Ricky Kej

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Ricky Kej
Birth name Ricky Kej
Born (1981-08-05) 5 August 1981 (age 35)
North Carolina, US
Years active 2000–present
Website rickykej.com

Ricky Kej (born 5 August 1981) is an Indo-American composer, music producer and conservationist. He won the Grammy at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards for his album Winds of Samsara, a collaboration with South African flautist Wouter Kellerman. Kej and Kellerman were announced as nominees on December 5, 2014, in the Best New Age Album category.[1] The project, his 14th studio album, had made a debut at #1 on the US Billboard New Age Albums Chart earlier in the year in August 2014,[2][3] a first for a person of Indian origin.[4] The album also peaked at #1 on the Zone Music Reporter Top 100 Radio Airplay Chart in the month of July 2014.[5] His album Shanti Samsara - World Music for Environmental Consciousness was launched on November 30, 2015 at COP21, the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.[6] In the months since its launch, Kej has travelled widely speaking about conservation and the environment, visiting the Republic of Kiribati, where he interviewed three-term ex-president Anote Tong.[7]

Shanti Samsara has earned prizes from the Global Music Awards,[8] the International Acoustic Music Awards,[9] and is a finalist in the John Lennon Song Writing Contest.[10]

Kej has previously composed the soundtrack for four feature films in the Kannada language, and is credited with over 3,000 placements for Radio and Television Jingles.[11] He also composed the music for the 2011 Cricket World Cup opening ceremony, held at Dhakka on 17 February 2011.[12] On April 26, 2016, Kej travelled to Jaipur, India where he was named as goodwill ambassador for Save the Children's new global campaign, Every Last Child.[13] On July 18, 2016, Kej was awarded the Excellence and Leadership award as a global humanitarian artist at the first annual NOVUS Summit and performed excerpts from Shanti Samsara live in United Nations General Assembly Hall. Kej concluded his performance at the United Nations General Assembly by saying, "To end I want to state the obvious ... Climate change is real ... Climate change is human induced. Climate change is affecting us all ... and our actions affect countries on the other side of the world."[14][15]

Following his return to Indian, a gala live performance of Shanti Samsara was given at the Bangalore Palace on 23 July 2016, with many of the original artists performing.[16]

Early life & education[edit]

Ricky Kej was born on 5 August 1981 in North Carolina. A half Punjabi and Marwari by birth,[17] Kej moved to Bangalore, India when he was eight years old and has lived there since.[4] He completed his schooling at the Bishop Cotton Boys' School, Bangalore and subsequently, his Dentistry from the Oxford Dental College in Bangalore. He did not pursue a career in the field and opted for a career in music instead.[18]

While attending university he joined a progressive rock band which he says gave him a good foundation and exposure to music [17] In an early interview, Kej's mother, Pammi Kej, has opined that Kej's artistic genes were inherited from his grandfather Janaki Das, an actor, Olympic cyclist, and freedom fighter.[19] He does not look upon his degree in dentistry as an alternate career option, and notes that there are ups and downs in every occupation and there is no real need for a backup career.[18] Kej has revealed that his decision to follow a career in music was not an easy one for his parents to accept. He is an American citizen.[4]

Music career[edit]

Kej started off his career as the keyboardist of Bengaluru-based progressive rock band Angel Dust.[20] Two years into the band, Kej moved on to become a full-time composer and set up his own studio, Raveolution, in 2003. He eventually went on to create music for over 3,000 ad jingles and Kannada films. Though Kej's work is an amalgamation of multiple genres, he has maintained that the essence of his work retains the aesthetic of his Indian roots, largely based on Hindustani Classical and a bit of Carnatic also. He has cited Pakistani qawwal Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and British vocalist Peter Gabriel as an inspiration to constantly challenge and push his own musical boundaries. Kej is a self-taught musician but has studied classical music at around the age of 24, to overcome what he observed as a handicap at the time.[21]

Over the course of his career Kej went on to release 13 studio albums, most of which were physically released in the US but not in his home country of India. Kej has noted that this was on account of the poor music-buying culture in India and the dominant presence of the Hindi film music industry in the country.[20] During this period Kej composed the music for Kannada films such as Accident (2008), Venkata in Sankata (2009), and Crazy Kutumba (2010). In an interview Kej has stated that in the early stages of his career he found composing music for Kannada films frustrating but continued to do so as a sense of validation for his stature as a composer in India.[22] Kej has clarified that scoring the music for Ramesh Aravind's film Accident was not a chance encounter. On the contrary he had worked hard towards it and was offered a lot of freedom by Aravind during the process.[23] He has indicated that working with Aravind was a very enjoyable experience.[21]

Kej's 13th Studio Album, Shanti Orchestra was released on July 9, 2013.[24] The album peaked at #3 in November 2013 on the ZMR Top 100 Radio Airplay Chart,[25] and was ranked #37 on the ZMR Top 100 Airplay Chart for 2013.[26] The album was nominated for a 2013 ZMR Music Award [27] and the track "Forever" from the album was also nominated for a Hollywood Music in Media (HMMA) Award in the same year.[28]

Winds of Samsara,[29] his 14th studio album and a collaboration with South African flutist Wouter Kellerman was released on July 15, 2014 after being in production for 2 years.[20] Kej and Kellerman had built a bond over Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Kej has noted that given Mandela's admiration for Gandhi and Gandhi's years in South Africa, the duo believed it would make for an interesting cross cultural collaboration. The two pieces initially recorded evolved into several recordings and eventually the full album. The album featured about 50 instruments and 120 instrumentalists. The Samsara in the album nam has many meanings - the world around us, the world within us, family, ideals, etc. And Winds was specifically because of the album being a flute-based one.[22] The album made a debut at #1 on the US Billboard New Age Albums Chart in August 2014,[2][3] a first for a person of Indian origin[4] and stayed in the top 10 for 12 weeks straight. The album also peaked at #1 on the Zone Music Reporter Top 100 Radio Airplay Chart in the month of July 2014,[5] and was ranked #3 on the ZMR Top 100 Airplay Chart for 2014.[30] On December 5, 2014 Kej and Kellerman were announced as nominees for a Grammy award in Best New Age Album category.[1] One of the strongest contenders for the award was Grammy-winning Japanese artist Kitaro's Symphony Live In Istanbul, but the duo went on to eventually win the award on February 8, 2015.[31] Kej dedicated the award to non-film music composers in India.[32] The album has also been nominated for 3 awards at the upcoming 11th Annual ZMR Awards [33] and for 2 awards at the upcoming 6th Annual Hollywood Music in Media Awards.[34] Kej has been nominated separately for an award in Visual Media at the 6th Annual Hollywood Music in Media Awards.[35]

Kej produced a benefit album 2 Unite All with Peter Gabriel[36] ,[37] aimed at urgent humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in Gaza. The album also features Stewart Copeland, the drummer from the English rock band The Police, drummer Rick Allen of English rock band Def Leppard, American rock band System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian, and Grammy Award-winning opera singer Sasha Cooke.[20] Kej has also another collaboration planned with Kellerman with a slated released of 2017. Though there is no theme in mind yet, Kej has stated that new album will be a heavily orchestral project and much more ambitious than Winds of Samsara. [38]

On November 30, 2015, his album Shanti Samsara - World Music for Environmental Consciousness was launched at COP 21, the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.[6] The Prime Minister personally presented French President François Hollande with a copy of the CD. A video featuring music from the album was also played for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the gathering of world leaders.[39] The album was one of several projects discussed during a meeting Prime Minister Modi had with Kej following his Grammy win.[40] Kej found inspiration in Modi's concern for the environment and set out to specifically develop a project to express a message of environmental consciousness. When completed, more than 300 actors, artists and musicians from around the world had contributed to the making of the album's 14 tracks and four music videos, including Indian master musicians Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, famed Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan .[41] Grammy winners American singer-songwriter Gary Nicholson, Stewart Copeland, Patti Austin, Philip Lawrence (from Bruno Mars), regular collaborator Wouter Kellerman,The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Christopher Tin, Darlene Koldenhoven, Peter Yarrow, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the Soweto Gospel Choir, the Monks of Sherab Ling, Wouter Kellerman and Canadian vocalist Jennifer Gasoi in addition to the "Singing Nun of Nepal" Ani Choying Drolma, Chinese zither virtuoso Mei Han, Taiwanese erhu player Lan Tung, Azeri singer Ilhama Gasimova, artists and soloists from Vietnam, Korea and Senegal, as well as the voice talents of Frances Fisher, Rosanna Arquette, Lindsay Wagner and a special message spoken by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe.[42] On December 23, 2015, Ricky Kej was invited to perform a song from Shanti Samsara in a special arrangement featuring flautist Wouter Kellerman and over a hundred students from the Bishop Cotton Boys’ School in a special performance for India's President Pranab Mukherjee. Also in attendance were many state and national officials and an audience of nearly 13,000 people.[43] In 2016 "Samsara" from Shanti Samsara received the December 2015 Global Music Awards Gold Medal for World Music – India,[8] and the International Acoustic Music Awards for Best Open/Acoustic Open Genre[9] and on March 1, 2016, was named as a finalist in the 2015 in the World Music category of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest.

Kej has expressed an interest in working with Pharrell Williams and Hans Zimmer in the future.[32][44] He has noted Pharrell as being a very versatile artist which would make it very interesting to work with him, and also being able to infuse Indian elements into Hans Zimmer's movie compositions. He has also acknowledged a lack of interest in working with Indian film music scoring in the future, though he is open to the use of his existing music catalog in Bollywood movies,[32] and also composing for a Bollywood movie only if the script moves him emotionally.[38] He has also expressed a strong interest in working with Kannada filmmaker Girish Kasaravalli if the opportunity arises.[21][23] Kej also cites the dominance of Bollywood and Film music for the lack of Grammy winners in the country.[21]

Kej has been an advocate for stronger anti-piracy laws in India.[38] He has stated that there is very little done towards the protection of intellectual property right and with the rampant illegal download of music and films, there is a strong need to better project artists.[21] Kej enjoys the commercial nature of his work for advertising and jingles and does about 15 commercials in a month.[21]

Notable live performances[edit]

On April 26, 2015, Kej was joined by Wouter Keller for the first of two performances celebrating Freedom Day (South Africa) celebrations hosted by the South Africa High Commission. The first performance took place in Mumbai, India and was repeated the following day at the South African High Commission in New Delhi, India.[45]

Kej was a featured artist during the week-long celebrations as part of the 11th ZMR Annual Music Awards and Gala Celebration in New Orleans, LA, and performed as part of the ZMR Music Award Concert.[46]

Following the launch of Shanti Samsara at the COP21, the [[2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference]] in Paris, Kej was invited to give an exclusive performance for the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, on December 23, 2015 in Bangalore, India as part of the sesquicentennial celebrations of the historic Bishop Cotton Boys' School in Bangalore, India.[47]

On July 8, 2016, on the occasion of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's state visit to South Africa, Kej travelled to Johannesbuerg, SA, where he joined Wouter Kellerman to perform "Mahatma" from their Grammy Award-wining album Winds of Samsara for Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and other South African state leaders and dignitaries as part of a welcome concert for the Prime Minister's four-nation tour of Africa.[48] [49]

Following his performances in South Africa, Kej performed at United Nations General Assembly on July 17, 2016 as both a participant and honoree at the first annual Novus Summit.[15] Joining him at the venue were vocalist, performance artist, composer and humanitarian activist, Sussan Deyhim, composer and multi-instrumentalist, Premik Russell Tubbs and keyboardist,Lonnie Park.[14]

On 23 July 2016 Kej presented the gala Shanti Samsara LIVE at the Bangalore Palace. Participating in the concert were many of the original artists including Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and Rocky Dawuni.[50]

Other Work[edit]

In 2008 Kej received an advertising award at the One Show Awards, followed by a second advertising award at the Adfest Asia Awards in 2009.[51] He created the patriotic song in Kannada "Nee Badalaadare", based on the words of Mahatma Gandhi, ‘Be the change you want to see’ in 2009. This was followed by a second one titled "Jaya Hain Kannada Thaye" in 2010.[52] In the same year he was nominated for an award at the Cannes Film Festival for his jingle for Nike.[53] He has composed the music for the 2011 Cricket World Cup opening ceremony, held at Dhakka on 17 February 2011. He was dubbed an "India Rules Artist" by TV channel VH1 in 2013.[54] Kej has appeared as a guest judge on many singing reality shows in India, and is an activist for Music Education and Animal Rights. He is the Festival Curator for the International Harvest Film Festival at UB City and with a keen interest in art, he is known to curate works of younger artists and help them showcase their works at art galleries and exhibitions.[55] Kej is a trustee and founding member of the Majolly Music Trust. Their main objectives are to raise the standards of music education in India and to set up a pension fund for old and infirmed musicians who are no longer able to make a livelihood from musical performances and recordings.[56] He is also the first musical ambassador from India for Project Peace on Earth, a Los Angeles-based organization promoting what will be a worldwide telecast concert of superstar musicians, proceeds from which will be used to help children who are living in extreme poverty.[57]

Awards[edit]

Year Recipient Nominated work Award Result Ref.
2008 Ricky Kej Jingle - TreesforFree.org One Show – Advertising Won [51]
2009 Ricky Kej Jingle - Seventy mm Movie Rentals Adfest Asia Award – Advertising Won [51]
2010 Ricky Kej Jingle - Nike Cannes Award – Advertising Nominated [53]
2013 Ricky Kej Shanti Orchestra ZMR Music Award Nominated [27]
"Forever" from Shanti Orchestra Hollywood Music in Media (HMMA) Award for Best New Age/ Ambient Song Nominated [28]
2015 Ricky Kej / Wouter Kellerman Winds of Samsara Grammy Award for Best New Age Album Won [1]
ZMR Award for Album of the Year Won [33]
ZMR Award for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album Nominated [33]
ZMR Award for Best World Album Won [33]
South African Music Award for Best Producer of the Year Won [58]
"Mahatma" from Winds of Samsara Hollywood Music in Media (HMMA) Award for Best World Song Nominated [34]
"New Earth Calling" from Winds of Samsara Hollywood Music in Media (HMMA) Award for Best New Age/ Ambient Song Nominated [34]
Ricky Kej "Panasonic P81" (Panasonic P81) Hollywood Music in Media (HMMA) Award for Song/ Score - Commercial Advertisement Nominated [35]
2016 Ricky Kej "Samsara" from Shanti Samsara Global Music Awards World Music - India Won [8]
International Acoustic Music Awards for Best Open/Acoustic Open Genre Won [9]

Discography[edit]

Albums[edit]

  • Communicative Art (2004)
  • Kamasutra Lounge (2007)
  • Kamasutra Lounge 2 (2008)
  • Mesmerizing Flute (2011)
  • Urban Grooves South India (2011)
  • Fiery Drums Volume 1 (2011)
  • Mesmerizing Santoor (2012)
  • Punjabi in the Club (2012)
  • Bollywood in the Club (2012)
  • Kamasutra Lounge – The Deluxe Edition (2013)
  • Shanti Orchestra (2013)
  • Fiery Drums Volume 2 (2013)
  • Ballad of Maya (2013)
  • Winds of Samsara (2014)
  • Shanti Samsara - World Music for Environmental Consciousness (2015)

Kannada Film soundtracks[edit]

Featured compilations[edit]

  • Asha Waali Dhoop (2006)
  • Mumbai Spirit (2007)
  • Cafe Goa (2007)
  • Relaxation DAilleurs (2007)
  • Doosha Project (2008)
  • Hangzhou Lake (2008)
  • Indian Zen (2008)
  • Vox Del Taire (2009)
  • Chillout Bombay II (2010)
  • Chillout Lounge Classics (2010)
  • Dance the Golden Years (2010)
  • Bollywood Remixed (2010)
  • Masters of Fusion (2011)
  • Best of 2011–12 Fusion (2012)
  • Chillout Flute (2012)
  • Best of Fusion- Indian Spirit (2012)
  • Party Drums (2013)

References[edit]

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