Art & Entertainment

Ricky Kej: Being An Indian, Making Niche Music, Winning Grammy Was An Unattainable Dream

Two-time Grammy-winning artist Ricky Kej speaks up about how winning the prestigious music award was always a dream, but never something that was attainable. Now, however, he has won two.

Ricky Kej

Music Composer Ricky Kej won his second Grammy earlier this week. The news went viral all over social media, and people from all corners of the world have been sending him congratulatory messages and phone calls. Amidst that, in an interview with PTI, Kej says he hardly had the time to process his once ‘unattainable dream’ of winning a Grammy award and it has become a reality for the second time.

The Bengaluru based musician bagged the Grammy in the best new album category for 'Divine Tides' on Sunday in Las Vegas. What made the win extra special was that he shared it with rock legend Stewart Copeland—the drummer of the iconic band The Police. Copeland collaborated with Kej on the album and happens to be a childhood idol for the composer.

In an interview with PTI over Zoom call from Las Vegas, Kej said his last 24 hours have been a flurry of media interactions, red carpet events and basking in the ‘surreal’ glory of winning the ‘biggest musical accolade that one can ever imagine’.

"I won my first Grammy at the age of 33, I am 40 now. The Grammys always felt like an unattainable dream, I wouldn't even think about it. It felt like it was not possible, me being a person from India, living in India, making niche music in the country. I didn't even give it a second thought, because it was just impossible. Then, when I won, I thought what is my goal now? I never had any long term plans. Today, when I have won my second, it feels surreal, it is yet to sink in," said Kej.

Kej, who was born in North Carolina in the US and moved to Bengaluru at the age of eight, took to music at a young age. While he was always fascinated with music, studying in Bengaluru's Bishop Cotton Boys School furthered his drive when he watched his friends play the guitar. Kej enrolled in a college to study dentistry and simultaneously took formal education in western classical and Indian classical music.

"My parents were furious that I wanted to be a musician, I made a deal with them that I would finish my degree in dental surgery, and they wouldn't question my life choices. I finished the five year degree and decided to not practise it for a single day," he said.

Reflecting on his journey, Kej said winning his second Grammy trophy ‘feels different’ because he has not only ‘matured’ as a musician but also got to work with Copeland, his ‘childhood idol’. "It has been the greatest musical experience of my life. He has shaped my music with his work. To then stand with him on the same stage, collect our Grammys, there are no words to describe what I felt," he added.

Kej was keen to do a follow up to his 2015 Grammy winning album ‘Winds Of Samsara’ but never found the time because of his ‘relentless touring schedules’. In 2019 alone, he did over 70 concerts in 13 countries. When the pandemic hit in 2020, Kej had the opportunity to focus on recording, and thus 'Divine Tides' was born. The album contains nine songs. The album took about a year, with Copeland and Kej sending files to each other virtually and doing multiple Zoom, Skype and WhatsApp calls.

Kej even changed his sleep cycle so that he could be in sync with the 69-year-old legend. The duo finally met a week before the Grammys. The musician was joined on the call by Naveen Manoharan, Digital Head, Lahari Music, the executive producers of the album.

Manoharan said the big win has ‘overwhelmed’ the team which was confident at the inception stage itself that the album would make a huge splash. "Ricky and Stewart sir worked extremely hard on the album. Ours was, in that sense, a minuscule part. Ricky sir is like a family, as soon as he told us the idea, we immediately said yes. It got us extremely excited. We are genuinely thrilled, humbled by the win," he added.

For Kej, his music is ‘all about environmental consciousness’ and his latest album only furthers his urgency to compose songs about the world. "That's the only kind of music that I make, which is a reason I don't do mainstream Bollywood music or pop. Every single piece of music has to be an extension of my beliefs, ideology, things I want to communicate," said Kej.

Kej said his mission is to raise awareness about the environment and try to bring about behavioural change through his music. "You can make a thousand speeches, showcase a ton of scientific data, but what's needed is to speak to people emotionally. That can only happen through art.... My music isn't mainstream but it has a niche, quality audience...I know I haven't reached out to all the audiences that would appreciate my music, but the struggle is to reach out to those newer audiences with every new work of mine. The Grammys is the greatest platform one can imagine, so it will definitely enable people to discover my music," he added.

[With Inputs From PTI]