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We’re big fans of Kiran Gandhi, aka Madame Gandhi, over here at AudioFemme. Between her globally-recognized activism, including free-bleeding as she ran the London Marathon last year for period awareness, playing benefits such as Fuck Rape Culture, and doing everything in her power to make the world a better place for young women, she is an endless source of inspiration in an often cynical industry.
On top of all that, Gandhi has somehow managed to commence a killer musical project in there to boot. Madame Gandhi melds her eclectic drum style with synths, looped melodies, and delicious licks of piano, flute, bass, or whatever she feels tickled by at the moment.
Fortunately, Gandhi doesn’t have to compartmentalize her passions, as she sees each discipline flowing into and informing the next. Her Harvard education helps her approach the world of activism more strategically; her music helps give color and voice to the political issues most dear to her, and her proximity to forward-thinking musicians allows her to lead a life that is constantly inspired.
I met up with Gandhi for a coffee earlier this month, to chat about her love of the drums, her upcoming musical projects, and the eternal wisdom of Spiderman.
Audiofemme: What inspires you? What moves you to write music and what do you hope to achieve with the project?
Kiran Gandhi: When I watch other people whose music I like the best, they make it look so effortless, and I think something that’s effortless comes from a really pure place; from a place that’s existed the longest, so it can’t be faked. When I watch artists who are doing so well right now because of that effortlessness, artists like Drake, Kalela, Tuneyards, Alt J… some of my biggest influences are those who really make their music so effortless.
…You’re there, your’e just moving through the song quickly, you know what needs to go where and it’s coming from this very pure place. So, in terms of the actual music creation process and what inspires me, it’s when I feel like my most authentic self is being represented with music.
And then in terms of my message, of course, my message is to make the world a better place for young women. To empower, to elevate and celebrate the female voice. I do really think that we live in a world where young people – young women especially – are taught that their value comes from their looks, and I want young people’s value to come from wherever they choose for it to come, in the same way boys are encouraged: “Oh, you want to be a carpenter? Ok, go be the best carpenter.” Or, “Yo, you wanna be a drummer? Go be the best drummer.”
I still think girls are taught: “Ok, you can be a drummer, but make sure you look hot while doing it,” and that can be distracting. We only have 24 hours in a day. Imagine if three-four hours have to be used to make sure that you have makeup on and you’re skinny. It takes away from our passion.
Can you talk about your relationship with the drums? What do you hope to inspire in future drummers, male or female?
With the drums, a lot of times because it’s not a melodic instrument, it doesn’t have a,b,c,d,e,f,g, we all think that the drums are just to provide a beat for somebody else to shine and that it’s a very personality-less instrument. But actually the drums are the oldest instrument of all time! And the instrument that has changed the least in the history of the world. Imagine; the drums we have today, which is just a skin stretched over a cylinder is exactly how drums were made hundreds of thousands of years ago. It’s the language of communication. And for that reason, my goal is to inspire other people, all genders, to find their voice on the drums, and that there’s no right or wrong answer when you’re playing an instrument.
When I sit at the drums, I mount things differently, I sometimes put the ride on the left side of my kit, even though traditionally it’s always supposed be on the right side. I’ll mount cowbells, I’ll mount bongos…I bought a bunch of drums from India and I inverted them sideways and put them on American snare drum mounts, and that’s actually part of why I got the gig with M.I.A., because my kit was so eclectic and drew from my own inspirations.
So, what makes me happy about the drums is that it’s been this huge tool for self-expression, it’s a place of comfort, a place of power, a place of control.
I also heard that Zildjian is the oldest company in the world.
That would make sense. The Istanbul families in general were the first to make the best cymbals. Right now I’m sponsored by Istanbul Agop. They’re just a phenomenal, phenomenal brand, they take care of their artists. Their cymbals sound like little fairies. Their L.A. distribution center is like three blocks from my house, so I go and visit them a lot.
I’d love for you to talk about your entrée into the world of feminism.
I think, informally, when I was really young, I used to gravitate toward male characters because I thought they were cooler. Like, Aladdin was on the carpet, you know? And Jasmine was always the object, things were done to her. And even in women’s history, the way male stories are told, they’re very in control of their own destiny. Whereas, any time female stories are told, they’re always the object of somebody else’s story.
In Hollywood, and most sitcoms, time and time again you see that the girl is the sidepiece or she’s the victim in his larger story, or in order for him to prove himself to be the hero he rescues the girl from the villain, and she’s never in control of her own story, which is not a reality. We as women are not objects of other people’s lives. We have our own narratives and our own stories.
My entry point into feminism was really identifying this intuitively at a young age. I didn’t have the vocabulary to explain what was wrong, but my feminism came from a very earnest place of being four or five years old and identifying with the male characters and not the female characters.
How do you feel “Fuck Rape Culture” went? What was it like working with Grlcvlt?
I loved working with Grlcvlt. I loved feeling this positive nostalgia from the ‘90s where there was a lot of organization around women’s rights. I felt happy to be in 2016 seeing young women organize around women’s issues to take care of each other. It was good that we had so many powerful women performing and singing. I thought what was missing and what I tried my best to bring to the table was more people on the mic speaking about what it actually means to live in a rape culture. And, where the actual problems lie, and what some of the solutions are to put forward to make the world better.
Systemic. What are the systemic problems? Why is this currently an issue? What does it actually look like to be sexually assaulted? I think people imagine someone beating somebody, or someone pinning someone down against their will and forcing themselves on the victim. Most rape cases don’t actually look like that… it’s far more subtle, and that’s why they get overlooked, because we do live in a society that privileges men, and so when things are nebulous we will air on the side of the assailant as opposed to the side of the victim.
I think my only criticism of the event was that I wanted more people on the mic who were either experts in their field when it comes to this topic, or have experienced types of sexual assault themselves and speak freely about this. I obviously had a lot of respect for Rose McGowan for getting on the mic and being so vulnerable in such a public space with so much press in the room, but I was hoping there would be more talk about these events that I could also be learning something.
I’ve heard you speak a lot about how you’ve applied your classic business education to music and the music industry and how you advise the music industry. How do you apply that same education to activism?
One of the most effective forms of silencing the voice of activists is to say that they’re just “being radical.” They’re not “intelligent. They’re not being strategic. They’re not being helpful. They’re just rebels to society. They’re causing problems with the status quo and not actually doing anything.” That’s how people have undermined most activist movements since the dawn of time, whether it’s Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter.
Using my degree helps in two ways:
One, is that for better or for worse, having a degree that’s rooted in certifiable academia and intelligence gives me this credibility that when I say something people maybe give it a second listen.
And secondly, it prevents them from undermining my work and the people who I work with as being radicals and instead they give it perhaps more attention than they might. And because I’m so aware of this dynamic, I very intentionally try to be more strategic, try to choose which lever I’m pulling at different times, whether it’s the radical activism or more academic piece of paper or a speech. When I’m choosing which audience I want to influence.
Coming out of HBS [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Harvard Business School] specifically, they really teach you how to have a voice, how to clearly articulate your thoughts and viewpoint and why you believe one thing is right over the other thing. That’s been so helpful when trying to speak about gender equality because the more you can appeal to someone’s empathy and intelligence when it comes to a political issue, the more successful you’ll be.
It’s like a classical Greek debate; there’s Logos, Pathos, Ethos…
That’s it!!! Yes, exactly.
I’m talking a lot about activism but I think it’s something that makes you very special as an artist-
Could you talk about the importance of artists talking about ethical issues, and what you think the role art plays in activism is?
My thought on that is twofold. The first is that even when I was young I was far more influenced by art and MTV and watching music videos than I was by listening to a political speech. Probably because I didn’t understand the political speech, or I thought it was boring or not visually engaging. And so, artists have such a power because they influence their communities subliminally, and they influence with their visuals, with the emotions, which set into someone’s psyche far more powerfully than a superficial conversation or a talk.
Secondly, art lives so many lightyears beyond where society is. It usually represents where we’re going, because the artists are the forward-thinkers. And, in being the forward-thinkers, they have this power. People take politicians and lawmakers more seriously than they take artists, and I always find that so ironic because in reducing, in thinking that artists are just artists and they’re not that important and not that powerful or influential, you actually give artists more power because they have more free reign to say whatever without being as censored as politicians and lawmakers are.
So then they actually influence far more quickly than politicians and lawmakers. It’s this duality that works in art’s favor. And then, to quote Spiderman: “with great power comes great responsibility.” So, to this day I always feel brokenhearted that the majority of what’s there on the airwaves is very denigrating to women, and does put women in an objectified position as opposed to a wonderful and upheld position.
I want to use my art and the power that comes with it, to offset that and to tell authentic and empowering stories about women that I know.
What’s up next for you? Are you currently putting a full-length album together?
I’m waiting to release my EP, which will be out this year sometime. After that I’ll be working on a full-length album with different collaborators who are in my life who inspire me. I think one of the fun things about being an artist is that sometimes you make one-off pieces of music. Like last night I was in the studio until 3 a.m. in Brooklyn and I made this really fucking cool song…just inspired music. It felt really good to make it, so when I make things like this, I think they’re the kind of thing that I’ll just do one-offs. I was there on the Ableton push just making a bunch of different drum beats and drum rhythms, kind of almost live DJing with drums. And then, adding in bass lines and then a friend jumped in and he added in this really jazz piano riff, and then I did vocals and we sampled vocals and I really want to finish that song.
When you’re an artist, there are songs that are right for the album-to be considered in a complete body of work that have a theme. And then there are other songs that are just moments of inspiration, with no organization to them whatsoever but they still sound beautiful and I wanna put some of those out to keep the fans interested.