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Know How Grammy Award Winner Inspired by PM Modi to Dedicate Music to Environment

From songs like "Ganga" - depicting the plight of the river considered holy by most Indians - to his Grammy-winning album "Winds of Samara" - which speaks of peace and global harmony

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grammy award winner, modi
"What was to be a photo opportunity with the Prime Minister turned into an hour-long discussion with him on environment. He spoke on the impact music could have on society and inspired me to make music on environment," Kej told IANS in an interview here. Wikimedia

A chance meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in September 2015 in New Delhi inspired Bengaluru-based Grammy Award winner Ricky Kej to dedicate his life and music to the cause of environment.

Since then, Kej, who has represented India on global fora, performing at venues including the United Nations General Assembly in New York and UN Headquarters in Geneva, has been using music to flag ecological issues to policymakers and public the world over.

“What was to be a photo opportunity with the Prime Minister turned into an hour-long discussion with him on environment. He spoke on the impact music could have on society and inspired me to make music on environment,” Kej told IANS in an interview here.

From songs like “Ganga” – depicting the plight of the river considered holy by most Indians – to his Grammy-winning album “Winds of Samara” – which speaks of peace and global harmony – Kej’s music connects with all — from world leaders to the man on the street.

With the aid of compelling visuals, Kej’s music, and collaborations with global music artists, highlights the deleterious consequences of urbanisation, climate change and human-animal conflict.

modi, grammy award winner
From songs like “Ganga” – depicting the plight of the river considered holy by most Indians – to his Grammy-winning album “Winds of Samara” – which speaks of peace and global harmony – Kej’s music connects with all — from world leaders to the man on the street. Wikimedia

“There are so many issues in India like child labour, gender inequality and poverty, which none seem to be reflecting through music. We see that music has lost the identity of being an art form and has become a profession,” he lamented.

Kej, 37, bagged Grammy in 2015 for the ‘Best New Age Album’ for “Winds of Samsara”, created along with South African flautist Wouter Kellerman. He is also recognised as the ‘United Nations Global Humanitarian Artist’ for his music with environmental consciousness.

The subjects of Kej’s music include, the rising air pollution in global cities and towns, the perils being posed to wildlife due to urbanisation and the story of Republic of Kiribati, an island nation in the central Pacific Ocean off Fiji, whose coasts are receding each year due to rising ocean levels due to global warming, among others.

With 15 studio albums released internationally, 3,500 commercials, three feature films in Kannada and over 100 music awards in 20 countries to his credit, the conservationist-musician’s album “Shanti Samsara” was released by Modi and then French President Francois Hollande at the United Nations Conference of Parties (CoP-21) Climate Change Conference in Paris, held from November 30-December 12, 2015.

The album, conceived after his meeting with Modi, had Kej collaborate with about 500 musicians from 40 countries, for songs like “Ganga”, throwing light on the pollution plaguing the river, and on “Earth and Water”.

“Politicians and policymakers are used to statistics and numbers, but when one approaches them through art, it makes a lot of difference. I have seen politicians change their perspectives towards environmental causes after attending my concerts,” Kej asserted.

The element of environment and nature in his work comes from his own experiences. For instance, he composed the song “One With Earth” – which highlights natural farming and the need to give up chemical fertilisers – after he lived with the tribals in Andhra Pradesh’s Araku Valley to understand their lifestyle and traditional farming techniques.

Grammy award winner, modi
“There are so many issues in India like child labour, gender inequality and poverty, which none seem to be reflecting through music. We see that music has lost the identity of being an art form and has become a profession,” he lamented. Wikimedia

Born in 1981 in North Carolina in the US, Kej moved to Bengaluru with family when he was eight, with intense love for music and nature.

“As a child, I felt music and nature were connected and found music in the sounds of nature, birds and animals. I used to look at music as a way of understanding history, cultures and emotions from different parts of the world. A lot of my education was through music,” said Kej, who was part of a rock band “Angel Dust” during his class 12th from Bishop Cotton Boys’ School in Bengaluru.

Even as Kej pursued a dental science course on his father’s advice, he continued to create music and decided to pursue it full-time on completing the degree.

“Like most musicians, I started my career with popular music and later turned to heavy metal and jazz. I finally zeroed in on world music as it connects with the people the world over, irrespective of the language they speak,” Kej recalled.

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As a professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) in the renowned Indian Institute of Science (IISc) campus in this tech hub, the musician believes his job is to approach environmental subjects artistically.

“Numbers don’t hit people as hard as visuals and art can. My job as a musician is to drive the numbers and data through emotions,” Kej added. (IANS)

Next Story

An Open Letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi

While taking note of your policies, pet projects like ‘Swatchh Abhiyaan’ (Cleanliness Drive) and future plans

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Letter, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
PM Narendra Modi being sworn in for a new term.
Tania Bhattacharya
Tania Bhattacharya.

By Tania Bhattacharya

Dear Prime Minister Modi,

Congratulations on winning the Indian general elections of 2019, and being sworn-in as Prime Minister. While taking note of your policies, pet projects like ‘Swatchh Abhiyaan’ (Cleanliness Drive) and future plans for the nation’s development and progress, I take this opportunity to contribute my two cents as a thinking Indian citizen, as to what you could do more. So, allow me, to bring your attention to some unresolved matters in the interest of human civility, that the Indian state should feel obliged to tend to. 

CHINESE-INDIANS

Chinese Indians are those, that are descended from Chinese immigrants to India. Emigrating Chinese people to India have traditionally belonged to the Hakka region. Historically originating from the northern parts of their homeland, they had settled in the southern areas of China around the thirteenth century. Guangxi and Guangdong are some of the places that they were living in, before they decided to migrate to India. Cities and provinces in China’s south, which are in close proximity to India, tend to have a multicultural outlook, with cuisines that have been heavily influenced by India’s spice trade. Guangdong and Guangxi are no different. Hakka Chinese were here with the intention of advancing their trade and making themselves prosperous, but a large number took to us, and made the decision of adopting India as their new homeland. I do not find this out of the ordinary.

Letter, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
Chinese children in China Town, Tangra, Kolkata.

For over two thousand years, India has witnessed the arrival of asylum seeking foreigners who have ultimately enriched our history with their presence. There have been the Hellenic Greeks, the Huns of German descent who converted to Hinduism or Buddhism and settled down with Indian spouses, the Indo-Greek rulers like the Bactrians who were no different in their attitude toward us, the Chinese students and travellers who entered India during the first millennium for the study of Buddhism, the Siddhi black Africans who have retained intact their Islamic faith, the Zoroastrians who have likewise had never had their religion interfered with, the Greeks who were fleeing Ottoman persecution, the Armenians, the Jews, the Tibetans who escaped their occupied territories in order to lead respectable lives, and the Afghan merchants and the Bhutias from Bhutan, both of whom have always arrived here from time to time, for a quick buck. None of them have complained of systematic, state-sponsored discrimination against them. 

Due to the unfortunate events of 1962 between our northern neighbour and ourselves, Chinese Indians were unlawfully interned in concentration camps at Rajasthan. During the time of their internment, their homes and properties were seized and taken over, leaving them with nothing after they were freed. This reminds one of the similar fate that had befallen Japanese-Americans during the Second World War. It seems, the Indian government never found the time or the inclination to render a genuine, and heartfelt apology to the people who have suffered unnecessarily simply as a result of their Chinese heritage. It is appalling, that even during present times, and despite your party’s five year rule in India with the sixth one running, Chinese Indians are not allowed citizenship rights in this country. It would be a wonderful gesture, if you found it in you to not only apologize to them on the behalf of all Indians, but also removed the clause that prevents them from acquiring citizenship in India. It would go a long way in healing the wounds.

SIDDHI RAPPROACHMENT

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As mentioned under the previous header, Siddhis have been here as first, our esteemed guests and then as our lawful fellow citizens, beginning with the eighth century. For decades, India, her people, and her politicians, have openly favoured spectator-sports like Cricket, Lawn Tennis, Football, and even Hockey, over athletic categories which feature at the Olympic events. We have gone so far as to turn our backs against South Asia’s indigenous games like Kabaddi, and Kho Kho. Isn’t this ironic, given that South Asia had presented the world with homegrown games such as Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, and Chess? Over the last decade, some improvement seems to have been made as regards our demeanour towards Kabaddi, with India now flaunting this ancient, homegrown product for the world to witness. Many teams from foreign nations participate in the annual Kabaddi contests that are being organized.

Letter, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
Kamala Babu Siddi in the centre, with her daughters.
Letter, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
17-year-old sprinting champion Ravikiran Siddi, holding his medal.

Siddhis are of Bantu African origin whose talents had once been harvested by the SAI (Sports Authority of India). Assuming that their Black African genetics had enabled them to excel at sports. SAI established SAG (Special Area Games) in the latter half of the 1980s, with an eye to train the potential Siddhi medal winners for India. From an existence in ignominy, the Sidhhis were elevated to a level of importance that they had revelled in. The efforts had reaped recognizable dividends. Kamala Babu Siddhi emerged as one of India’s top medal winners. At the young age of 15, she partook in the Women’s Pentathlon event, and broke the record. But the euphoria was short lived. Due to a lack of infrastructure and planning, the SAG was put to sleep by our SAI. Even though in recent times, with the help of Siddhi Indian athlete and trainer Judge Jackie Harnodkar, training seems to have been revived, it is doubtful, that the zeal and fervour of the previous phase will reveal itself.

Letter, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
Judge Jackie Harnodkar.

I would urge you Prime Minister Modi, to set up special training camps for posterity, to mine the latent sporting talents of our Siddhi sisters and brothers. 

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NETAJI FILES

Unlike Rahul Gandhi and the Congress, who expectedly, did not commit to any further progress over the whereabouts of Indian anti-colonial freedom revolutionary Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, you and your party have maintained, that revelations to finally bring closure for millions of Netaji’s fans and supporters, is a priority of yours. 

In the first phase of your administration that lasted from twenty fourteen to twenty nineteen, you did make good on your promise. A number of hitherto classified files on the fate of India’s most famed armed revolutionary (along with Hutaatma Bhagat Singh), were declassified and placed in the public domain with the aim of making them accessible to researchers who are keen to determine Netaji’s whereabouts, post the August of nineteen forty five.

Very quickly, those interested in the case of Netaji learned however, that the revealed files were the convenient ones, parroting the same worldview that has remained the standard lie of previous central governments. Your office went to the extent of declaring, that the crucial material pertaining to the case would be withheld at all cost, since it would negatively affect India’s relations with a number of foreign countries. What a feeling of déjà vu, Sir! This is what we, the admirers of one of India’s great children had felt, when Congress ruled India had been recalcitrant over the declassification issue. Why the kick to our bellies, Mr. Prime Minister? Why are you aping the people you politically despise, when it comes to the crucial problem of Right to Information? A significant number of Netaji’s supporters were responsible in voting you to power. Have you no responsibility toward this section?

Letter, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
Of the sixty four Netaji files that were declassified, none stood out, much to the chagrin of investigators.

Another nagging question remains. How can India’s foreign relations with the world be abruptly hampered, when the events under purview, took place a number of generations previously, when South Asia was under colonial domination? Something is certainly amiss, here! What is it that you do not want the Indian populace to fathom? Presumably, you have had a look at the aforementioned files, and have seen something in them, that terrified you, and determined your current course of action. What was it that fazed you this much? Or did you discover that the trope of India’s foreign relations being affected, was superseded by the fact, that Netaji was harmed by political forces within South Asia? What is the truth, and how long do we have to wait, for a genuine closure, Sir? There are people, and perfectly sane, respectable ones at that, who have gingerly linked the questionable ‘natural’ death of former Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, to Netaji’s fate. I am sure you are in knowledge of this. Many of the theorists, belong to your party. They are not kidding, when they claim what they do. 

I hope, you will find it in yourself, to come clean on incidents that happened during the Second World War, and can no longer affect post-independence India’s proximity to her friends. Researchers on Netaji, shall not rest, until the truth is known. Don’t leave us, in the lurch.

JAMSHEDPUR AIRPORT

Jamshedpur is one of India’s planned cities, and ranks at number one, on the scale of cleanliness, where eastern India is concerned. Owned by the Tata group of companies, it is the location of one of the world’s largest steel production units, as you may be aware. In 2018, Tata Steel Limited, was ranked eleventh, globally, by the World Steel Association, in terms of tonnage of production. 

Letter, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
Jamshedpur, also known as Tatanagar after its Zoroastrian founder, Jamsetji Tata, has no airport dedicated to domestic or international travel. This one is exclusively for dignitaries who visit the city.
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