Mainstream artists have the power to make a massive difference, says Ricky Kej on new album ‘EK’

Updated: Aug 3, 2020

Grammy Award-winning environmentalist and musician Ricky Kej who is known for creating awareness about nature and environment through his music, has come up with his new live album, ‘EK’ that has some melodious songs. Bringing together some famous singers like Salim Merchant, Kailash Kher, Benny Dayal Neeti Mohan, Anushka Manchanda, etc., the album aims to open a dialogue on environmental sustainability and make people fall in love with nature and its elements.

“Mainstream artists have the power to make a massive difference and my album EK will bring the topic of environmental sustainability to the forefront,” the environment lover musician says.

In an exclusive interview with Music Beat, Ricky Kej, who has dedicated his life and music to promote the environment, talks about his new album EK and its musical essence, collaboration with some music biggies, nature, coronavirus, and more!

Can you give a brief about your music album ‘EK’ for which you have collaborated with renowned names from the music industry? I have always been a staunch environmentalist along with being a musician. It was through music that I fell in love with our natural world and I have always found a deep connection between music and nature. Winning the Grammy Award in 2015 really pushed and inspired me to dedicate my life and my music to the sole cause of Environmental Consciousness. Since then all of my music has been about the environment and raising awareness on climate change. So I was truly honored to collaborate with these amazing singers and musicians, who I have admired throughout my career. They have not only lifted up my compositions but have given life, meaning and tremendous reach to these songs and its important message

There are 12 songs in the album and the name gives an essence of nature. How different is each song from the other? I do all I can to create awareness about the environment and positive social impact through my music. In this album, each song is musically different from the other but all of the songs are about different aspects of our natural world and therefore just like nature, all of the songs are interconnected. Through this album, I want all of us to fall in love with our natural world all over again. I have always believed that only when people start acknowledging an issue and start a dialogue to solve it, a solution will come. My aim is to inspire this dialogue through my music.

Various artists like Salim Merchant, Neeti Mohan, Benny Dayal, Kailash Kher, Udit and Aditya Narayan, Anushka Manchanda and others have joined you on this unique album. How was the experience of working with them? I am a huge fan of all of these fantastic artists and I was thrilled to have an opportunity to work with all of them. The experience was definitely not what we are used to, all of us recorded our portions in our own homes and everything was done virtually because of the lockdown. However, the album has turned out much more beautifully, than I could ever imagine, and I enjoyed this experience thoroughly. I have always believed that mainstream artists have the power to make a massive difference through their reach and this album will bring the topic of environmental sustainability to the forefront.

How can we as responsible citizens contribute to our environment in current lockdown times? Any advice you want to give? Pandemics such as these arise when we do not live in harmony with our environment. Although we feel that pollution levels have gone down, the air is cleaner, etc since the lockdown began, this has come at the cost of immense suffering and loss throughout the world. We should not forget the lessons we have learnt from this and we should not have to wait for another pandemic to realise that all species are interconnected and we have to take care of our environment in order for it to take care of us. Sustainable living and sustainable development is the key to our own survival as a species.

How challenging was to have these so many artists come on board for the album? Were there creative differences? There are always challenges and each challenge is a learning experience... but there were never any creative differences! Throughout my career, I have always collaborated with musicians from around the world. I rely heavily on technology to do this. In my album Shanti Samsara, I collaborated with over 500 musicians from 40 countries. I collaborated with Native American Flute Players, a Gaelic Choir, Hebrew Choir, South African Choir, Korean, Turkish, Senegalese Singers, Azerbaijani musicians, Koto player from Japan, Maori musicians etc. A lot of this was done virtually and for this album, I dwelt on those experiences to iron out any technical glitches that we might face. All of these artists are extremely talented and I was very fortunate and humbled to work with such amazing people. I did not have to worry too much about the performances, because they were excellent, and exceeded my expectations. The artists had their suggestions, and I love it when that happens. It shows that everyone involved really cares about the project and eventually, it ends up raising the quality of music and I learn a lot in the process. The EK album celebrates nature and different emotions towards it. As singers, how challenging it is for you guys to portray these emotions through singing?

All of the vocalists on this album are at the top of their game and legends like Shankar Mahadevan, Udit Narayan, Kailash Kher etc have been in the industry for decades. Although all of these songs are about the environment, every single one of the vocalists on this album have brought their unique artistry and their emotions to powerfully convey what our planet means to us. It comes across beautifully in all of these songs. I actually did not have to do any guiding with this respect. Each of these artists care deeply about the environment and their fellow human beings. They were filled with talent and soul to convey these messages through their voice. Are these songs of different genres? Can you tell us more? Although my music is global, it is strongly rooted in India. I am a huge fan of various Indian art forms and I have always been inspired by ancient Sanskrit phrases and traditional Indian music. This album also has global contributions from artists I have always admired such as Baaba Maal from Senegal, The Mzansi Youth Choir from South Africa, Grammy® Winner Wouter Kellerman etc The album release is apt as the ongoing corona pandemic has brought life to a standstill. What message do you want to give everyone?

This pandemic has clearly shown us how fragile we are as a species and how interdependent we are. It has shown us beyond any doubt, that if we are faced with an imminent threat, we humans are capable of massive behavioural change, and that our leaders are capable of making strong decisions. We have to utilise this time to reflect on our relationship with our natural environment and put sustainability at the forefront of everything that we do. There are several factors that contribute to each major environmental issue and they are all interlinked. What we need is a change in consciousness and behaviour. We need to consume less, of everything. We have to vote for leaders who are environmentally conscious and we have to support businesses that are environmentally responsible. Conscious actions such as these will have a ripple effect and will contribute greatly to the well being of our planet As someone who has been an environmentalist and dedicated his music and concerts to creating awareness about the environment, would you call the current corona situation - nature’s way to give back? Everything in our natural world has a balance and when we upset this order, there will be consequences. As humans, we tend to forget that we are not the only species on our planet and that we rely on so many other species for our survival no matter where we live. We have to make better decisions in our everyday lives and consciously make an effort to leave less of a harmful imprint on our environment. This is the time to reconnect with loved ones, to re-establish our relationship with the natural world, reflect on our priorities, and to learn from this experience. I am positive that we will ride out the storm and we can achieve absolutely anything that we set our minds to if we decide to work collectively and efficiently as a species. Is there a dedicated audience for songs and concerts that create awareness about nature and our environment? There will only be a dedicated audience when more mainstream artists align themselves with causes close to their hearts and use their talents to create awareness by making impactful music/films etc. We need this now more than ever. Music has always played a role in capturing emotions by being used to convey a larger message. This is the reason music has always been used in political activism, grassroots movements, and several other areas to create awareness and to stir action. The pandemic has thrown the entire world into chaos and during these times, music can provide hope and comfort. This is the purpose of my new album and I am positive it will inspire many to make a difference within their own lives.

What other projects are you working on apart from this album?

I have been continuously working on several projects. My last three online concerts in April and June 2020 were watched by an estimated 150 million viewers from around the world and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. I also released a remix of the original theme that I composed for India’s first blue-chip natural history film, Wild Karnataka’ featuring Sir David Attenborough. I recently released a music video for the ‘Make A Mark’ project along with decorated Olympians, Niccolo Campriani and Abhinav Bindra. I am currently working on a project with the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) to help refugee artists from around the world to fulfil their dreams of becoming professional musicians.

Lastly, any message you want to give people to create awareness about coronavirus and it’s prevention? The guidelines are clear and I urge everyone to abide by it. Please listen to the experts, wear a mask whenever applicable and follow physical distancing. We all have to work together to overcome this. Also, this pandemic has shown us the disastrous effects of not living in harmony with nature. We need to change our ways, respect and revere nature, and learn how to consume less of everything in our lives.

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