn new skills, explore new sounds, keep up to date on technology and also to learn about their unique cultures. I love incorporating these soundscapes in my music. Over the years, I have collaborated with Native American Flute players, Tibetan Monks, Gaelic, Hebrew and South African Choirs, musicians from Turkey, Senegal, Azerbaijan, Koto players from Japan, Maori musicians and so much more. It is
an extremely fulfilling experience to bring all these different cultures, traditions, and people together through the universal language of music for the sole purpose of environmental consciousness.

Can you tell us about your upcoming projects?

I do have several exciting projects in the pipeline as well as many live concert performances lined up, starting with the G-20 Summit in Bengaluru. I am also collaborating with Stewart Copeland again on a massive new project and I am really excited to start work on that.

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