Ricky Kej (born 5 August 1981) is an Indian composer, music producer and Environmentalist. In 2015, he won a Grammy at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards for his album Winds of Samsara, a collaboration with South African flautist Wouter Kellerman, in the Best New Age Album category. The project, his 14th studio album, had made a debut at #1 on the US Billboard New Age Albums Chart in August 2014, a first for a person of Indian origin. The album also peaked at #1 on the Zone Music Reporter Top 100 Radio Airplay Chart in the month of July 2014.
|Birth name||Ricky Kej|
|Born||5 August 1981|
North Carolina, US
His album Shanti Samsara – World Music for Environmental Consciousness was launched on November 30, 2015 at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and then French President, Francois Hollande. In the months since its launch, Kej has traveled widely speaking about conservation and the environment, including a visit to the Republic of Kiribati, where he interviewed and created music with three-term ex-president, Anote Tong.
Kej has previously composed the soundtrack for three feature films in the Kannada language, and is credited with over 3,000 placements for Radio and Television Jingles. He also composed the music for the 2011 Cricket World Cup opening ceremony, held at Dhakka on 17 February 2011. 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. On July 18, 2016, Kej was awarded the Excellence and Leadership award as a global humanitarian artist at the United Nations Headquarters, New York and performed excerpts from Shanti Samsara live in the 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."
Following his return to India, a gala live performance of Shanti Samsara was given at the Bangalore Palace on 23 July 2016, with many of the original artists performing. Shanti Samsara has earned prizes from the Global Music Awards, the International Acoustic Music Awards, and was a finalist in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest.
In 2018, Ricky was named in the prestigious "Real Leaders 100 List". Real Leaders (A Signatory to the United Nations) curates this list of leaders who 'Inspire the Future'. In May 2018, Kej was honoured by The House of Commons, Canada for "Outstanding Musical and Humanitarian Achievement". Ricky was the only representative from India. Ricky Kej's life and journey as a musician is now taught to 7th Grade children in India as part of the ICSE syllabus English textbooks. Ricky Kej is notably also a professor at the prestigious National Institute of Advanced Studies (at the Indian Institute of Science). Kej has been named as an ambassador for the Earth Day Network.
Early life and educationEdit
Ricky Kej was born on 5 August 1981 in North Carolina. A half Punjabi and Marwari by birth, Kej moved to Bangalore, India when he was eight years old and has lived there since. 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.
While attending university he joined a progressive rock band which he says gave him a good foundation and exposure to music 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. 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. Kej has revealed that his decision to follow a career in music was not an easy one for his parents to accept.
Kej started off his career as the keyboardist of Bengaluru-based progressive rock band Angel Dust. 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.
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. 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. 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. He has indicated that working with Aravind was a very enjoyable experience.
Kej's 13th Studio Album, Shanti Orchestra was released on July 9, 2013. The album peaked at #3 in November 2013 on the ZMR Top 100 Radio Airplay Chart, and was ranked #37 on the ZMR Top 100 Airplay Chart for 2013. The album was nominated for a 2013 ZMR Music Award  and the track "Forever" from the album was also nominated for a Hollywood Music in Media (HMMA) Award in the same year.
Kej produced a benefit album 2 Unite All with Peter Gabriel , 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.
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. 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. The album was one of several projects discussed during a meeting Prime Minister Modi had with Kej following his Grammy win. 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 24 tracks and four music videos, including Indian master musicians Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, famed Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan . 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. On December 23, 2015, Ricky Kej was invited to perform a song from Shanti Samsara in a special arrangement featuring flutist, 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. In 2016 "Samsara" from Shanti Samsara received the December 2015 Global Music Awards Gold Medal for World Music – India, and the International Acoustic Music Awards for Best Open/Acoustic Open Genre 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. 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, and also composing for a Bollywood movie only if the script moves him emotionally. He has also expressed a strong interest in working with Kannada filmmaker Girish Kasaravalli if the opportunity arises. Kej also cites the dominance of Bollywood and Film music for the lack of Grammy winners in the country.
In 2018, Kej released My Earth Songs – Music for Children on the Environment and Sustainability. These are a set of 27 songs each based on a United Nations Sustainable Development Goal aimed to create awareness and inspire the younger generation to make a tangible positive impact in their lives and lives of people around them. Notably, Kej has released these songs in the public domain for completely non commercial purposes. Kej has teamed up with Macmillan publishers to feature these songs in over 1 million English language school textbooks from 2019. Kej has also partnered with UNICEF to spread these songs to children across the world and is working on translating them to several different Indian and global languages. My Earth Songs has been nominated as one of the top 3 finalists for the UN SDG Action Awards 2019 that will take place in Bonn, Germany on 2 May 2019. The UN SDG Action Awards recognize outstanding achievements and innovative efforts to promote action on the Sustainable Development Goals.
Kej has been an advocate for stronger anti-piracy laws in India. 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. Kej enjoys the commercial nature of his work for advertising and jingles and does about 15 commercials in a month.
Winds of SamsaraEdit
Winds of Samsara, his 14th studio album and a collaboration with South African flautist Wouter Kellerman was released on July 15, 2014 after being in production for 2 years. 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 name 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. The album made a debut at #1 on the US Billboard New Age Albums Chart in August 2014, a first for a person of Indian origin 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, and was ranked #3 on the ZMR Top 100 Airplay Chart for 2014. On December 5, 2014 Kej and Kellerman were announced as nominees for a Grammy award in Best New Age Album category. 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. Kej dedicated the award to non-film music composers in India. The album has also been nominated for 3 awards at the upcoming 11th Annual ZMR Awards and for 2 awards at the upcoming 6th Annual Hollywood Music in Media Awards. Kej has been nominated separately for an award in Visual Media at the 6th Annual Hollywood Music in Media Awards.
Notable live performancesEdit
On April 26, 2015, Kej was joined by Wouter Kellerman 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.
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.
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.
On July 8, 2016, on the occasion of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's state visit to South Africa, Kej traveled to Johannesburg, SA, where he joined Wouter Kellerman to perform "Mahatma" from their Grammy Award-winning 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.
Kej performed at the United Nations General Assembly on July 17, 2016. Accompanying him were vocalist, performance artist, composer and humanitarian activist, Sussan Deyhim, composer and multi-instrumentalist, Premik Russell Tubbs and keyboardist, Lonnie Park.
Ricky Kej performed at the United Nations General Assembly for a second time on a personal invitation by Peter Thomson, the then president of the UN General Assembly on May 17, 2017. Kej performed music from his album Shanti Samsara.
On October 6, 2017, Ricky Kej headlined a performance at the historic Vidhana Soudha, Bengaluru with his ensemble of over 200 musicians from 8 countries. In attendance were legislators, ministers, Bureaucrats and Change makers. Also present was the President of the Island nation of Kiribati, Anote Tong.
Ricky Kej delivered the finale performance at the RoundGlass Music Awards 2018, at Times Square, New York with his ensemble of musicians from across the globe. The event saw Ringo Star, BT and Ronny Cox being honoured. In February 2018, Kej brought together his ensemble of musicians from around the world for two live concerts at UB city, Bengaluru. In April 2018, Kej performed in Bengaluru as a part of the global Earth Day Celebrations to highlight the urgency of environmental conservation. In June, Kej performed two concerts in New Delhi as a part of the Global Environment Day celebrations. The first concert was to a private audience of The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, Environment Ministers of India, The current Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program, Eric Solheim along with other high ranking dignitaries from around the world. The Second concert was performed to thousands of people in front of the historic India Gate.
After being honoured by the House of Commons of Canada in May 2018, Kej followed by performing 2 concerts at the Simon Fraser University, Surrey and at the Surrey Fusion Festival. In August 2018, Kej collaborated with the International Justice Mission by performing a concert to thousands of people in Bengaluru to highlight the brutal practice of captive bonded labour on the occasion of the Indian Independence Day celebrations. He also musically collaborated with several survivors during this concert. In October 2018, Kej performed for the President of India – Shri Ram Nath Kovind, The Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh – Yogi Adityanath, The incumbent minister at Ministry of Science & Technology, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and Ministry of Earth Sciences of India – Dr Harsh Vardhan and several other dignitaries of the Indian Government as a part of the Indian International Science Festival.
Kej also performed at the Spiritual Headquarters of the Brahma kumaris to over 10,000 Brahmakumaris in Mount Abu, Rajasthan. Following this, Kej headed to Chennai to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Chinmaya Vidyalaya educational institutions with a large scale performance at the Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor stadium. The following week, Kej performed for the Queen of Mysore and over 20000 people at the historic Mysore Palace as a part of their annual Dussehra celebrations.
On the 31st of October, Ricky Kej was invited by the World Health Organization to perform at the historic Palais Des Nations headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland for the first Global Air Pollution Conference. This performance featured several new compositions highlighting the dangers of air pollution and the audience consisted of World Leaders, Head of various United Nations agencies and several other dignitaries from around the world.
On International Children's Day on 20 November 2008 , Kej officially launched 'My Earth Songs' – Music for Children on the Environment and Sustainability in association with UNICEF, India. He was honoured as a "UNICEF Celebrity Ambassador" during the same event and followed it up with a live performance in Bengaluru. Hundreds of kids were in attendance and Kej also musically collaborated with several children. 
Ricky Kej performed a benefit concert again at ProtoVillage in Anantapur District, Andhra Pradesh on 22 December 2018 as a part of their annual Samsara Festival. This concert was attended by thousands of villagers. Kej performed a few days later at the annual Visakha Utsav in Andhra Pradesh on the 28th of December to over 88000 people. This massive concert and festival was inaugurated by the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Shri. N Chandrababu Naidu.
In February 2019, Kej and performed a benefit and a fundraising concert in Bengaluru for the "Save Government Schools" campaign. This concert saw large donations being made towards this campaign. On 10 February 2019, Kej performed at the Talkatora Stadium for the Brahma kumaris as a part of their "Global Summit on Science, Spirituality, Education, Environment and the role of human beings in creating a better world". Over 6000 people were in attendance. Kej was invited to perform at the Headquarters of the World Health Organization on the 14th of February in Geneva, Switzerland as a part of the launch of their "Make Listening Safe" initiative. 
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. 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. In the same year he was nominated for an award at the Cannes Film Festival for his jingle for Nike. 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. 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. 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. 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. In 2019, he also composed music for the documentary Wild Karnataka.
Ricky Kej married Varsha Gowda in March 2014. Varsha hails from a Kannadiga Gowda family whereas Kej hails from a Punjabi-Marwari family. Varsha quit her job as the assistant Vice-President of an Advertising and PR firm in January 2014 and currently works as Kej's manager and also handles his media and public relations. Varsha is also a musician and is credited in several of Kej's recent compositions.
|2008||Ricky Kej||Jingle - TreesforFree.org||One Show – Advertising||Won|||
|2009||Ricky Kej||Jingle – Seventy mm Movie Rentals||Adfest Asia Award – Advertising||Won|||
|2010||Ricky Kej||Jingle – Nike||Cannes Award – Advertising||Nominated|||
|2013||Ricky Kej||Shanti Orchestra||ZMR Music Award||Nominated|||
|"Forever" from Shanti Orchestra||Hollywood Music in Media (HMMA) Award for Best New Age/ Ambient Song||Nominated|||
|2015||Ricky Kej / Wouter Kellerman||Winds of Samsara||Grammy Award for Best New Age Album||Won|||
|ZMR Award for Album of the Year||Won|||
|ZMR Award for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album||Nominated|||
|ZMR Award for Best World Album||Won|||
|South African Music Award for Best Producer of the Year||Won|||
|"Mahatma" from Winds of Samsara||Hollywood Music in Media (HMMA) Award for Best World Song||Nominated|||
|"New Earth Calling" from Winds of Samsara||Hollywood Music in Media (HMMA) Award for Best New Age/ Ambient Song||Nominated|||
|Ricky Kej||"Panasonic P81" (Panasonic P81)||Hollywood Music in Media (HMMA) Award for Song/ Score – Commercial Advertisement||Nominated|||
|2016||Ricky Kej||"Samsara" from Shanti Samsara||Global Music Awards World Music – India||Won|||
|International Acoustic Music Awards for Best Open/Acoustic Open Genre||Won|||
|"Love Divine" from Shanti Samsara||Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards||Official selection|||
|"Love Divine" from Shanti Samsara||Connect Film Festival||Official selection|||
|"One Song" from Shanti Samsara||Los Angeles CineFest||Semi-Finalist|||
|"Ganga" from Shanti Samsara||Los Angeles CineFest||Semi-Finalist|||
|"Love Divine" from Shanti Samsara||World Cinema London||Official selection|||
|2017||Ricky Kej||"One Song" from Shanti Samsara||GardenCity International Film Festival||Official selection|||
|"Ganga" from Shanti Samsara||Acharya Tulsi Short Film Festival||Official selection|||
|"Ganga" from Shanti Samsara||Szczecin European Film Festival Pop Seff / Telfon Art / Music Seff||Official selection|||
|"Ganga" from Shanti Samsara||Alaska Aerial Films Showcase||Official selection|||
|"Samsara" from Shanti Samsara||Alaska Aerial Films Showcase||Official selection|||
|"Samsara" from Shanti Samsara||Global Impact Film Festival||Official selection|||
|"Ganga" from Shanti Samsara||ZERO PLUS International Film Festival||Official selection|||
|"Samsara" from Shanti Samsara||Global Peace Film Festival||Official selection|||
|"Love Divine" from Shanti Samsara||Wildlife Conservation Film Festival||Official selection|||
|"Ganga" from Shanti Samsara||Woodpecker International Film Festival||Official selection|||
|"Ganga" from Shanti Samsara||Barcelona International Environmental Film Festival (FICMA)||Won|||
|"Ganga" from Shanti Samsara||Voices from the Waters International Traveling Film Festival||Official selection|||
|"Ganga" from Shanti Samsara||Kolkata International Wildlife & Environment Film Festival – India||Official selection|||
|2019||Ricky Kej||"One With Earth Song"||17th Independent Music Awards||Nominated|||
- 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)
- Accident – (Film OST- Anand Audio- India)
- Venkata in Sankata (Film OST- Anand Audio- India)
- Crazy Kutumba (Film OST- Times Music- India)
- 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)
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