Published: 02nd October 2021
Gandhi with Gen Z: Frogs and Gandhi might make an unlikely pair but Ricky Kej's latest track hits hard
Gandhi, a song by Ricky Kej and drummer Stewart Copeland, is our current earworm. Once you hear it, it'll be your earworm too and you won't regret it
I told you so — this is what Grammy Award-winning composer and environmentalist Ricky Kej reckons Mahatma Gandhi would say if he were to take a peek from the heavens above and look down at the tragedies that have befallen humankind. After all, Kej reminds us that it was the Mahatma who said, 'The world has enough for everyone's needs, but not everyone's greed'. But there is another equally famous quote of the Father of our Nation that has led us to catch up with the internationally renowned musician — The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. This is the same quote that has served as an inspiration for Gandhi, the sixth song from Kej's album Divine Tides. This is not only Kej's latest album but it is also the result of a collaboration with Stewart Copeland, the American musician and composer best known as the drummer of English rock band The Police. And together, they came up with nine songs that capture the soundscapes from around the world.
Frogs are here to stay
The song Gandhi was released last month and instead of celebrating the symbols already associated with him, like his glasses or songs like Vaishnava Janato, the visuals of this song comprises a very special montage, that of frogs from the Western Ghats of India. Surprised? Well, then we implore you to recall the quotes above — while the human race has called Earth their home for the past 3,00,000 years, frogs have been inhabitants of this planet for over 3,00,000,000 years! "There is such a debate when it comes to who this land belongs to as per caste, creed and other distinctions. But holistically, frogs have lived here the longest time and are integral to the ecosystem. Protecting them is our responsibility," says the 40-year-old. Bush frogs, dancing frogs, the Malabar gliding frog and many other such amphibians feature in the music video.
Coming to the music, classical vocalist and sarangi player Ustad Sultan Khan lent his voice to the song with strong classic overtones. And the instruments. Oh, where do we begin! In the album itself, the making of which Copeland calls "a unique adventure in both music and divine awareness", instruments like the tongue drum, ceng ceng, crotales and the Chinese drums find a place. "The underlying theme is celebrating the natural world and the zillions of us who have weathered several pandemics, surely like the one we are weathering now. More importantly, celebrating our resilience. When we talk about the environment, we often do so in a way that is disconnected from humankind. We need to remember that our survival is integral to co-existence with the wild and with wildlife," says Kej.
After 70 concerts in 13 countries in the year 2019 alone, the pandemic forced Ricky to stay put in his Bengaluru home that also houses his studio. So, when he thought about working on a new album, he wanted to join forces with an equally passionate musician. "A collaboration helps one expand their unilateral ideas and that's why I reached out to Stewart Copeland who maintains that, till date, whenever he listens to the album, he is moved to tears," shares Kej.
How the visuals happened
A conversation at one of the many cafés dotting Indiranagar turned into not one but two solid collaborations. So the two people in question here are, of course, Ricky Kej and Suhas Premkumar, a naturalist and a filmmaker. Premkumar has not only shot the video for Gandhi, but Kej will be composing music for Premkumar's first feature-length film on frogs called Little Planet, which will be out next year.
Speaking to us from Kudremukh, Premkumar informs us that the montage for Gandhi was shot in Agumbe, Sharavati and other spots in the ghats. "Our concept was not to go after the rarest species, sometimes what we see day-to-day is what we tend to overlook. So to bring them to the limelight, we went after the most common frogs," says the certified Naturalist and Eco Volunteer at the Karnataka Forest Department. While cameras like the Nikon D810, Panasonic LUMIX GH5S and others helped capture all these amazing visuals, lugging around the equipment was challenging. "But I am grateful to have had this opportunity with Ricky Kej," he says and concludes.