Award-winning musician and environmental activist Ricky Kej says he “absolutely loves Surrey” after playing in the city for the first time in late July.
Kej — who won a Grammy in 2015 and this year was named in the United Nations’ Real Leaders 100 List — performed his “Music for the Planet” at Surrey’s Fusion Festival at Holland Park on July 22, and put on an earlier July 20 show at SFU Surrey for campus executive director Stephen Dooley and a “select audience.”
“From childhood, I’ve always been a strong environmentalist,” Kej told the Now-Leader. “After winning a Grammy, the Indian Prime Minister called to congratulate me. He encouraged me to stop everything else and just focus on the environment, and climate change, and to make this my life’s mission. I took that very seriously, and that’s exactly what I’m doing.”
Thank you @rickykej & team for an awesome evening of amazing music/ videography with a passionate message on need to take on #ClimateChange Kudos to all the sponsors. Music unites us & inspires. @adriandix @JagrupBrar1 pic.twitter.com/QYGUfu2CtK
— Jinny Sims (@jinnysims) July 22, 2018
In all, the Surrey concerts involved more than 50 artists including members from the Surrey City Orchestra, a new creation headed by Ellen Farrugia.
Kej also played along with with Padma Shree Vishwa Mohan Bhatt (India), Grammy nominee Ron Korb (Canada, flautist), Grammy winner Jennifer Gasoi (Canada, singer/songwriter), Grammy nominee Rocky Dawuni (Ghana, singer/songwriter), Grammy nominee Lonnie Park (USA, singer/vocalists), Hai Phuong (Vietnam).
From India were Chaitra H G, Manoj George (violinist), Nirmal Antonty (drummer) and Muthu Kumar (tabla, percussion) from India.
All of the musicians learned their parts, co-ordinating over Skype, with just one rehearsal together the day before.
“The two concerts were kind of amazing. I love doing larger public gathers, because all my music is about the environment and raising awareness to climate change. That’s what I’ve dedicated my life to,” said Kej. “But I also like intimate audiences of people who can bring about change on a large scale. I was very fortunate to do both of these kinds of shows in Surrey.”
Kej performed music from his latest album “Shanti Samsara,” which was launched by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President of France Francois Hollande in the presence of world leaders at the Paris COP21 Summit.
But the performances included a mix of old and new music, and Kej said he introduced his version of the Canadian anthem while in Surrey.
“I did an instrumental version, and all my concerts are always accompanied by large visuals,” Kej elaborated. “It featured all the wonderful animals. I always believe a country is not just the humans that are living in the country, and that’s the narrative that needs to change.”
“These are the unsung and true citizens of this country,” he said of animals. “It was quite a powerful moment in the concert.”
Kej revealed that Surrey’s Fusion Fest was the first time he’s ever played a festival.
“It’s complicated,” he said of his set-up. “It becomes difficult if there are multiple bands setting up on a stage.”
But things went off without a hitch in Surrey, and Kej hopes to return for another performance one day.
Kej’s life and journey is taught to seventh grade children in India, as part of English textbooks.
He was the first person of Indian origin to debut at number one on the US Billboard New Age Albums Chart in 2014, with his 14th studio album.
Kej said one project that’s close to his heart are 27 children’s songs about the environment and sustainability he’s helped create, which are to be distributed in more than one million textbooks throughout India in 2019.
“When you’re talking about environmental consciousness, you need to start with children. Songs you learn at childhood are songs you remember until the day you die,” he said. “It’s completely non-commercial, and I’ve put all the songs in the public domain.”