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Rickey Kej on conducting UK’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for ‘Jana Gana Mana’ performance- 2023

Being an Indian, Grammy winner Ricky Kej says leading the UK’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) for a rendition of “Jana Gana Mana” was special as the national anthem has been the most “important piece of music” in his life.

Kej on Monday shared the video of the national anthem, recorded with a 100-piece British orchestra from the RPO at the iconic Abbey Road Studios in London, that earned him praise from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Ahead of the collaboration, Kej said the first thought that came in his mind was how the times have changed as a man from a country that the British Empire ruled for over 200 years is now leading their “most in-demand” orchestra and performing “Jana Gana Mana”.

“At the back of my mind, it was going on that the British ruled us for over 200 years, so it was nice for an Indian conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, performing our Indian national anthem. They were very gracious, amazing, put in all their hard work into it, and created a beautiful version of our national anthem. I hope to gift this to every single Indian everywhere in the world,” the three-time Grammy winner told PTI.

Kej, 42, said “Jana Gana Mana” was the first musical piece he had learned as a child. “It is very special and close to my heart. It’s been the most important piece of music in my life – the first piece of music I learned even before nursery rhymes or lullabies. It’s absolutely in my blood. In India, the minute anybody listens to the first few notes of the national anthem, you find a strong sense of patriotism, love for your country, pride for your country. I didn’t have to work hard to get the passion, it was already there,” he added.

Prashanth Palakurthi has executive produced the rendition along with Anuradha Palakurthi through their Boston-based company Juju Productions.

He said the aim was to “deliver the national anthem with the grandiosity and dignity India deserves”.

“It was Ricky’s idea to create the national anthem and we were delighted to support it,” Prashanth Palakurthi told PTI.

“We wanted one of the finest orchestras to record in one of the most iconic studios – and they happened to be in England. The imperialism angle was incidental — though we understand the poignancy,” he added.

Kej said the rendition was a result of three months of planning.

“There were 100 musicians and we had to figure out what each musician was going to be playing, and all of them had to come together in harmony. There are many instruments in the orchestra, like violin, horn, double bass, timpani drum, harp, and so one had to go write for all these instruments. The recording took about 45 minutes because the musicians were so good,” he added.

READ MORE | Music composer Ricky Kej wins third Grammy Award, dedicates his trophy to ‘India’

A lot of work went into creating the arrangements and documenting details for written scores for the entire orchestral team, Prashanth Palakurthi added.

“Taking our national anthem and adapting it to western orchestration was difficult. Special credit to Ricky and the production team for doing that – several weeks of work goes into the process before the musicians see it. It was an amazing experience – the quality of the musicians at the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is stunning.”

Kej, who was born in North Carolina in the US and moved to Bengaluru at the age of eight, said he loves the sound of symphony orchestra.

“I’ve collaborated with symphony orchestras in Canada, America, Europe, but my favourite is the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. I’ve recorded with them multiple times in the past, they are amazing.”

The “Jana Gana Mana” rendition was recorded just in time for India’s 77th Independence Day and after Kej shared its video on X, formerly Twitter, on Monday, he was lauded by the prime minister.

“Wonderful. It will certainly make every Indian proud,” PM Modi tweeted.

Kej said he feels grateful for the appreciation.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi has appreciated it, I’m grateful for this. He said it should make all Indians proud, which was very kind of him. The rendition has gone far and wide, I can see that people are sharing it on social media. I think we have crossed ten million views of the video across social media.”

Prashanth Palakurthi said Kej has made the rendition available to the entire world royalty-free.

“What this means is that any orchestra in the world can just read the scores and play the Indian national anthem. We are tremendously proud of this probability that the project has provided. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it being played at state dinners and official events where India is introduced,” he added.

The rendition is created, arranged and produced by Kej, while Andrew Dudman has done recording, mixing and mastering.

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