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Ricky Kej: The Green Musician

The two-time Grammy award winning Indian music composer has leveraged his art for environmental awareness

The rain isn’t falling
I need a drink
I’m thirsty and very sad
If you cut me down
We both won’t breathe
And that will be real, real bad…

Lyrics from “Give me your CO2”, a song from the My Earth Songs collection

The power to stir action makes art an important tool in grassroots movements, feels two-time Grammy Award winner Ricky Kej. He has been doing this for a while now—using the tool and his craftsmanship to sculpt a better and environment-friendly world. Kej’s commitment to the cause puts him in the league of Paul McCartney, Coldplay, Linkin Park and others who have called attention to climate change.

Both his Grammy Award-winning albums—Winds of Samsara (2015) and Divine Tides (2022)—have the essence of the elements of nature he most strongly feels for. Divine Tides has been nominated again, this time for the Best Immersive Audio album. “Winning the first Grammy was a huge catalyst. Since then, I have dedicated my life and music to creating awareness of various social and environmental causes,” says Kej.

On the stage of Grammy Awards 2022 in April, he spoke about the famous Indian philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (“the world is one family”). “When we think about the world as one family, the only thing that comes to our mind is living in peace with the human species, but we have to go further than that. We have to live in peace with all entities on this planet—whether it is the animals, the wildlife, the forest; the elements of nature that is the water we drink, the air we breathe, the land we walk on,” he had said then.

Born in the US in 1981, Kej moved to Bengaluru, his current city of residence, when he was eight. He studied to be a dentist but gave up joining the profession in favour of pursuing his childhood passion for music.

However, the commercialisation of music put him off and he decided to concentrate only on creating music for positive social impact. Kej is happy that he can directly interact with millions of people and share important messages through music at live concerts.

Music for Impact

Kej is passionate about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) laid down by the UN. His music revolves around themes like land, water, small island states, climate crises, climate refugees, air and mountains. A big moment for him, he says, was when he had the opportunity to perform live at a concert for world leaders and dignitaries at the COP15. Today, he is a regular at music concerts at sustainable development events in India and abroad.

Kej’s My Earth Songs, made in association with UNICEF, focuses on children aged 5–11 years and have themes based on the SDGs. “The songs have a reach [equivalent to] over seven million school books across India,” he says. Kej is also exploring the possibility of getting them translated into various Indian and foreign languages to increase their reach.

His work has been recognised by important bodies of the UN system. He is the ambassador for the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, UNESCO, UNICEF and the Earth Day Network. He has created anthems for various organs of the UN, including the official UNCCD land anthem “Born From The Land”.

Walking the Talk

Kej believes in leading by example. He is mindful of his carbon footprint when he travels around the world and tries to offset it by forging partnerships with organisations focussing on reforestation or renewable energy. “Conscious actions by people will have a ripple effect and will greatly contribute to the well-being of our planet,” says Kej.

He is concerned about the adverse impacts of fast fashion on the environment and does not shy away from making lifestyle statement at marquee events, nor does he mind making deliberate “fashion blunders”. “This year while walking the red carpet at Cannes, I chose to wear the same outfit that I had worn the previous month at the Grammy Awards. I wanted to disrupt the trend of not repeating outfits by showcasing that fashion can be trendy more than once.” He is part of the movement called #rewear4earth. He admits to owning just 11 pairs of clothes, adding that he gladly repeats them on various occasions.