In conversation with Ricky Kej – Score Short Reads
We had an interesting chat with the Grammy Award-winning Indian Music Composer who talks about his latest track “Himalayas” and a little bit about his upcoming album ‘Divine Tides’. Read on to know more.
1. Talk to us about your latest track ‘Himalayas’
Himalayas is a song that is very close to me, it was the first piece of music that we created for Divine Tides. It is a tribute to the mighty Himalayas. Along with Stewart Copeland and me, it features some of my favorite musicians who regularly tour with me for my concerts – Arun Kumar (Vocal Percussion), Varijashree (Flute and Vocals), Sumarani (Sitar) and Manoj George (Violin).
The Himalayas contain some of the highest peaks on the planet and the third-largest deposit of ice in the world after the Arctic and Antarctica. These mountain ranges are also considered sacred in many religions and are the source of some of the world’s major rivers such as the Ganges. Most importantly, it is said that every human being on this planet depends on the Himalayas for their sustenance.. directly or indirectly.
So we felt strongly about creating our own musical interpretation of this mighty range. The entire Divine Tides album is a tribute to the magnificence of our natural world and the resilience of our species. So the Himalayas is a perfect representation of this.
2. We absolutely love the video. How did you manage to do this during the pandemic situation?
So glad you liked the video. The video for “Himalayas” was filmed at an elevation of over 12000 feet! In 2019, I was invited by the Indian Army to perform a full length concert at Leh, to 10,000 soldiers.
It was the greatest experience of my life, a performance to 10,000 of India’s finest, in their uniform, surrounded by mountains. We had arrived in Leh 5 days in advance to acclimatise to the altitude, and we took that opportunity to film the video.
Later on the pandemic hit, so we filmed Stewart in Los Angeles and edited it in. The film was created by my close friend and ace film-maker Sairam Sagiraju.
Through this music video, we showcase the pristine beauty and the spiritual aura of The Himalayas.
3. What can we expect from your entire album?
The album has 9 songs with 8 music videos. Nature is the greatest artist and there is beauty everywhere you look. Nature is also my muse and my music is very often a celebration of our natural world. All of the songs in ‘Divine Tides’ are a reflection of this.
I have always believed that we only protect what we love and that is what I hope to achieve by showcasing the magnificence of our natural world through my music. Despite what we have done to our planet through our unsustainable ways, humans are an incredible species who have survived dire situations such as wars, pandemics, various forms of persecution, extreme natural events and so much more through the centuries.
From living in caves to walking on the moon, we have come a long way in such a short span of time. I believe that if we celebrate our differences instead of letting them tear us apart and if we learn to live in harmony with nature, all living beings on our planet will thrive. ‘Divine Tides’ illustrates these musings through its diverse soundscapes and music videos.
I am very happy with the way the music videos have turned out. I collaborated with several acclaimed film-makers from around the world to shoot these videos and I am excited to showcase them. Videos from this album were shot in Leh, Tamil Nadu, The Western Ghats, the North-East of India, Thar Desert and Los Angeles.
As you can imagine, it was a challenge to shoot these videos during the pandemic but it was also a blessing in disguise as we could showcase Mother Earth in all of her glory since most of the world’s population were indoors. We will be releasing a new music video every fortnight starting from the 7th of July 2021 up until September 28.
4. Tell us about the process of producing your latest track?
Himalayas, as mentioned earlier, was the first piece of music that I came up with on the album, and Stewart took it to a whole new level. After I came up with the melody and structure of the song, we first recorded a string section arranged and conducted by the virtuoso violinist Manoj George. A male choir by Devan Ekambaram was next, and some really cool flute and vocals by Varijashree, and Sitar by Sumarani.
We also have some fast-paced Kunakol (vocal percussion) by Arun Kumar. The keyboards and programming went through several iterations through the years, and we finally decided on a fantastic arrangement by Vanil Veigas, my most frequent collaborator and colleague.
Stewart Copeland, in addition to co-writing and co-producing the piece, played the Spin Gong (first time I heard of it!), it’s a gong that spins as you hit it, creating some great resonance. He also played some toned Tympani’s, a cymbal tree and of course, the Drum Set.
5. How did the collaboration with Stewart happen for this album?
I had been working on a follow-up to my Grammy® winning album ‘Winds of Samsara’ and had catalogued some of my favourite melodies. 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 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 therefore, I had plenty of experience to make this experience as seamless as possible.
Stewart too is high on technology, and has one of the most amazing home studios. Stewart and I recorded our portions individually and it all came together superbly. We are both positive people and 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.
Working with Steward Copeland was like attending the best masterclass imaginable. Stewart is not just the Founder and Drummer of one of the biggest selling bands in history ‘The Police’, he also regularly composes for Operas, Orchestras and for over 50 Hollywood movies including the Oscar award winning ‘Wall Street’.
Despite reaching the pinnacle of success, he is constantly evolving and learning by exploring new sounds, traditional music instruments and rhythms. We constantly threw ideas at each other, adapted sounds and crafted this album together piece by piece.
6. Talk to us about the artists you have collaborated with and what can one expect
There are several fabulous musicians on this album such as The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra UK (who we recorded at Abbey Road Studios), superstar Indian duo Salim-Sulaiman, Vietnamese American Opera Singer Sangeeta Kaur, Indo-American Flautist and singer Rasika Shekar and several frequent collaborators such as Varijashree Venugopal, Manoj George, Siddhartha Belmannu, Charan Raj, etc.
7. What’s your take on the independent scene flourishing in India currently?
The independent music scene in India is extremely vibrant and promising. Unfortunately, the movie industry still holds a vice-like grip on the entire music industry and a lot of independent artists who are extremely talented seek validation from Bollywood or just give up. Because of the dominance of Bollywood and other film industries in India, composers and singers are very rarely making music from the heart based on their own philosophies and beliefs.
Every reality show out there is continuing the same trend and as long as it remains like that, it will be difficult for Indian Musicians to get international recognition across cultural barriers through independent music. Children must be taught to make music from the heart and budding young musicians should be taught the importance and value of our rich musical heritage which is extremely unique and diverse.
Only when Indian musicians start gaining recognition, more will follow and the standard of music education will automatically improve. There are several independent artists in India that I am a huge fan of and record labels in India have to step up and actively seek and promote talent. There is so much more to Indian music than film music and independent/folk/classical artists in India deserve the spotlight.
8. What can we expect from you apart from this album?
I have some really interesting completed projects lined up. One of them is a documentary feature called ‘Who is Baul’ which showcases the mystic lives and music traditions of the Bauls of India.
Their philosophies are over a thousand years old and their enlightened lifestyles are threatened by modern demands. We are working on releasing this documentary on film festivals around the world for now and just premiered at the London Film Festival on the 27th of June 2021.
1. Three pieces of gear you cannot live without
My super powerful PC Computer (built by myself)
Native Instruments Keyboard Controller
My collection of Analogue Synths (really ancient ones)
2. Artists you would love to collaborate with in your next project
3. Dream venue to perform at once the pandemic relieves us
I have performed at most of my dream venues already. Would love to perform at Madison Square Garden though.
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