Ricky Kej has the enviable record of winning two Grammy Awards for the same album, ‘Divine Tides’, a collaboration with rock legend Stewart Copeland. And that makes him the only living Indian to have won three Grammy Awards.
His first Grammy came in 2015 for the album ‘Winds of Samsara’, which created a record as it became the first by an artist of Indian origin to debut at Number 1 on the US billboard New Age albums chart. In another first, its sequel, ‘Shanti Samsara’, was released jointly by the Indian PM and the French President at the UN Climate Change Conference in November 2015, something that has never happened before. He says his music only has one purpose: “To communicate the urgency of the need for conservation and sustainable living.”
This award solidifies my belief to continue making music that can inspire positive social impact. — Ricky Kej composer
Incredibly down to earth and focused, Ricky attributes the underlying message that permeates all his music, to PM Narendra Modi. Apparently, at a meeting, he told Kej that while there were many great musicians, what was it about his music that was so distinct? Kej took this to heart and realised that his overwhelming passion in life was to spread awareness about climate change, and as a musician, his tool was his music.
However, it was not always this way. As a teenager and even in his twenties, Ricky Kej had made music for over 3,000 jingles, proving to himself that he had the talent to pursue music as a career. Though like many Indians, he also got a degree in dentistry to please his parents. He, however, says, “I knew I would never be a dentist.”
Born in the US, but based in Bengaluru, Kej is a blend of East and West. His roots are strongly Indian, but his music has a contemporary universal vibe. Assimilating various influences (his mother is half-Punjabi and father Rajasthani; Kej is Kejriwal shortened), he has been able to create a sound that is uniquely his.
Unusual for a composer, he has collaborated with an enormous number of artistes from the East and West and his shows always feature different musicians — from Indian classical guitarist Vishwamohan Bhatt to American singer Lonnie Park. Even more impressive is the fact that his music has been sung by many top singers, including Shankar Mahadevan and Kaushiki Chakraborty. As he puts it, “The intent is to get someone who can serve the art and who I am compatible with.”
The Grammy-winning album ‘Divine Tides’, too, features artistes from all over the world. Soundscapes and melodies meet pulsating rhythms amidst lush ambient textures. Its diverse musical canvas showcases a world where we can adapt to change, just like the moving tides — a world in which all life can live sustainably and in harmony. This critically-acclaimed album contains nine songs and eight music videos that were filmed around the world — from the exquisite beauty of the Indian Himalayas to the icy forests of Spain. ‘Divine Tides’ has already won several awards at various festivals across the globe, including a Grammy for ‘Best New Age Album’ last year. The immersive (surround-sound) version was released later and was nominated for ‘Best Immersive Audio Album’ this year, which it eventually won.
The composer is fiercely patriotic too. “I have always been a proud Indian,” says Kej, who feels the Grammy has brought him the kind of recognition that helps him push his agenda forward. He shares how performing for the Indian armed forces is one of the highlights of his performing career. He always says he loves to perform for them. “It’s not just about entertaining them, it’s to spread my message about protection of species, nurturing our landscape and not polluting it. Our soldiers man the remotest areas, so, reaching out to them is important,” he said in an earlier interview.
He recalls how he was invited to create music for a production involving over 500 dancers at the 74th Republic Day parade in Delhi in 2022. Collaborating with percussionist Bickram Ghosh, whom he had never met before, Kej recalls the excitement at creating that piece. As Ghosh was based in Kolkata and Kej in Bengaluru, the two had very little interaction prior to the show.
A strict vegetarian himself, Kej is passionate about animals too and adores his dog, Hutchie. His instrumental version of the National Anthem features only animals and birds, who are, in his words, “the real stars”. He made music for the natural history documentary ‘Wild Karnataka’, narrated by Sir David Attenborough. As he puts it, “I only make music based on my own thoughts and philosophies and things I feel strongly about. So, if a project is in alignment with that, I am happy to give my everything to it.”
Ask about his Grammy Award, and Kej says: “This award solidifies my belief to continue making music that can inspire positive social impact.”
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