Published: 14th January 2020
The planet doesn’t need saving, we are saving ourselves from extinction: Ricky Kej on climate change
Grammy Award-winning musician Ricky Kej spoke to us about the climate crisis that is looming on us and what we as citizens should do to prevent it
No matter how many times we repeat climate change is real, it doesn’t seem to be bothering us. The Australian bushfires are burning proof. If the heartbreaking images of the devastation doesn’t ignite our conscience, I don’t know what will. Grammy Award-winning musician Ricky Kej agrees. “We don’t know what’s awaiting us or our future generations,” says the Bengaluru-based composer, who is also an environmentalist. We got a chance to interact with Kej and he spoke to us about the impending climate crisis, how youngsters are standing up for the cause, his work for the environment and a lot more.
Excerpts from an extremely environmentally conscious conversation.
Images from the Australian Bushfires are disturbing. Do you feel humans are at fault?
Very unfortunate what's going on over there. It breaks my heart to look at the footage all over that we are getting to see on social media and news reports. I am trying to understand if this is a cause that stems from not having political will or if it's because nature has just become too powerful. Or is it Australia's fault or the whole world's fault as the entire world is responsible for climate change and currently one or two countries are suffering from it, now and again. So it's an extremely confusing time we are living in. But all that we can think about when we witness incidents like this is that we all need to do things within our own individual capacity so that we mitigate the effects of climate change. Right now what we need more than political will is behavioural change — we all need to change our habits, change the way that we are living our lives such that the world becomes a better place to live in. Of course, yes, everything is anthropogenic, climate change is completely man-made, absolutely no doubt about it. There's a scientific consensus on the fact that this is human-made. It is a human problem and we need to work on it. Everybody says that we need to save the planet but we need to get it into everyone's heads that the planet needs no saving, what we are doing is trying to save ourselves from extinction.
How would you say your composition My Earth Songs is more relevant now? So many young people like Greta are standing up for the cause, is it evident that others will as well?
It is a series of 27 songs that I wrote over the last two years. The idea behind the songs has been that I have taken the 17 sustainable goals of the United Nations which are basically goals that we need to achieve by 2030. There are songs about eliminating poverty, hunger, for climate action but all for children. So all this has been written for children between the age of Grade I to Grade VIII. It’s in simple language, infectious melodies, you listen to it once it sticks in your head. They don’t talk about the negatives but what we can do to help the world. Hope, positivity and fun is what they exude. They have already been included in CBSE, ICSE English language textbooks — precisely in 4.9 million textbooks as of now. We are moving into other languages - it has already been translated into Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Marathi, Hindi and we hope it spreads into more Government schools through these translations.
When it comes to relevance, I cannot be of the mindset that I am causing the young people to come up and talk because they are doing it completely on their own. The movement when it comes to young people is absolutely fantastic, it has sort of been spearheaded by Greta Thunberg. Young people are more at stake when it comes to climate change, I am going to be on this planet for another 30-40 years but for a person like Greta who will have to be here for over 60 years, she is going to face the worst effects of climate change and is going to be cleaning up after us. That does not make any sense. Why are they living in such bad conditions, why are they not having even good enough air to breathe?
How important is it currently to inculcate environmental awareness at an early age?
I believe children are born with a lot of empathy and they care about what other people think and are born with a lot of kindness but the problem is the way our system works we just systematically erase it from them. We need to ensure that these beautiful qualities remain within them and we start a conversation about sustainability at a younger age. We need to explain to them what mistakes we've made so they don't repeat those. One of the reasons why I did My Earth Songs was they began the conversation at an early age. People are talking about what a carbon footprint is right from their first grade.
Do you have other songs planned in the future on the environment or similar concepts?
My Earth Songs is a dynamic project, out of which 27 songs have already been released. Since I released it in mid-2019 I have written another 8-9 songs since then. For the next batch of textbooks and curriculum they will come in based on the needs and situations of today.
Talking about music as a profession, are our institutions doing enough to encourage youngsters to take up music as a mainstream profession with all the school/college bands coming up?
I would say not enough but it's definitely getting better. Schools themselves are treating music as a hobby still now, I have been to several schools I see that all the music books are kept in the hobby section, they should keep it in the arts section or the professional section. It can be a very strong and powerful profession I believe. Music is a powerful tool not just to convey a message but to retain that in the consciousness of a listener. Songs play a very important role. If you look into the history of other countries, songs have been an integral part of several important movements like in America the JFK assassination was chronicled through songs, there are songs about Trump, Vietnam War, World War I and more. If you want to know what the mindset of the people were then you would through the songs, a collective consciousness was formed through music and people knew what everybody else was thinking. That doesn't exist in India, here it is either an item song or a love song. Not coming from the heart of the musicians but based on a script or what the director visualises. But I feel if music is treated as a profession in schools then more musicians will begin creating music about things that they feel strongly about.