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Why Ricky Kej's Grammy-winning album deserves a listen

Updated on: 13 February,2023 03:05 PM IST  |  Mumbai
Shriram Iyengar |

With its atmospheric diversity and strong Eastern tonality, Ricky Kej and Stewart Copeland’s Grammy Award-winning album Divine Tides marks the rise of Asian music

Why Ricky Kej's Grammy-winning album deserves a listen

(From left) Ricky Kej poses with Herbert Waltl and Stewart Copeland after the Grammys. Pic courtesy/Instagram @rickykej

How do you measure the quality of an album that has already been declared a winner? Ricky Kej and Stewart Copeland’s Divine Tides (2022) won its second, and Kej’s third, Grammy Award on February 6 as the Best Immersive Audio Album. The album also won Best New Age Album back in 2022.

Produced by Kej and Copeland (founder of The Police) and Lonnie Park, the album retains a strong Indian aesthetic in its melody, style and structure. From the opening strains of ‘Wonders of Life’, the album showcases the wealthy rhythms that unify Eastern and Western vibes. The timpani, sitar, violin and flute flow seamlessly with the vocals to set the tone. Nine tracks might feel a lot in the age of short EPs, but they are a refreshing experience. The ambience of the track, Himalayas captures the ambition of epic scale. Co-written by Copeland and Kej, the track has distinct Indian melodies in the sitar, flute and violin combining with Copeland’s percussion.

The array of talent on board the album explains its quality music. Ron Korb’s flute solo leads to the song Our home. The flautist’s melody brings home Sangeeta Kaur’s alaap. Pastoral India, with its diverse sonic textures and an engaging Salim Merchant adds flair. But if it is an aural experience you are going for, then A prayer is the composition to check out. With the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Bangalore Women’s Choir in the choral section, it elevates the vocals of Rasika Shekhar joining the flute of Wouter Kellerman. It is cinematic and epic in its scale and sound. The only downer, if we were to nit-pick, would be that the experiential album is a touch abstract for listeners used to lyrical composition.

Kej and Copeland combine well to creatively use the vocals as another instrumental layer to their creation. The only lyrics come with the closing song, Mother earth, a flowing composition with Kej’s keyboards, dynamic vocals and Jyotsna Srikanth on the vibrant string section. Immersive ambient music might not be for everyone, but Divine Tides is part of a growing shift towards the world’s exposure towards the diverse sounds of the subcontinent. That makes this win sweeter.  

Log on to: Divine Tides 
On: Spotify

A global voice

Rick’s music has a vast expansive vision. It is very cinematic. In many songs, Copeland uses bells and the rhythm in the same musical tonality as the album. I think Ricky has sensed the global shift towards subcontinental music. He also uses the human voice well as an instrument. Except for one song, the rest have alaaps and sargams. The choral voices are a fantastic touch, especially The Bangalore choir. In all, the composition lends itself to immersive music that envelops you, with its 360-degree structure.

KJ Singh,  music producer

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