Now To Next With Grammy Award Winning Artist Ricky Kej
American born, internationally renowned Indian music composer and environmentalist, Ricky Kej (pronounced Cage) is a living example of the kind of joy and success that can only come from pursuing one’s passion and living from the heart. His multitude of awards recognize both his talent and passion for the environment and for making the world a better place through music.
He is a Grammy® Award Winner, U.S. Billboard #1 artist, and GQ Hero 2020. Ricky has performed at venues in over 30 countries, including the UN Headquarters in New York and Geneva. He has won more than 100 music awards in 20 countries. His vast repertoire of work includes 16 studio albums released internationally, over 3500 commercials and four feature films, including the natural history documentary ‘Wild Karnataka’ narrated by Sir David Attenborough. His most recent album, Divine Tides, is a collaboration with many musicians and artists including Stewart Copeland, drummer with the Police.
Ricky joined me on my Now to Next podcast to share his journey that began in rural North Carolina then took him as an 8-year-old back to his parents’ home in India. I thought it would be interesting to discover if Ricky experienced being perceived as “different” both in America and in India, so I jumped right in and asked him how it came about that his parents were in America and how he became a musician.
Born In The U.S.A., At Home In India
Ricky’s father is a doctor and came to rural North Carolina to practice medicine. He was welcomed in the small town and was able to grow a popular medical practice in the community. Since Ricky was born in the town that already knew his parents, he explained to me that he too was embraced and had no problems with being perceived as different. When they moved back to India, Ricky was very young and had to study hard because in India children learn two or three languages, which he did not have to do in the States, so he was busy. He never felt bullied or picked on because he was the Indian kid who really wasn’t Indian. With that question resolved, I moved on to his music career.
“I Knew I Wanted To Compose And Make Music For The Rest Of My Life”
Ricky knew at a young age that he had a talent and love for music. He told me that in high school, children in India are required to pick the subject they want to spend the rest of their lives doing. When it came time for him to decide, Ricky said he knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life composing and making music. He also told me, “I have Indian parents. They wanted me to have a real profession.” Ricky understood that his parents were coming from a place of fear. He told me, “They were afraid I would starve to death. They were afraid of what they would tell our relatives!” Like most parents, Ricky’s did not consider “music” to be a career. As a brilliant and fearless compromise, Ricky promised his dad that he would go to dental school, get his certificate, but he would never practice dentistry “not even one day.” And, true to his word, that’s what Ricky did.
By the time Ricky earned his dental certificate, he was already a successful musician. He had been doing commercials for radio and TV throughout his university years. Once he was free to pursue music full time, Ricky really dove in. Everyday found him working in several different time zones writing jingles for agencies around the world. Working with writers in Canada, New York, L.A. and Europe, Ricky created music for more than 3,500 commercials. Before too long though, Ricky told me, his desire to write music for causes close to his heart became overwhelmingly strong. As a passionate environmentalist, he wanted to create music that would contribute to making the world a better place.
Next: Projects Promoting Peace, Tolerance And Love
Ricky finally decided he would no longer write commercial music. Although, he does credit his experience in the commercial world with making him a better musician as it enabled him to work multiple music genres. But his heart was calling him down an alternative path. He wanted to express his love of and concern for preserving the environment.
Ricky met Wouter Kellerman, a South African flautist in L.A. The two bonded over their mutual admiration for Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela both of whom had admiration for each other. Ricky thought that bond could serve as the foundation for a collaboration. He didn’t know it would result in winning his first Grammy. It took two years to complete the Winds of Samsara album featuring 50 instruments and 120 instrumentalists. The focus for Ricky was to produce a work that would promote “peace, tolerance and love.” The fact that it happened to produce a Grammy too, was an added bonus that Ricky hadn’t anticipated.
Serving The Greater Good
If there’s one message Ricky radiates, it is his love to serve the greater good through his music. I was profoundly moved when Ricky told me he collaborated with refugees who were musicians who had been thrown out of their countries because of their artistic sensibilities and music. He worked with 25 refugees, all of whom he thought would want to create something that would elaborate their difficult plights. But au contraire, Ricky said, each of them wanted the project to “give hope to everyone and shine a bright light.” They each said, “If we can survive this, then we can survive anything!”
Divine Tides In Collaboration With Stewart Copeland
Ricky’s latest album was also nominated for a Grammy. He created Divine Tides in collaboration with the great drummer Stewart Copeland. Ricky explains how he collaborated with Stewart on a song back in 2016. He related how he had no reason to be in touch with Stewart personally because Stewart’s tracks were perfect. However, it created a strong desire in Ricky to want to work with Stewart on a new project. He finally mustered up the courage to contact Stewart. “This was a project,” Ricky explained, “that Stewart could use his collection of ethnic musical instruments he’s collected from around the world. Stewart played China bells, timpani, crotales and other instruments in addition to drums.” This culmination of celebrating the beauty of the earth through music is truly a testament to Ricky’s environmental passion and desire to serve the greater good through his music.
To catch the full interview I had with Ricky, you can listen to it on your favorite podcast listening platform. And of course, you can always reach out to me directly with any questions you might have!