“We should be emotionally intelligent instead of brute-force aggressive, collaborative instead of competitive, and pursuing a relationship that is linked and not ranked,” says Kiran Gandhi. Known by her stage name Madame Gandhi, she spoke with Audiofemme earlier this week between a trip to India and a U.S. tour stopping in LA, Denver, and Brooklyn. “That’s a very feminist style of leadership regardless of your gender identity.”
Gandhi has been advocating for these values, which she considers part of fourth-wave feminism, ever since she made headlines for free-bleeding while running the London Marathon on her period in 2015. Even before that, she played drums on M.I.A.’s recordings, and she’s also drummed for the likes of Kehlani and Thievery Corporation. She released her first EP as a solo artist, Voices, in 2016, and her latest album Visions came out last year to critical acclaim.
Gandhi describes Visions as a collection of music about “looking inward to imagine your best self outward.” She elaborates, “The Instagram inspiration culture around posting things that make you feel good is so popular because all of us are motivated to get that stimuli externally, but for me, the times when I’ve really made progress with my mental health have been when I’ve taken the time to ask myself what sounds like it would make me happy and what matters to me. Each song speaks to that theme in its own way.”
The video for the album’s latest single, “See Me Thru” — which Gandhi says describes her “vision for a healthy relationship” — gained attention not only for its depiction of queer love but also for Gandhi’s decision to work with an entirely female and gender-nonconforming cast and crew, which she did for the “Top Knot Turn Up” video as well.
“I feel more comfortable and respected by other women,” she explains. “To collaborate with anyone, people have to believe that if they take their own opinion or the other person’s opinion, the result will be fruitful no matter what. And I find that to be the case when I’m with other women based on a heightened sense of care for a person’s well-being. With men, there’s a lot of talking down, a lot of lack of respect for my contribution.”
Gandhi is preparing to release an EP consisting of remixes of songs from Visions, the first being a “See Me Thru” remix by DJ Sarah Farina, who imbues the track’s angelic harmonies and infectious rhythms with magical-sounding instrumentals and warps Gandhi’s already dream-like voice for an almost psychedelic effect. Farina, who remixed the album’s other songs as well, works with a style she’s dubbed “rainbowbass,” incorporating bass-heavy footwork, futuristic beats, R&B, and UK Funky.
Gandhi’s other recent projects include drumming for Oprah Winfrey’s 2020 Vision Tour (which she describes as “incredible,” as she’s a huge Oprah fan) and playing at the Bulova brunch at the Grammy museum during this year’s Grammys. “I like bringing my drumming and energy and positive vibes to more traditional spaces,” she says. At SXSW this year, she’ll participate in nine events total, including a panel discussion titled “How To Be Political In An Apolitical World” and a performance at the Women of the World Showcase presented by She Shreds x Word Agency.
As Gandhi takes over the world, her aim is giving people music that’s empowering rather than oppressive. “So often, when I go to the gym or in a dance club setting, I always hear the newest music, and I’m just kind of aghast at how we tolerate misogyny in this culture,” she says. “I’m not here to tell other people what to write about or sing about, but I am here to provide an alternative. Making music that beat-wise is exciting and interesting but providing lyrics that don’t contribute to the oppression of anyone else is very important to my mission.”
She also hopes to empower young people to make their own music and use it to express their thoughts, which has led her to work with organizations such as Beats by Girlz and Girls Make Beats. “As a young person, I was given piano and singing lessons, but nobody taught me how to write a song — it was just to regurgitate the song someone else wrote, and that education is so problematic,” she says. “You don’t develop the skillset of owning your own voice, telling your own story.”
Gandhi walks the walk of supporting and uplifting the people around her. During our phone call, she spoke in a confident, kind tone that made me feel genuinely appreciated, ending our conversation by declaring, “We killed it!” She embodies the paradox of being aggressively kind, firmly and unwaveringly soft, and the world needs more of that.