Artists for the Earth

In perfect harmony: Ricky Kej brings together music and activism

Musicians and activists have used songs to drive social change since — well, probably forever. 

Whether they call for peace, an end to discrimination or bring awareness to famine, “as long as people have been getting fed up with the status quo, they’ve been singing about it,” journalist Bridgett Henwood wrote for Vox in 2017. 

The environmental movement is no different. On the first Earth Day nearly 50 years ago, 20 million people rallied to demand action, including famous artists such as the late folk-singer Pete Seeger. 

Now, big names, like U.S. popstars Billie Eilish, Lana Del Rey and Lil Nas X, join the climate conversation daily. In India, Earth Day Network Ambassador and new age musician Ricky Kej used his platform for years to create music about the environment. 

“It was through my music that I fell in love with our natural world,” Kej told Earth Day Network. “I have always found a deep connection between music and nature.”

Kej is a world-renowned musician and environmentalist who has performed in over 30 countries and at the United Nations three times, both in New York and Geneva. For his work, “Shanti Samsara,” which premiered at the U.N. COP21 in Paris, Kej collaborated with over 500 musicians from over 40 countries. 

“It was immensely daunting and, at times, very stressful,” he said. “It was such a fulfilling experience to bring all these different cultures, traditions and people together through the universal language of music for the purpose of environmental consciousness.”

But it’s not always easy for eco-conscious musicians like Kej to tour the world, collaborate with other artists or perform. Everything comes with a carbon footprint. 

In 2019, researchers followed five touring-musicians to study their environmental impact. They found that the artists collectively added 19,314 kilograms of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere within six months ­— the same as flying back and forth from New York City to London nearly 20 times.  

Musicians are starting to acknowledge the significance of their actions. Coldplay famously stopped touring in November 2019 until they find a sustainable alternative, and other artists are cutting plastic straws at venues, planting a tree for each ticket sold and recycling unsold merchandise.

Kej is already there. He leads a carbon-neutral, if not carbon-negative, musical life.

“I work closely with a company that audits my carbon footprint for every single project of mine, whether it is a live concert, an album recording, studio sessions, traveling,” he said. “Conscious actions such as these will have a ripple effect and will greatly contribute to the well-being of our planet.”

“Change has to begin with us as individuals. Art can be used as a tool to empower people to believe that we can bring about that change within our own capacity.”

Ricky kej, Indian composer and producer

Kej also noted that it’s not only politicians and celebrities that have to change their routines and offset their emissions. We all need to change our habits. Consumers should support environmentally conscious businesses and voters should elect leaders who will pass climate legislation, he said. 

Globally, people are already feeling the effects of climate change — the increase of intense storms, worsening air quality, droughts and wildfires. In 2019, India experienced one of its longest and most intense heatwaves in decades. Since 2010, more than 6,000 people have died from heatwaves.

“We must think ‘How much can our planet afford?’,” Kej said. “Indians are becoming more and more aware about the importance of sustainable living, and I am certain that we will lead by example.”

Kej works closely with Earth Day Network-India and recently became an Artist for the Earth at Earth Day Network. Artists for the Earth is a global campaign connecting artists and art organizations to engage the public with issues of the environment. 

Art has the power to make the daunting subject of climate change more personal while encouraging individual action. The year 2020 will see the biggest mobilization of artists and activists ever. Don’t miss out.

Register as an Artist for the Earth, and gear up for your next climate strike by adding these 12 inspirational songs to your playlist. 

“Change has to begin with us as individuals,” Kej said. “Art can be used as a tool to empower people to believe that we can bring about that change within our own capacity.”