A passionate environmentalist and talented music composer, Ricky Kej is the toast of India at the moment. Early in April, he made the country proud, once again, by winning his second Grammy, along with legendary American composer Stewart Copeland, for their album Divine Tides, in the Best New Age Album category.
It was in the same bucket that Bengaluru- based Kej won his first Grammy for Winds of Samsara back in 2015. And over the course of his illustrious career, the US-born musician has performed in over 30 countries and also composed music for three Kannada feature films.
Today, though he’s still processing his hard- earned victory, Kej has his feet firmly planted on the ground. HELLO! catches up with the musician for a quick heart-to-heart, amid a flurry of congratulatory calls and messages.
HELLO: Congratulations on winning your second Grammy. How euphoric are you now?
Ricky Kej: Thank you very much! It feels good to be acknowledged and validated for the choices I’ve made in my life. It’s an absolute honour to win a second Grammy, and I’m extremely proud that Indian music has been recognised globally.
H: What inspired Divine Tides? Does it have an underlying message?
RK: The album is a tribute to the magnificence of our natural world and the resilience of our species. This album contains nine songs and eight music videos that were filmed around the world, from the exquisite beauty of the Himalayas to the icy forests of Spain. I believe that it’s truly positive music that can transform our planet by evoking a powerful, emotional response in its listeners.
H: Can you tell us what went into creating this album with your childhood idol, Stewart Copeland?
RK: I had been working on a follow-up to ‘Winds of Samsara’ and had catalogued some of my favourite ideas. Recordings were delayed because of my relentless touring schedule, but when the pandemic hit, I could kick-start this project again. I reached out to Stewart Copeland and was thrilled when he agreed to making this album with me. We recorded our portions in our individual studios, and it all came together superbly. Despite the pandemic, we were thrilled to have created an album that celebrates life and will create a wave of much-needed positivity in our audiences.
H: How do you feel when you look back at the moment you won your first Grammy?
RK: I remember that moment like it was yesterday. However, 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. Using awards for the greater good is what matters to me. The Grammys definitely enabled me to take this further.
H: How was your 2016 collaboration with Copeland different from this experience?
RK: In 2016, I was privileged to collaborate on a song with him for a benefit album I produced. This time, I mustered up the courage to ask him to collaborate with me on a complete album. Stewart also regularly composes for operas and orchestras and has over 50 Hollywood movies to his name. Despite reaching the pinnacle of success, he’s constantly evolving and learning by exploring new sounds, traditional instruments and rhythms. He’s a living legend and also an extremely humble human being, filled with knowledge, wisdom and positive energy. His infectious personality and artistry really shone through and made this collaboration one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. Working with him was like attending the best masterclass imaginable.
H: Seven years ago, you had tweeted that our prime minister had set you on a path of environmental consciousness. Could you elaborate?
RK: After I won the Grammy in 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited me for a meeting, which turned into an hour-long philosophical discussion. He knew I was a conservationist and inspired me to dedicate my life and my music to the cause. This was the push I needed. Since then, all of my music has been about the environment and raising awareness on climate change.
H: Have you always been this socially conscious?
RK: Besides being a musician, I’ve always been a strong conservationist and environmentalist. I do all I can to create awareness about the environment and positive social impact through my music. We only protect what we love, and that’s what I hope to achieve by showcasing the magnificence of our natural world through my music.
H: You have a repertoire of 16 albums, 3,500 commercials and four feature films. How do you find the time to experiment with multiple mediums?
RK: The music that I create comes straight from my heart, and I love what I do. I’ve always believed that hard work can make up for any lack of talent that one might have, and I’m an extremely hard worker. I only work on projects that I feel a strong emotional attachment to, and when I do that, passion follows automatically.
H: After two Grammys, where does the road lead for you?
RK: Being an independent musician, the moment I finish a project, I immediately think about what I want to do next. When that happens, I stop promoting the previous album and jump into the next one. This time, I’m going to concentrate wholly on continuing to promote ‘Divine Tides’ before I put my creative energies into something new.