You might not have heard of Ricky Kej before Monday morning but you are sure to have heard his music in commercials. The 33-year-old musician has composed over 3,000 jingles for companies such as Sony, Pepsi, Google and for a few Kannada films as well. The Bangalore-based composer also has several lounge and ambient music albums to his name but it is his 14th studio album, Winds of Samsara, that has brought Kej to the global stage. A collaboration with South African flautist Wouter Kellerman, the album won the Grammy for Best New Age album at the 57th Grammy Awards held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. In an email interview before he travelled to attend the ceremony, Kej talks about why he makes ambient music and what the Grammy nomination means to him:
When and how did Winds of Samsara happen? What led you to collaborate with Wouter Kellerman?
Wouter and I met in Los Angeles some years ago. What started off as a simple collaboration to create a song for our respective fathers of the nation — Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi — grew into a whole album, of 14 songs, in two years. The music was honest, from the heart, and with no commercial aspirations.
You’re an American citizen but you consider yourself a Bangalore boy.
I was born in the US. My family moved to India when I was eight years old. I don’t have too many memories from my younger years in the States. I have always considered myself to be Indian, because I have lived here all my life, and whatever I am is because of Bangalore.
When did you decide to become a career musician?
I started playing the guitar and keyboards in middle school, at Bishop Cotton Boys’ School. In college, I was studying dentistry (at Oxford Dental College, Bangalore) but I decided that music was what I wanted to do for all my life. I began as a self-taught musician, but after a few years I felt the need for a formal education in music. I took classes in Hindustani classical music and Western classical piano.There was opposition from my family; no parent wants to see their child take up an uncertain profession. I had to struggle a lot to become independent and make music.
The story goes that you began composing jingles while you were in college and continue to do so.
As of today, I have composed over 3,000 jingles for clients across the globe such as Haywards, Kingfisher, McDonald’s, Google, Intel, IBM, Air India, Sony, and Pepsi, among others. Music is always fun to create, and the more challenging the project is, the more fun I have. I love working under pressure and I often deliver my best under pressure.
What draws you to the New Age genre?
Since I began composing, I have been working with New Age and World Music. I love fusing genres, sounds that give me an emotional high. These two genres give me the freedom to do that.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a couple of collaborations. I’m also gearing up for an un-announced Hollywood film soundtrack.