Hyderabad : The three-time Grammy Award-winning Indian music composer and environmentalist Ricky Kej says every species of animal, no matter how insignificant, is an important part of the ecosystem. “It is this fine balance of the ecosystem that keeps all of us alive as human beings. It is essential for us to protect, preserve, and sustain our natural world, so we ourselves can survive as human beings,” says Kej, 41, who grew up surrounded by forests in America.
He was recently at the GITAM (Deemed to be University) Visakhapatnam campus as part of a changemakers session moderated by Smita Sharma, visiting faculty, Kautilya School of Public Policy. The Changemakers series by GITAM (Deemed to be University) aims to bring dynamic insights from national and global leaders.
Kej’s identity as a musician and environmentalist has always defined him. “I have tried not to be very preachy when it comes to being environmentally conscious, as it makes you a villain in the whole process.”
Speaking about his own carbon footprint, he said, “I do not subscribe to fast fashion as it is the most polluting industry on our planet. Secondly, I’m a vegetarian; I do understand that there is cultural and health significance to meat, but the meat industry is a very polluting industry, and one needs to figure out what to do when it comes to meat. I do not own a car and use public transport, and lastly, to quantify these efforts, I get my carbon footprint audited by a firm in Bangalore every quarter, and then I communicate with the firm about how I can further bring it down.”
Kej said, “My life was built around music, and my parents knew I was going to become a professional musician!”. ‘But..’, he went on to add with a smile, “ultimately, my parents are Indian parents, so they wanted me to complete a degree. We reached a compromise that I do a degree in dental surgery and then they don’t question me for the rest of my life. My music career had already started during my five years of dental college.”
Speaking about the pull of music, he said the most important thing when it comes to music is eliciting an emotional response from the audience, whether it is ChatGPT, artificial intelligence, or humans doing it. “The cause of music should be served, and at the end of the day, music should be excellent, whether it is through technology or human intervention,” he said.
Kej believes that Indian classical music legends such as Ustad Zakir Hussain, Pt. Ravi Shankar, Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, and Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt are the actual flag-bearers of Indian culture and tradition on the global stage. “Film music is western pop music with Indian lyrics. Actual Indian traditional music is made by classical and folk musicians. Why are people making songs that are not their personalities at all? Music makers in India should make music according to their beliefs, philosophies, and what they want to communicate to their audience rather than singing and writing what is not them,” said Kej, who describes his music as “non-mainstream and non-Bollywood music” and purely based on his own sensibilities.
Kej has performed in over 30 countries, including the United Nations headquarters in New York and Geneva, and won the Grammy for his album “Divine Tides” in 2022. In December 2022, Kej was also announced as a goodwill ambassador for the UNHCR.