CT Exclusive: Ricky Kej On Grammy Win, Dinner With PM Modi-President Macron, Bond With Vishal Dadlani, Creepy Fans & More

Three-time Grammy-winner and environmentalist Ricky Kej gets candid with Curly Tales.

by Sanjana Shenoy
CT Exclusive: Ricky Kej On Grammy Win, Dinner With PM Modi-President Macron, Bond With Vishal Dadlani, Creepy Fans & More

For Ricky Kej, home is where his dogs are. A three-time Grammy winner and environmentalist, Ricky believes in walking the talk. He is a vegetarian; doesn’t subscribe to fast fashion; and rejects anything that isn’t reusable. In a first-of-its-kind collab, Ricky Kej and Nobel Peace Prize 2014 winner Kailash Satyarthi partnered for a common goal to make the world a more compassionate place. 

Rhythm Of The Earth: Ricky Kej-Kailash Satyarthi Collab For Global Compassion

Inspired by the values of Mahatma Gandhi, the Grammy awardee and the Nobel laureate have joined hands for Rhythm of the Earth — A sensorial concert series held at The Leela’s properties in four cities (Bengaluru, Chennai, Udaipur and Jaipur) in support of the Satyarthi Movement of Global Compassion (SMGC). 

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Kailash Satyarthi with Ricky Kej; Picture Credits: Sanjana Shenoy

I, Sanjana Shenoy, the Sub-Editor of Curly Tales had the privilege of speaking to the Nobel laureate and the three-time Grammy winner.

Ask Kailash Satyarthi what compassion means to him, and he says with a warm smile:

“The simplest definition of compassion is selfless problem-solving.” 

He explains in Hindi:

 “Doosro ke problem ko apni tarah mehsoos karte hue, poori imaandari ke saath agar use hal kar dete ho, to wahi compassion hai.

(Placing yourself in someone else’s shoes, viewing their problems as your own, and solving them with honesty, is compassion).” 

The Rhythm of the Earth concert underscored the need to ignite one’s spark of compassion. Every note in Ricky’s symphonies of the evening Jai Kisaan, Grammy-winning Kudrat or Ganga was steeped in melody, invigorating energy and most importantly, contributed to a larger purpose. 

Ricky Kej Talks To Curly Tales

After a stupendous musical evening, Ricky Kej got chatting with me about his Grammy win, life-changing meeting with PM Modi, friendship with singer-composer Vishal Dadlani, creepy fan moments, favourite restaurants and much more…

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Ricky Kej with Sanjana Shenoy (Sub-Editor); Picture Credits: Sanjana Shenoy

1. Congratulations on the Rhythm of the Earth concert! Tell us more about your collaboration with The Leela and the Satyarthi Movement of Global Compassion (SMGC).

The Leela and I have been doing partnerships for quite a while. They are a very good partner as they are ultra-luxurious with a purpose with sustainability at its core. Last year, we did a Rhythm of the Earth concert in three cities (Bengaluru, Chennai and Delhi) and I also partnered with them for a rendition of the National Anthem with a 100-piece British orchestra. So, when it comes to sustainable hospitality, they’ve been a first in many things.

We are covering four cities for this year’s Rhythm of the Earth concert. And the best part is that we’re collaborating with Mr Kailash Satyarthi. I’ve been a lifelong fan of his work and a follower of his for many years. I know everything about his life! First of all, to be in the audience and have him at the concert is amazing. 

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Kailash Satyarthi with Ricky Kej and his team of musicians; Picture Credits: The Leela

I was actually very nervous today because he (Kailash Satyarthi) was sitting down in the audience. I was constantly thinking while performing, “What does he think about my song? What does he think about what I’m doing?” because he is such a great man!

And then to have a partnership with him; to be on the same poster with him, itself was quite huge. And to have this conversation with him today and support his amazing initiative (Satyarthi Movement for Global Compassion)…

So, he is trying to make the whole world compassionate by tackling the root cause of the overall problems we face on the planet. 


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2. You are a three-time Grammy winner. What is the secret sauce to your success? 

There’s no secret sauce as such. When it comes to international recognition, there is this huge misconception that people have in India that to get recognised all over the world, you have to sing in English, or you have to make Western songs, or you have to sing hip-hop in a Western-style which is absolutely not true.

Because the people who’ve gotten Western recognition and global recognition are people like Pandit Ravi Shankar, Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Ustad Zakir Hussain

So, to get that kind of recognition, I believe that you have to go deep into your own roots. And you have to figure out what is it that makes you unique as a person and make music based on that rather than copying somebody. 

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Ricky Kej performing at Rhythm of The Earth; Picture Credits: The Leela

Western audiences just look at honesty. They want your music to be a part of your personality. Like for example, if it’s Adele, every single song of hers you listen to, you know what kind of a person she is in real life.

If someone is craving critical recognition, then the best way to do it is to be honest with your own music. Not crave recognition actually, but be honest with your music and then the byproduct will be recognition from all over the world.

Also Read: Grammy Winner Ricky Kej Slams Trevor Noah, Says He’s Biased Against India; Bangaloreans Defend Bangalore Venue

 3. Your music is a channel to create awareness about various social causes. Have you always been a socially conscious person? Do you credit your upbringing for this?

Of course, upbringing obviously has a role to play in all of this. But my parents were very against me being a musician initially. So, my father is a third-generation doctor. He wanted me to be a doctor. And so, after a lot of arguments and pushing and pulling at home, I ended up doing a degree in dental surgery. And I went to college for five years to study that.

But my musical career already started in the evenings. So, I did that (dentistry) just to satisfy my parents. So, when I got into music as a profession, I realised that it’s a gift to do something you are passionate about. It’s a huge gift! (emphasises)

When I got into the profession(music) at the age of 19, I had to realise that since I have been given this gift, I have to speak about things that I’m passionate about rather than getting paid to do something or waiting for commission work. That’s the reason why from the beginning, I’ve always felt very very strongly about the environment.


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And social impact came after that. From a very young ageduring the first six years of my life in North Carolina in America I used to live in a wooded area and we had a lot of creepy crawlies that would enter my home. And everybody’s reaction would be to run away from them.

But I was always drawn towards animals. I would look into their eyes, and try to figure out what are they thinking. And think of them as not being different from human beings. I would think of them as my brothers and sisters.

I’ve always had a very very strong connection with nature. 

And also as a child, I liked hanging around with animals more than human beings. 

Do you still feel that? (I interject.)

(On being caught off guard, he ponders for a second. Then breaks into a shy smile.)

I mean… Many times!  (We burst out laughing, agreeably.)

4. You mentioned that a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015 changed your life. Tell us about that meeting.

I was told that it was going to be a 5 to 10-minute photo op and I was very grateful for the opportunity. I sat with him (PM Modi) and he told me about him visiting the climate change conference —UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris later that year. 

Seeing how passionate I was about the environment as I was already doing work with the United Nations by then he told me that he would be giving a keynote speech. And shared what he would be saying in his speech. 


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We started chatting and PM Modi loved the stuff that I had to say. Initially, I was conscious of his time, so I was talking fast. During the meeting, he told me, “Play something”

I took out my tablet and played Longing from my Grammy-winning album Winds of Samsara and another song, Rang Do. 

He listened to the whole song and watched the entire video. And then proceeded to tell me that since I am so passionate about the environment Why not just dedicate my life to this? Not just speak about this (environment) but lead the life!

Because before this, I was making music on a variety of things. Some of it was about the environment. 

I remember leaving the office after an almost hour-long meeting— thinking very strongly about it because when the Prime Minister of a country gives you advice, you will take it a little seriously. 

I was thinking I might not get the concerts that I want; I am not going to make the money I make. But I decided to just dive deep into the swimming pool and figure out what happens. And I did that! 

Surprisingly, my career thrived after that. I won another two Grammys and numerous awards from all over the world. So, that was the best decision I made in my life!

 I started becoming honest with my music. And there was no such thing as writer’s block because I would make music whenever I would feel inspired about something. So, my concerts are now only about that (environment). 

Did you go back and tell PM Modi this? 

Of course! I met him multiple times after that— in Johannesburg and then in France. I was invited to the state dinner during the G20 summit with the President of France Emmanuel Macron. So, it was me, President Macron and Prime Minister Modi sitting together on the table. 

So, basically, I was very privy to the conversations that the two of them had.

It was an amazing conversation! This was in July of last year. 

( Takes his phone out and starts searching for pictures from the event. With childlike enthusiasm, Ricky shows me his selfies with the two world leaders.)


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PM Modi has got a fantastic translator. 

We were having a three-way conversation at that time. It was nice to see the conversation between the two of them. 

It is also a very funny thing that President Macron calls him by his first name.

So, President Macron says, “Narendra.”

And because you don’t hear it (often). You can’t imagine him being called by his first name. 

He (President Macron) was hugging him (PM Modi) and saying, “Narendra, do you want this?” and forcing him to have dessert. 

Then, President Macron looks at me and asks, “Wine?” 

I tell him, “I don’t drink.” 

He looks at me and says in jest, “Nobody is perfect.” 

( At this point, I laugh so hard that I bang my head on the headrest. Ricky joins me and we break into a peal of laughter)

President Macron… he is quite an amazing guy! And plus the friendship that the two of them had… how much respect he had for the prime minister (Modi), that was amazing! 

The way he was talking to him, it was very good to see all of that!

5. Does travel help you create better music? 

The only thing that I hate about my profession is travelling like going to airports, packing my bag, going through security checks, standing in lines, and waking up early morning.

The idea of a holiday itself makes me nervous because I have to do that all over again.

My idea of taking time off is staying at home and spending time with my dogs and just doing nothing. Just watching TV and listening to music. That is all!

I usually never stay in a country for more than one and a half days. I arrive the night before, have a rehearsal the next morning and the concert at night. And I’m out by next morning. If I have an additional day, I prefer to rest in my hotel room as I want to give my best at the concert.

Despite travelling to New York at least 6 times a year, I still haven’t seen the Statue of Liberty or gone to the top of the Empire State Building. Nothing like that! 

Also Read: CT Exclusive: Santa Sarmah On Life After MasterChef, Losing MIL While On Show, Putting Assamese Cuisine On World Map & More

Rapid Fire Time With Ricky Kej

1. Your most special concert

In Leh Ladakh. I performed for 12,000 Indian Army soldiers to celebrate 20 years of Kargil Divas. 

The UN General Assembly comes a close second. I have performed there three times. 

 2. A pre-stage ritual you follow

I am usually a nervous wreck before I go on stage. So, I use that stress to figure out what can go wrong and how I can mitigate it as there is a lot of technology involved in our concerts like the video, lighting, music itself and my keyboards. I guess there is a lot of stress for me and I thrive on that.  

3. Recent Bollywood song or music album that impressed you

– Chamkila (Amar Singh Chamkila

I really liked the soundtrack of Chamkila! Amazing soundtrack! 

– Fighter 

I like the soundtrack of Fighter also. Surprisingly! I felt that the compositions were very freshly done. And of course, I am a huge fan of Vishal-Sheykhar. Especially Vishal Dadlani!

I have been his fan for the last 20 years. Growing up, I was in a rock band. And Vishal Dadlani was in a band called Pentagram.  

I was a huge Pentagram fan! Wherever there was a concert, I would go over and watch it. 

Once or twice, I even found my way backstage and tried to meet him (Vishal). And he remembers that I was this guy who used to come backstage and bother him. 

Does he bother you now as revenge? ( I tease!)

Not at all! He is an amazing guy! We constantly chat with each other on Instagram, at least once a week. I find myself quite blessed that the people who I was a huge fan of while growing up, I can have one-on-one conversations with them right now.

I would love to collaborate with him sometime. Also, Vishal and I come from quite opposing political ideologies. We never talk about that. And that is what I admire so much about him.

He does not judge me based on that nor do I judge him based on that. So we’ve got this mutual respect and that’s what I admire about him.

I am also a  huge fan of Salim–Sulaiman. I managed to even collaborate with them (I Am Change song). They are easily the best music producers in India without a doubt. 

Also Read: Hyderabad Has A New Haunt Dedicated To Tansen, The Famous Musician, Dishing North-Western Frontier Delicacies

4. Favourite comfort food


The worst pizza I’ve ever eaten is in Italy because I do not like the authentic “chapati” style pizza. I like the New York-style fast food-ish kind of pizza. 

5. Favourite restaurants in Bengaluru

-Citrus (The Leela Palace Bengaluru)

– India Sweet House 

-Kartik’s Mithai Shoppe

-Bhikharam Chandmal 

-Burma Burma


Also Read: CT Interview: Chef Gary Mehigan Finds Butter Chicken Overrated, Wants Himalayan Biking Trip And

6. The last time you got star-struck? 

Today, with Kailash Satyarthi. Those are the kind of people who get me starstruck.

7. Your favourite travel destination

My home.

8. A special fan moment

During my concerts in the USA and Europe, fans pack Indian food and leave it on the edge of the stage. It has happened many times. So, I pick it up and take it to my hotel. It’s usually roti, curry and biryani(vegetarian). 

There have also been creepy fan stuff.

Once I put out a rant on social media asking why restaurants in India don’t make French fries from scratch. On seeing my rant, a woman messaged me on Facebook and told me she found my house and left me French fries that she cooked herself. 

I have no idea how she found my house! I wasn’t in town but my office boy found the box. And there have been a couple of times when people have just entered my home as I do not close the door. And they found me sitting in my living room. 

But don’t your dogs warn you?

No. My dogs are completely useless! 

( He chuckles and reveals they are golden retrievers. That explains it! )


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9. The most special message you received on winning a Grammy 

From AR Rahman, when I won my first Grammy. 

He sent me a message: “Congratulations Ricky you have proven that music is a viable profession no matter where you are born”.


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10. Advice you have for aspiring Indian musicians

You have to like being in the field of music as unlike traditional career paths, you have to find your own career path. 

Be hardworking. 

Constantly update yourself with technology.

But technology should not take the lead, it should be a way for you to express yourself. 

Figure out what you want to say through your music instead of waiting for somebody to pay you money to make music. 


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11. One-line advice you have for us as an environmentalist

Instead of trying to change the world, make tiny incremental changes in your life. 



Cover Image Courtesy: Supplied/ The Leela

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