Ricky Kej, an Indian music composer, enthralled audiences with his most recent performance of “Jana Gana Mana,” the country’s national song. The three-time Grammy winner discussed with WION in an exclusive interview his sources of inspiration and his switch from advertising to producing music.
The interview snippets are as follows:
You are comparable to Pandit Ravi Shankar, with three Grammy victories. Would you mind sharing your thoughts?
Unreal experiences are, of course, unavoidable. Winning an award from the Grammys seemed like an unrealistic ambition when I was growing up in India and creating my own style of music. I used to watch the televised award programme, but that was all. I believe that receiving my first Grammy at the age of 33 and two further Grammys later has been a tremendous honour and testimonial to my musical career.
You have over 21 studio albums available in other countries. You have contributed to more than 3500 TV and radio ads, and you wrote the 2011 Cricket World Cup’s opening theme. Your Grammy-winning compositions are now playing. I wish to learn more about your extensive experience first.
I have performed a wide variety of music, not just one kind. I have composed music for a number of occasions, including the opening ceremony for the Cricket World Cup and, as you stated, the TV and radio commercials. I consider myself fortunate in the area of advertising because I worked on more than 3,500 ads for virtually every brand and its rivals over the course of 13 or 14 years. Even though I no longer do it, I still value that time in my life for what it did for my career since it allowed me to write music for many different musical genres because I was writing so much music for commercials. I had the opportunity to experiment with Tamil folk jingles, Celtic jingles, and heavy metal jingles. The thing is, though, that I was constantly on the lookout for new musical styles and musicians within those styles. I had access to a vast database of musicians from around the world, which I could draw upon whenever I needed their skills, so that variety found its way into my music.
What can you say about Indian classical music’s soft power? Bollywood music is the dominant form of music in India, and then there are the niche genres.
Unfortunately, although classical music is a vital component of Indian culture and heritage, it is still viewed as a specialised form of music. But I’ve seen that when a Bollywood musician or composer performs abroad, they are always able to fill a stadium, and those who attend the concerts are typically people who have emigrated from India.
The only people who listen to Bollywood come from all over the world, but with a few notable exceptions, they are all members of the Indian diaspora; hence, generally speaking, Bollywood has not actually broken through cultural barriers. But when it comes to classical music, for instance, Pandit Ravi Shankar, I’ve been to one of his concerts before. I was 19 years old and in San Francisco at the time. The fact that the audience’s demographics in the theatre so closely resembled those of the city as a whole surprised me to my core.
Despite not performing hip-hop or rock, Pandit Ravi Shankar reached out to an audience that was not Indian and introduced a whole new generation of global citizens to Indian music. He did this by playing only pure Indian classical music on a sitar. Thus, in my opinion, our Indian classical music’s gentle force is represented by it. It is admired by everyone and spans boundaries, regions, and philosophical systems.
It was cassettes back then, as you accurately said, and people were listening to music on cassettes when I began my professional career in the music industry approximately 25 years ago. There, the album was a very important idea since you had to listen to the cassette from beginning to end because it was quite difficult to jump from song one to song two. Cassettes did not allow for such easy song-to-song skipping; therefore, albums were absolutely essential.
For the album “Winds of Samsara,” I received my first Grammy prize in 2015. The thought of making a follow-up to that record never left my thoughts for the following seven years. Nevertheless, I had a nonstop schedule of touring and travelling. I performed concerts annually in 13 or 14 different nations. I had no method of sitting down and making a new album.
I began writing the first few songs for “Divine Tides” in the year 2020, when the pandemic struck and we were all compelled to stay inside. For that album, I felt that I needed a partner because I couldn’t accomplish this on my own. Someone with a clear vision was what I needed.
Have you ever experienced a lack of inspiration?
When working under pressure and having to consider someone else’s sensibilities, musicians often experience creative obstacles. You run into creative blockages when something is not founded on your own tastes. When I worked in advertising, I once had them. I no longer compose music, though; instead, I do so when I’m moved. It is an artistic endeavour for me.