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‘Independent, folk, classical artistes in India deserve the spotlight’: Ricky Kej

Two-time Grammy awardee Ricky Kej talks about his third time nomination, his inspiration, and why climate change advocacy at the global level matters

ricky kejThe independent music scene in India is extremely vibrant and promising, says Ricky Kej (Source: PR Handout)

Indian music composer and two-time Grammy winner Ricky Kej feels “surreal” ever since he has been nominated for the third time for the Grammy Awards 2023 for his most recent album Divine Tides with Stewart Copeland (The Police). The artiste’s work has been nominated for ‘Best Immersive Audio album‘ at the 65th Annual Grammy Awards.

The 41-year-old who has collaborated with some of his all-time favourite musicians like Patti Austin, Tina Guo, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra feels it is a “fulfilling experience to bring all these different cultures, traditions and people together through the universal language of music”.

Kej, who has lived in Bengaluru ever since he was eight, recalls that even as a child, his “ears have always been more important than my eyes”. “While most of my classmates in school were fascinated by television and cartoons, I was hooked on my music system. I would dissect songs I heard to try and figure out the instruments used, and the musicians playing those instruments, and I would learn about different cultures and people through music. I was also passionate about the environment. It was through my music that I fell in love with our natural world and I have always found a deep connection between music and nature. We had a baby grand piano at home and a guitar. So I started off by trying to make music on those instruments,” Kej told indianexpress.com.

In an exclusive interaction with this outlet, the artiste, who “always tries to collaborate with local artistes and musicians, speaks about his nomination, the creative process behind making music, and how he intends to raise awareness on climate change through global recognitionExcerpts:

How do you feel about being nominated for the third time for Grammys 2023?

The third nomination was a pleasant surprise and it feels surreal. Our album ‘Divine Tides’ was conceptualised as an immersive experience from the ground up with industry legends Herbert Waltl and Eric Schilling. They really have created magic with immersive technology and we are all thrilled to be recognised for these efforts.

How would you describe your process of creating music?

I create music from the heart and although I consider my music to be global, it always has strong Indian roots. I love creating diverse soundscapes and utilising modern and traditional native instruments from around the world. Music truly has no boundaries and this helps inspire me immensely when I work on a project.

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The pandemic affected the music industry in a huge way; how was your personal experience?

The lockdown hit the music industry and all the artistes very hard. The music industry is extremely dynamic and different professionals in the industry rely on each other. Performing artistes, production companies, event management companies, sound engineers, recording studios and everyone else involved were stuck in limbo during the pandemic with all live events completely stalled. It was all about adapting to the times and finding the right way to disseminate my music. The pandemic presented an opportunity for me to spend a lot more time in my studio again to record my album ‘Divine Tides’ with Stewart Copeland and I eventually won my second Grammy® for it earlier this year.

Your take on global recognition and climate change.

In order to make a tangible difference in the world through my music and address global issues like climate change, I cannot rest on my laurels. I consider every award to be a recognition and a platform. I am grateful, and never take awards for granted. If awards are used just for vanity, it’s pointless. Using awards for the greater good is what matters to me. My aim is and has always been to do all I can, in every way I can, to make this world a better place, for everyone and everything.. and winning the Grammy award twice already has definitely enabled me to take this further.

Music has always played a role in capturing emotions and by being used to convey a larger message. This is the reason music has always been used in political activism, grassroots movements, and several other areas to create awareness and to stir action. The music that I make is an extension of my beliefs and my personality. I have always believed that only when people start acknowledging an issue and start a dialogue to solve it, a solution will come. My aim is to inspire this dialogue through my music.

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Some of the issues that you are raising awareness as an ambassador for the UNESCO MGIEP, UNICEF, among others?

It is extremely difficult to compartmentalise and rank issues pertaining to our environment based on urgency as there are several factors that contribute to each major issue. Our carbon emissions have to be contained and eventually lowered in order to counter global warming. To do this, we have to move away from fossil fuels, from intensive farming techniques of both crops and animals, stop rapid deforestation etc. Fossil fuels also affect the air and millions of people around the world perish from air pollution-related diseases. Intensive farming techniques of crops greatly reduce biodiversity due to monoculture whereas intensive farming techniques of animals use highly unethical and inhumane practises for greater yield. Rapid deforestation and habitat loss is a major driving force when it comes to species extinction. Not to forget – plastics and its effects, freshwater pollution, ocean acidification and its threat to marine life. Therefore, all of this is interlinked. As consumers, we have to make concrete changes within our own lives to address these issues. We have to change our demands to disrupt the supply chain. What we need is a change in consciousness and behaviour. We need to consume less of everything. We have to vote for leaders who are environmentally conscious and we have to support businesses that are environmentally responsible.

How do you see the rise of independent, global music?

The independent music scene in India is extremely vibrant and promising. Unfortunately, the movie industry still holds a vice-like grip on the entire music industry and a lot of independent artists who are extremely talented seek validation from the film industry, or just give up. There are several independent artistes that I am a huge fan of and record labels in India have to step up and actively seek and promote talent. There is so much more to Indian music than film music and independent/folk/classical artistes in India deserve the spotlight.

What kind of legacy do you aspire to leave for others to emulate?

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I am living proof that we do not have to ape the west in order to get international recognition across cultural barriers through independent music. Children must be taught to make music from the heart and budding young musicians should be taught the importance and value of our rich musical heritage which is extremely unique and diverse. Only when Indian musicians start gaining recognition, more will follow and the standard of music education will automatically improve. I hope to inspire people to follow their dreams and to show people that anything is possible through hard work.

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First published on: 05-12-2022 at 12:30 IST
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