Ricky Jej: A Deep Connection Between Music and Nature
11.10.2021, by Giacomo Luperini
An interview with Ricky Kej, the activist and musician who recently released “Divine Tides”, his latest album with Stewart Copeland.
You have always been a politically engaged musician: fighting against musical piracy, defending human rights, taking a stand in favor of peace in the Middle East, not to mention your work against desertification and in favor of environmental sustainability. The list of your commitments and of the acknowledgments for your hard work goes on and on. Do you feel you have a political responsibility in your role as a musician?
I have always been a staunch environmentalist along with being a musician. It was through my music that I fell in love with our natural world and I have always found a deep connection between music and nature. Winning the Grammy Award in 2015 really pushed and inspired me to dedicate my life and my music to the sole cause of Environmental Consciousness. I don’t see my advocacy as unrelated to my music. They are both strongly entwined since they are both an extension of my personality and due to this, I don’t feel an additional responsibility because it is the core of who I am. My aim is and has always been to do all I can, in every way I can, to make this world a better place, for everyone and everything.
The music and live performing industry (as all other industries) has an impact on our planet, both due to pollution and to the exploitation of resources. How do you attempt to reduce your climate footprint when touring or releasing an album?
I work closely with a company that audits my carbon footprint for every single project of mine whether it is a live concert, an album recording, studio sessions, travelling, my talks etc. They then calculate my carbon footprint and we work together to offset it through various methods such as collaborating with organisations that focus on reforestation, renewable, etc. This helps me stay carbon neutral. I do not own a car and use only public transportation. I am also a vegetarian (and aspiring vegan) and consciously use products manufactured by environmentally sustainable businesses who do not source their materials by destroying nature. At any given point of time, I only have eleven sets of clothes and I have no qualms about repeating my outfits as evidenced in pretty much the same clothes I wear from all of my events. Awareness is key. The onus is not just on politicians, actors and other celebrities to offset their emissions. There are various tools readily available for each individual to calculate their own carbon/water footprint and work towards being carbon neutral. Conscious actions such as these will have a ripple effect and will greatly contribute to the well-being of our planet.
Often, at least in Italy, the world of music is perceived as removed from political engagement and climate change issues. In a recent interview with our magazine, Francesco Bianconi said that “The West hasn’t been truly thinking for a long time. I hope and believe in a new world, a world in which the West will create a new shape of thought, aiming to safeguard the planet (unless we intend to commit mass harakiri as a society)”. Do you agree? Do you perceive a difference between the Eastern and Western approaches to climate change?
I believe that when it comes to negating the effects of climate change and other global issues, we cannot use the same yardstick to measure accountability of developing nations to developed nations like most western countries. This is probably where there is a major difference of opinion. Large swathes of the population in developing nations still face survival issues such as hunger, poverty, poor healthcare, war, etc. It can be tone-deaf to talk about the effects of climate change to a villager in India who might already be suffering from poverty and lives in darkness due to no access to electricity. Everyone wants what is best for their families and for themselves. Western nations have gotten to where they are through unsustainable development which has severely impacted the environment and developing nations have a chance to learn from these mistakes and aim for sustainable development.
Do you still have a good relationship with your birthplace? Do you think being born in the U.S. defined you in any way?
I was born in North Carolina and lived there until I was eight years old before I moved to India along with my family. I have very fond memories of the USA and I travel and perform there multiple times a year. I have plenty of friends, and collaborators there who I keep in touch with on a regular basis. America still is the land of opportunity and will always have a special place in my heart.
Do you think music can play a role in increasing the impact of the political struggles you support? What has your best achievement been in this sense?
Music has always played a role in capturing emotions and by being used to convey a larger message. This is the reason music has always been used in political activism, grassroots movements, and several other areas to create awareness and to stir action. A lot of artists in the entertainment industry have massive platforms and we all need to work together to make a larger impact on the ground. I have always believed that only when people start acknowledging an issue and start a dialogue to solve it, a solution will come. My aim is to inspire this dialogue through my music. Ever since I won the Grammy® Award, I have dedicated my life to raising awareness on various environmental and social issues through my music. I have created anthems for various causes, including many official songs for the United Nations and other global non-profit organisations like WWF, Earth Day Network, etc. I work with several National and State Governments, Global bodies, Scientists, and other world leaders to effectively convey their urgent complex messages related to the environment through the powerful language of music. Instead of waiting to be hired to create music, I now create music from the heart, as an extension of my beliefs and personality. Since I am an environmentalist, all my music has themes of sustainability. I am humbled to serve as an Ambassador for the UNCCD, UNESCO MGIEP, UNICEF, Earth Day Network etc. Through my live concerts in India and around the world, I can directly interact with hundreds of thousands of people and disseminate these important messages through my music.
How and when did your collaboration with Stewart Copeland begin?
I had been working on a follow-up to my Grammy® winning album ‘Winds of Samsara’ and had catalogued some of my favourite ideas. Recordings were delayed because of my relentless touring schedule and when the pandemic hit, it presented an opportunity for me to spend time in my studio and kick-start this project again. I reached out to Stewart Copeland (The Police) and was thrilled when he said yes to making this album with me. I have always relied on technology for all of my recordings and Stewart too is high on technology, and has one of the most amazing home studios. That helped us record seamlessly during the pandemic. Stewart and I recorded our portions individually and it all came together superbly. Despite the pandemic, we are thrilled to have created an album that celebrates life and will create a wave of much-needed positivity in our audiences.
The videoclip for “Divine Tides” showcases your love for nature and your desire to express it. What do you regard as the worst threats against the beauty of our planet, these days? How do you think they can be fought?
It is extremely difficult to compartmentalise and rank issues pertaining to our environment based on urgency as there are several factors that contribute to each major issue. We all know that our carbon emissions have to be contained and eventually lowered in order to counter global warming. To do this, we have to move away from fossil fuels, from intensive farming techniques of both crops and animals, stop rapid deforestation etc. Fossil fuels also affect the air and millions of people around the world perish from air pollution-related diseases. Intensive farming techniques of crops greatly reduce biodiversity due to monoculture whereas intensive farming techniques of animals use highly unethical and inhumane practises for greater yield. Rapid deforestation and habitat loss is a major driving force when it comes to species extinction. Not to forget – plastics and its effects, freshwater pollution, ocean acidification and its threat to marine life. Therefore, all of this is interlinked. As consumers, we have to make concrete changes within our own lives to address these issues. We have to change our demands to disrupt the supply chain. What we need is a change in consciousness and behaviour. We need to consume less of everything. We have to vote for leaders who are environmentally conscious and we have to support businesses that are environmentally responsible.
Before we say goodbye, can you tell us a bit about your next projects?
It is hard to make any concrete plans right now since the situation around the world is extremely unpredictable due to lockdowns, suspension of flights, border controls, etc and of course, with the virus constantly mutating. Touring is definitely on my mind but, I guess for the next few months I am going to work on promoting Divine Tides and try and get as many people to listen to it. Since I have worked so hard on the music, poured my heart and soul into it, I feel I owe it to the music to ensure as many people around the world enjoy it.