Ricky Kej
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Ricky Kej

Bangalore, Karnātaka, India

Bangalore, Karnātaka, India
World Experimental

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"Ricky Kej’s Shanti Orchestra"

Ricky Kej is the brainchild behind Shanti Orchestra, which is a labyrinthine concoction of swirling melodies, drifting sounds, and an electronic base that brings to life new age embellishments and world fusion with a dose of chill. Ricky is an international composer, musician, and collaborator joined by numerous musicians, including Alexis D’Souza, Junior Bay, Praveen Godkhindi, Wouter Kellerman, Paul Livingstone. The world fusion foundation is littered with new age flutes, electronic beats, and soaring vocals that transcend space and time. The atmospheric washes and meandering rhythms are delicate and moving. There are twelve tracks that are filled with lush grooves and down-tempo melodies that are steeped in South Asian aural tapestries wrapped around cross-cultural vocal arrangements and remix-ready, instrumental tracks that glisten with sonic delights.



“Pieces Of Heaven” begins with a few, electronic blips, atmospheric washes, piano notes, and bansuri flute stylings that are brief with only a few male voices that reflect an African origin. The voices wane and atmospheric washes ebb-and-flow around sitar sounds and an electronic percussion sequence that delves into a DJ’s paradise with only a few, male, chant-type vocals and female, English vocals. There are a few light, dance-worthy, percussion sounds that encapsulate electronic influences from South Asia and Western Europe. The latter half of the track incorporates a variety of vocals, atmospheric washes, and soaring melodies that are unforgettable.



“Mellow” opens with a pensive and solo piano line that incorporates a few metallic chimes, string accompaniment, and swishy percussion that showcases a plethora of electronic washes and raw, bansuri flute sounds that are cinematic, classical, and groundbreaking at the same time. The danceable elements are noted in the upbeat percussion, operatic vocals mid-song, and background strings. The percussion and vocals culminate into a crescendo of mixed sounds near the end of the song. All in all, “Mellow” is full of new age grandeur and world grooves that do not disappoint.



“Exotic Dreams” opens with a few percussive claps and an electronic bagpipe solo that grows into a mish-mash of voices, skittish beats, and electronic sounds that quickly end. However, the sounds give way for a string medley of plucked sounds and atmospheric washes with bansuri flute and assorted percussive elements. The entire sound is amped up with dance-friendly beats, swishy percussion, and soaring, yet indiscriminate vocals. The percussive arrangements are free-flowing and the instrumental sounds are a cross-cultural mix of South Asia meets Western Europe.



Ricky Kej’s latest release, Shanti Orchestra, is an hour-long journey of electronic dance, new age, and down-tempo compositions that traverse the musical worlds of South Asia and Europe with ease. The cinematic qualities of “Exotic Dreams” and “Mellow” are infectious, contemplative, and classical. The entire project is immersed in the sounds of keyboards, strings, sitar, percussion, bansuri, piano, and other instruments. Overall, Shanti Orchestra is mostly an instrumental release that introduces a turbulent world to soothing, chill-out music with a soul.

Review by Matthew Forss - Matthew Forss


"RICKY KEJ, Shanti Orchestra"

Long one of India’s most prolific young composers in the worlds of advertisements, film scores, jingles, TV soundtracks, signature tunes and live events (including the soundtrack to the opening ceremonies Cricket World Cup in 2012, heard by over a billion people worldwide), Ricky Kej shares a deeply felt, fascinating journey rich with dreamy melodies, deep downtempo grooves and exotic instrumentation on his ethnically diverse new collection Shanti Orchestra. While Kej’s visions and 12 unique compositions are not performed by a literal orchestra, the multi-talented bassist and composer collaborates with over 20 world renowned musicians from diverse places, including Los Angeles (sitar master Paul Livingstone, a prominent voice throughout the project), South Africa, India, Congo, Quatar.

While Kej didn’t start off with a concept per se—preferring to express his emotions and feelings in a free-flowing blend of music and harmony—the Shanti (meaning “peace” and “equilibrium”) theme emerged when he realized that every groove, every note and every sound somehow came together perfectly as if they were created to be played together. As Kej says, “I believe just like music can be harmonious amidst so much of chaos, so can the world. Music works best when there is harmony and not when notes are in unison.”

That universal, unifying philosophy infuses every track of Shanti Orchestra in unique and spirited ways. On the opening track “Shanti Part 1,” Kej achieves the initial gentle mood of Shanthi – Peace with the ethereal, dreamy tones of the saarangi – and the introductory mystical journey is furthered colored by santur and bamboo flute. The feeling of “Forever” sweeps in with an encompassing synth wash, which provides a foundation for exotic, trippy tastes of drifting sitar, lilting bamboo (as the tune rolls into a seductive down tempo mode) and relaxing and angelic wordless female vocals. Deepening into “Blue,” Kej invites us into a floating dreamscape, blending an infectious, hypnotic synth motif with a whimsical Indian flute before the thoughtful and romantic sitar melody takes over. “Pieces Of Heaven” creates an experience that’s graceful yet deeply tribal in spots, its dreamy flute melody and synth lines complemented by seductive male voices first, then a female choir later as the song builds into a soaring anthem.

“Exotic Dreams” takes the listener across the cultural expanse, opening with a wailing, mournful taste of Ireland before moving into a wistful, more joyous realm full of playful flute improvisations and quickly plucked strings and soaring female chanting over deep, soulful grooves. After the peaceful and uplifting Indian vocal-filled interlude “Shanti – Part 2” inspire the Shanthi to take flight, Kej eases into the rustic folk-exotica realm on “Black & White,” mixing the raw emotion of the North Indian dilruba with the lighter textures of the flute and drifting female vocals. Musically, the next two tracks are impressionistic interpretations of their titles, where the listener feels the sad “Longing” of trippy, hypnotic raindrops mixed with optimistic flute and soaring vocal chants and synth washes, and luxuriates and breathes deep in the graceful and soulful “Mellow,” which is piano and string driven before a charming melodic flute line rises above the ivories. “Intervention” weaves out to an expansive, enriching seven and a half minutes on the wings of an easy tribal groove and the monosyllables of an invented language (sung by a female choir and a soloist) sung in harmony.

While Shanti as a whole evolves as a spiritual experience open to the listener’s interpretation, “Thou” in particular invokes a sense of the transcendent and sacred with its Latin lyric (sung in ancient church choir style) blended with Middle Eastern percussion and otherworldly harp and flute elements. Shanti closes powerfully, with “Pieces of Heaven – Reprise,” a revisit to one of the album’s most hypnotic tunes with an uplifting inspirational message sung alternately by a male lead vocal, tribal men’s choir and then a calming female voice.

As a sonic experience, Ricky Kej’s Shanti Orchestra is a soulful triumph of the musical spirit. His vision, which truly demands several listens to absorb every nuance and texture, is enhanced by the beautiful cover art of Harris Backer, one of the leading graphic artists in Asia, who creates harmony in chaos (the overriding musical theme) visually. At first glance, it’s a cluttered cover design, with elements from across the globe, but ultimately, like the music itself, everything fits together beautifully.

--Jonathan Widran, music writer, Jazziz - JAZZIS - Jonathan Widran


"Shanti Orchestra by Ricky Kej"

Having recently had the opportunity to meet with Ricky Kej, I came away being extremely impressed with how much he has accomplished so far in his 32 years on the planet. Many people never get close to this level of achievement in an entire lifetime. He told me a fascinating story that perfectly illustrates the single pointed dedication he holds towards his music career. Ricky grew up in India in a family of doctors, who were not exactly thrilled about his wanting to devote his life to music. But they told him that if he went to college and got a professional degree they would be more supportive of his musical interests. So to honor his family’s wishes, Ricky undertook studies in dentistry and eventually graduated with a degree in dental surgery. Having fulfilled his promise, immediately after graduation, he went full steam ahead into his music career without ever practicing dentistry a day in his life. Ricky always knew that music was his life path and nothing would deter him from it.



It hasn’t been that long since Ricky graduated from college and began his artistic career in earnest. In just 13years, he has created Raveolution Studios, a high level professional recording facility in India that has produced over 3000 jingles and commercial placements for clients like Toyota, IBM, Nike, Ford, Levi’s, Air India, and many more. One of his fondest accolades is having composed the music for the opening ceremony of the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2011. This opening ceremony was telecast in over 200 countries worldwide. It was hailed by the world media as the best Opening Ceremony in the history of World Cup Cricket. He has also recorded numerous albums, composed the entire score and songs for five feature films in India, appeared as a guest judge on many singing reality shows in India, and is an activist for music education and animal rights. Actually, the list goes on, but there is only so much room in the scope of this article and I do want to focus on his personal music and Shanti Orchestra album.

According to Ricky. The word “shanti” means “peace” and “equilibrium.” In his words: “I believe just like music can be harmonious amidst so much of chaos, so can the world. Music works best when there is harmony and not when notes are in unison. It is similar with the world. We do not actually need the world to live as ONE in unison. We just need the world to work as a harmony. We do not need absolute unity, but just a state of NO war, where every country lives harmoniously, sharing and in understanding of each other. Shanti conveys just that.” Ricky doesn’t just speak in platitudes, but his music is a living example of international cooperation and harmony. On this album he has collaborated with over 20 musicians from around the world, including sitar maestro Paul Livingstone (USA), flute virtuoso Wouter Kellerman (South Africa), bansuri flutist Praveen Godkhindi (India), vocalists Junior Bay (Congo) and Alexis D’Souza (Qatar), among others.



Magic is in the air as the album opens with Shanti, Pt.1. Swirling synthesizers and tinkling chimes set the stage Shanti-Part 1for the entrance of exotic instruments like saarangi, santur, tabla drums, and more. Airy flutes glide over earthy rhythms as the song evolves and alternates between driving beats and more a spacious sound. Although the track is short, at just over two minutes, it provides a perfect introduction and signals to the listener to fasten their seatbelts, put their tray tables and seatbacks in an upright position, and prepare for takeoff on an extraordinary musical journey. On the next track, entitled “Forever,” while the vibe is peaceful, the music itself can be quite intricate, as it is throughout the album. Listening as a producer, I can only imagine how many tracks it took to create some of these elaborate soundscapes. I’m sure that I could listen to this numerous times and keep hearing new sounds and subtle nuances emerging from the mix. In some ways it reminds me of Indian cuisine that combines a great many spices and flavors to create rich and complex taste experiences.



The music of Ricky Kej artfully integrates Indian and world music influences with the lush orchestration and aura of enchantment created by artists like David Arkenstone, Kitaro, 2002, and Al Conti. A track simply called, “Blue,” is a serene dreamscape that alternately floats, and grooves gently with contemporary electronica and down-tempo beats. I especially appreciated the way Ricky was able to weave the percussive elements in and out so seamlessly in this meditative excursion. Additionally, along these lines, was the skillful blending of traditional instruments with more ethereal synthesizer-based sounds. A good example of this is on “Pieces Of Heaven,” which also adds angelic female vocals. In the liner notes, Ricky refers to the combination of sitar and santur throughout the song as, “the perfect marriage between plucked and hammered strings.” As much as I’d - MUSIC & MEDIA FOCUS - Michael Diamond


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