In 2018, Ricky Kej was appointed as the UNICEF supporter for Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh to use his music to create public awareness for the cause of children, and support programmes of UNICEF across the three states.
Musician and composer Ricky Kej's voice was loud and clear over phone. On his way back from the HOZO Music festival in Vietnam for which he had headlined "to one of the best and energetic audiences ever", he was ready to talk of his upcoming concert. "I have an hour at the airport so let's talk," he said. The UNICEF@70 Concert is his way to mark the 70th anniversary of the UNICEF, a cause close to his heart, thanks to his role as its Celebrity Supporter. "I have been helping them out with their messages and things like that," he said. According to him, India has three major milestones, Independence in 1947, its Constitution in 1948 and in 1949, UNICEF entered the country.
Commending all the work the organisation has been doing in the background for the betterment of children in terms of immunisation and white revolution, amounting to nation-building, Kej says his concert is also about putting a spotlight on the children and the work that still needs to be done. "All over the world, children are standing for their rights," he said. "Children have been saying that they are the future and are demanding a better world for them. We need to empower these children and that's a huge job for us." With the help of UNICEF, Kej accessed 40 entries across India, through a crowd-sourcing UNICEF activity, from children and created a song with the lyrics. This song, called Wake Up will be launched on the day of the concert with a music video showcasing performances by the children. "This song - a mix of Hindi and English lyrics - will be about a better future for the children and our planet." Apart from Kej, the evening will see an ensemble of twelve musicians play songs for children to support their cause.
Currently, Kej has been going through a good time in terms of composing music and collaborating with international musicians. Ever since he won the Grammy Award for Winds of Samsara, Kej has created songs with musicians like Baaba Maal of Black Panther fame. As one of the official ambassadors of UNCCD (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification), he and Baaba Maal recently released a music video (on World Soil Day) called Born from the Land which is also the official land anthem for UNCCD. "It has become quite successful all over the world." He is also looking forward to play in front of 7000 Indian soldiers at the MEG Centre in the coming week.
Music plays a large role, not only in his life, as Kej pointed out, but also in the world. "There are a lot of problems in our world today, in the society, with children, environment, education, gender equality and things like that. I believe that everyone is aware, in some capacity, of all these problems even though they may not understand the semantics. But how do you move people into action? Let's talk of pollution. Almost 14 of the most polluted cities are in India. But everybody is still continuing adding to the pollution. How do you drive people from awareness to taking action in their own lives? Music could be the catalyst to move people from awareness to action. Artistes must perform such songs in their live shows. Usually they sing these songs for say, an NGO. But they don't play the songs in their live concerts where they only play their repertoire of popular songs. It feels like they are ashamed to do so." Therefore, artistes, he feels, must practice what they preach and use their art to reflect what they strongly feel about. "They can probably include such songs between the item songs and still create an impact."
When in Bengaluru, Kej spends his time at the music studio. "My inspiration for music mostly comes from nature and other art forms, like maybe a movie that I have watched. But when it comes to musicians, Pt Ravi Shankar is an inspiration for playing Hindustani classical music all over the world and creating new audiences across the world. He singlehandedly made Indian music popular. Then, in my opinion, A R Rehman is another musician who, without exceptions, has inspired every musician in India. His influence has been so strong towards music."
Apart from music, Kej has been inspired by other mediums, "delving into them once in a while." In the recent Art Bengaluru festival, which happened in the city, he curated a film festival with films selected for their social impact and issues. The theme was kindness which "is huge and I basically showcased that kindness is a way to make the world a better place. It was a cool experience."
Another "cool experience" is the concert which Kej says will be magical. He and the ensemble of musicians are ready to change the world, one song at a time.