Monday, September 3, 2018

The musician with a heart

Ricky Kej is a Grammy Award Winning Composer, a Billboard #1 Artist (USA), a United Nations "Global Humanitarian Artist" and an Adjunct Professor NIAS (at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore). His work involves bringing music to tell important stories around the environment and working to create a better future. Here is his story.

The beginning
Ever since I remember, I have been a musician. My 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 to my music system. I would pull apart songs, try and figure out the instruments used, who played those instruments? I would learn about different cultures and people through music.
It was through my music that I fell in love with our natural world. I found a deep connection within music and nature, I also realized that I loved hanging around with animals and within nature than I did with humans.. and I would see personality in every single animal I saw.. including insects and reptiles.. and at that young age, I was definitely a weird child!

Through high school I was very serious about music, and in India, it is during our 12th grade that we need to make a strong decision as to what we would like to do with the rest of our lives professionally. Whether a doctor, an engineer, accountant, Manager, business man, etc. I had made up my mind that I wanted to be a musician for the rest of my life. I wanted music to be my hobby, my passion, my profession, my bread and butter, my everything. I went to my father, a 3rd generation doctor, and told him the same.. and he thought I was absolutely crazy. "How can music be a profession!" I fought with my parents and after many days of fighting.. my father and I reached a compromise - I would have to finish off a degree in Dental Surgery, and once I finish off my degree, I could do whatever I wanted for the rest of my life. So I went to Dental college for 5 years, and at the end of 5 years I got myself a DDS degree. The day I got my degree I gave the certificate to my father, and I became a full-time musician. I did not practice Dentistry even for a single day. As they say, there was no looking back after that.

A foray into activism
I have always been a strong conservationist and environmentalist, along with being a musician. It was through my music that I fell in love with our natural world. I found a deep connection within music and nature, I also realized that I loved hanging around with animals and within nature than I did with humans.. and I would see personality in every single animal I saw including insects and reptiles. At that young age, I was definitely a weird child! 

After I won the Grammy Award, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, invited my wife and me for a private meeting to his office. With a population of 1.3 billion in India, I was incredibly honored by this invitation. The meeting turned out to be an hour long philosophical discussion. Prime Minister Modi knew I was a strong conservationist and inspired me to dedicate my life and my music to the sole cause of Environmental Consciousness. This was the push I needed, and ever since then all of my music has been about the Environment and raising awareness on Climate Change.

Milestones and challenges
My greatest experience has been performing at the United Nations General Assembly. I performed on the main stage, the same place where every world leader has stood, every major treaty has been signed. There was so much history in that room and it was quite an overwhelming experience. Another fantastic experience was performing at the Legislature building - The Vidhana Soudha in Karnataka. The temple of democracy in Bangalore. Recently I got the amazing opportunity to perform at the India Gate in New Delhi. I had performed there for the World Environment Day celebrations in India. Was a huge dream come true. Performing at these historic venues reflects a lot on my music and I am always grateful for these opportunities. Collaborations have always been great milestones in my career. I have had the opportunity to work with my heroes Peter Gabriel, Stewart Copeland (The Police), Patti Austin, Tina Guo, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and many others.

On the flip side, I have not faced too many challenges in my musical career, because I am doing what I love. Also, I create when I feel like and never have any deadlines. Having said that, the music scene in India does concern me. Because of the dominance of Bollywood in India, composers and singers are very rarely making music from the heart, based on their own philosophies and beliefs. In fact most talented composers in India are making music that they themselves do not listen to, and are often embarrassed by their own songs or music videos. Musicians who are seemingly for women's rights are making misogynistic item songs, featuring in videos that objectify women, writing overtly romantic songs when they themselves have never been in love. How can one create true art, when the only music that is being created is commissioned to them and not made from the heart. Musicians are not making music pro-actively, they are told what kind of music to make by a director or a producer. I am addressing this by only creating music that defines me as a person, and refusing to create anything else. 

My aspirations for my goal of creating change with music involve lots of concerts all over the world. Through concerts for large audiences, and intimate concerts to policy and change makers, I want to keep inspiring change through the emotional language of music. I am also putting together an education program for children, where I plan to bring about environmental consciousness in children through teaching them songs about nature. I also am hosting an awards program for musicians who create music for a positive purpose. 

If you connect with my work, then please share my message. If you would like to collaborate on a project, or feel a certain ecological or social issue needs to be amplified, then please reach out to me on