New Delhi: Musicians have utilised songs to drive social change since forever – whether it was Maxim Vengerov, the world’s first classical musician to be appointed as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, who advocated children’s education and rights, Bruce Springsteen, the American singer-songwriter, who has been a long advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights and the empowerment of women or Alicia Keys, the American singer-songwriter, who has been raising awareness about the treatment and social support to children and families affected by HIV in Africa and India.
All of them have either called for movements for peace, human rights or healthcare. The environmental movement is no different, and this has been very well highlighted by Ricky Kej, a three-time Grammy winner and an environmentalist. The Bengaluru-based artist has been using music as a platform to talk about environmental issues, especially climate change for years and has created multiple songs and albums along with other musicians of the world.
Up till now, Ricky Kej has performed at prestigious venues in over 30 countries, including the United Nations Headquarters in New York and Geneva and has won more than 100 music awards in 20 countries, including three Grammy awards.
The 42-year-old serves as the United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), United Nations Refugee High Profile Supporter, UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP) Global Ambassador for Kindness, UNICEF Celebrity Supporter and Ambassador for Earth Day Network.
The NDTV-Dettol Banega Swasth India team spoke to Mr Kej about his journey of creating music for a healthier planet. Mr Kej had already started creating songs about things that he felt strongly about as a child, and environment was one of them. He said,
My whole life I have always been two things. I have been an environmentalist and I have been a musician. These are two pillars that have dictated every single decision that I have ever made in my life.
Popularising Complex Environmental Issues Through Music
Talking about the significance of using music to convey messages about complex environmental issues, Mr Kej said,
What is needed is for musicians to take these complex ideas and thoughts and to simplify it through the emotional language of music so that you are hitting the hearts and the souls of people. And through these emotions is where people will actually find it within themselves to, you know, to change their own behaviours and to make this world a better place for everyone and everything. So that is where I believe the arts and especially music can make a huge difference and that is why I have dedicated my life to just doing this.
Behind The Scenes Of Creating Music For Environment
Talking about the creative process of formulating music that carries pieces of environment consciousness, Mr Kej said,
For me, I always listen to science. I meet a lot of people around the world – scientists, world leaders, politicians, and heads of intergovernmental agencies, among others, and I learn a lot from them. I also spend a lot of time at conferences where there are a lot of debates as to what is going on, on this planet, and I formulate my ideas through this. So all of my music, all of my thoughts have got a very strong scientific backing, and the scientific consensus changes over time, because the problems that we face right now, probably we did not know earlier, or the problems that we thought existed earlier, we now know are not such a huge issue. So similarly, my music also changes, but at the same time, I keep my music generic enough so that everything becomes about responsibility.
The 42-year-old has also ensured mobilising the young generation to act for conservation of environment and wildlife.
I believe that children are always born with a lot of innate qualities like environmental consciousness and compassion towards other species. So, I created this project known as ‘My Earth Songs’, which is basically a collection of 30 songs, for children studying between 1 – 8 grades. The songs are based on sustainability, responsible living, carbon footprint and showcases wildlife.
Shanti Samsara – The World Music For Environmental Consciousness
Mr Kej’s album Shanti Samsara – The World Music For Environmental Consciousness, launched in November 2015, is another masterpiece that highlights the issue of climate change. But Shanti Samsara was born out of the one-hour conversation he had with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
After meeting PM Modi and discussing the philosophies of the environment with him, I decided that every single piece of music that I make is going to be an extension of my own beliefs and philosophies about climate change. And that is how Shanti Samsara was born. The album featured 500 musicians from over 40 countries. Pretty much every corner of the globe, wherever I could find a musician who felt as strongly as I did about climate change, species, rainforests, I collaborated with them.
There are about 24 songs in the album and it was launched by PM Modi at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, in 2015.
The album has won accolades including Global Music Awards World Music, Barcelona International Environmental Film Festival (FICMA) and International Acoustic Music Awards for Best Open/Acoustic Open Genre.
LiFE – A Song Inspired By India’s Mission LiFE Initiative
For his latest rendition called ‘LiFE’ that was published in December 2023, Ricky Kej collaborated with UNICEF. The LiFE song is inspired by Mission LiFE, a global mass movement to nudge individual and community action to protect and preserve the environment which was started by PM Modi. Talking about the composition, Mr Kej said,
LiFE song is an animated video that features three characters who are being the change that they want to see in the world. For this piece, I got the New York Youth Symphony, a 70-piece orchestra in New York, to play, along with Lonnie Park, two-time Grammy Award winner from New York, and Indian singer Shankar Mahadevan, along with other international artists.
Mitigating The Effects Of Climate Change
Ricky Kej said that the principles of solving the problems of climate change are about responsible living. The artist further added,
It is about being responsible for yourself, your species, your planet, like not cutting down trees and not polluting the atmosphere. There are both short term and long-term health effects of climate change among children, such as asthma and bronchitis.
Through his music, Ricky Kej focuses on the principles of mitigating the effects of climate change, which applies to everybody.
Talking about composing music for environmental causes in future, the artist said,
I’m going to be making more and more songs on climate change, because I believe that individual action is what is needed right now to mitigate it.
Mr Kej said that people need to make solving climate change a personal issue rather than a protest issue, rather than an issue where one has to put responsibility on the other. He added,
Once we consider it as a personal issue, and only then will we be able to solve this crisis.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which in its Season 10 is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Ayushmann Khurrana. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In a world post COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental well-being, self-care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.