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Two Indians in This Year’s Grammy Winners

Bengaluru-based composer-producer Ricky Kej and New York-based author/activist Neela Vaswani picked up wins at the 57th Grammy Awards

Rolling Stone India
Rolling Stone India Feb 10, 2015
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(from left) Ricky Kej with Wouter Kellerman and Neela Vaswani with their Grammy awards. Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images (Kej); Frederick J Brown/Getty Images (Vaswani)

(from left) Ricky Kej with Wouter Kellerman and Neela Vaswani with their Grammy awards. Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images (Kej); Frederick J Brown/Getty Images (Vaswani)

The 57th Annual Grammy Awards brought cheer to several big names in music, from emerging artists such as UK pop singer Sam Smith to American rocker Beck. The Grammys, widely called Music’s Biggest Night, also honored two Indians this past week, giving away the coveted golden gramophone to Bengaluru-based American Indian composer Ricky Kej for his album Winds of Samsara, his 14th studio album, a collaboration with South African flautist Wouter Kellerman, in the Best New Age Album category. New York-based Indian American author Neela Vaswani, who narrated Afghanistan child rights activist Malala Yousafzai’s book I Am Malala, also picked up a Grammy for Best Children’s Album.

Vaswani and Kej aren’t new entrants to their respective professions. Vaswani has been author of Where the Long Grass Bends [2004] and her memoirs about identity and in-betweenness, You Have Given Me a Country, received the American Book Award in 2011. Born to an Indian father and Irish-American mother, Vaswani, who accepted the Best Children’s Album award at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, told Forbes that she “had no idea it was even possible for a children’s book to be nominated.” Vaswani added, “I hope Malala is happy. I’m thrilled to be a part of spreading her message further.”

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Kej, whose album Winds of Samsara released in July last year and debuted at Number One on the Billboard New Age albums chart, is also a film and ad jingle composer. With seven albums released under Virgin EMI, the North Carolina-born, Bengaluru-bred composer and producer thanked the Recording Academy for the win, saying, “Only in USA can an Indian and a South African receive the biggest music award.” In an interview with Bangalore Mirror after his win, Kej added that he wished his music was heard more extensively in India. Kej said, “Even though my music is Indian, it hasn’t been played by a single radio station in India. On the other hand, here in the US, more than 450 stations are playing it.”

While American Indian composer Anoushka Shankar, daughter of the late sitar legend Pandit Ravi Shankar, was also nominated for her seventh studio album Traces of You in the Best World Music category, West African musician Angelique Kidjo took home the Grammy in that category. Past Indians who have won at the Grammys include tabla artist Zakir Hussain and Pandit Ravi Shankar.

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