The impact that multi-talented artist, percussionist, producer, and activist Madame Gandhi has made with her music, her mission to celebrate the female voice, and acknowledging the importance of female inclusion is undeniable. Striving to bring attention to topics and areas that are often ignored and marginalized, Madame Gandhi has made it her goal to provide a path for promoting women’s rights that doesn’t undercut its importance or message. In 2015, she ran the London Marathon bleeding freely to combat period stigma around the world, sparking a global viral conversation about how we treat menstruation in various cultures. Her support for fourth-wave feminism involves putting value in feminity in the process and promotes the concept that demonstrates why the future is female. Having worked with M.I.A., Lizzo, Calvin Klein, the New York Times, Adidas, and Vogue, she has created her own clothing line. Traveling the world and sharing her inspiring message by encouraging others to make a difference, her musical background as a drummer, digital analyst, and MBA from Harvard has only added to her impact as a purveyor of social justice. Fusing her expert skills as a drummer with electronic beats, honestly phrased lyrics and entertaining melodies, Madame Gandhi’s intelligent approach addressing personal growth as a woman in this new decade focuses on the issues involved when questioning or changing cultural norms.
This year has been most unusual. I, like many of you, was thrown for a loop when the COVID-19 Pandemic happened. And like many of you, I felt lost, scared, and upset. Many of my previous scheduled events were canceled and I found myself self-isolating and in quarantine rather abruptly. Is it then merely a coincidence that the last show I attended and the last person I interviewed before the quarantine was Madame Gandhi? I think not. As the music world adjusted to a new Virtual format, I folwed in suit supporting the live streams of artists and sure enough, the first live stream I watched in March 2020, Daybreaker Live Stream, featured special surprise guests which included none other than Madame Gandhi herself. There she was, present and in the moment playing her drums and resonating support and reassurance for all who were watching. I thought to myself, “we’re gonna get through this no matter how hard things get.” Things did get even harder as we were presented with more challenges.
It’s no secret we are living through tough times in the pursuit of social justice. After watching protest after protest for Black Lives Matter every week, are you feeling uncertain about the future? If you are feeling hurt by the disappointing news of senseless deaths of people of color then you are not alone. At a time when many of us look towards our leaders for guidance often times the message given does not resonate. It comes as no surprise then that Madame Gandhi, aka Kiran Gandhi, has provided the global community with a new source of inspiration and healing at a time when we need it most. Her song “Waiting For Me” is an anthem for protest meant to be sung around the world. The song’s importance in encouraging femme and femme-identifying persons to define themselves justifies the need for the encouragement and inspiration when tackling a system of oppression and moving towards liberation. The video was produced by women and gender non-conforming creatives and was conceptualized and produced by an all-female team and features queer, trans, female, and gender non-conforming cast members. Madame Gandhi continues to encourage others to aspire to reach their dreams regardless of the challenges they may face.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Madame Gandhi before her show in New York this year and to ask her about how she started her journey of social justice, how she stays healthy on the road, and the role that empathy plays in changing the world.
It’s RiMo from Fresh Music Freaks and I’m here with Madame Gandhi. You’re an inspiration for all of us because you’re a talented musician, activist, entrepreneur that fights to get your listeners to a point of fighting for themselves, addressing so many truths, good, bad, and in between that society seems to want us to ignore. As you make your way towards bringing society to another level of consciousness you also bring people together with affirmations of acceptance and belonging. Using music and performance as a medium to reach even more people, your influence is reaching more and more people and affecting many of us around the world. Please tell me what first inspired you to make music?
I think the first and foremost is just remembering how artists have made me feel. When I’ve heard a song that makes me feel seen I get energy from when I get joyfulness from it. When I feel in a mood and I play a song that takes me out of that mood and makes me want to be a better version of myself, that’s enormously powerful and that artist has no idea how much that meant to me. But now I have this little token of hope that I can continuously go back to, which is so powerful. I remember when the Spice Girls came out and I remember as a kid just being such a fan, I clicked every news article and put it up near my bed because I felt the girl power vibe really made me feel seen and I felt like I could’ve been each of them at any moment. I remember listening to Fela Kuti who was taking really important messages, like decolonization, like celebrating your African identity in a time it was not celebrated. Listening to Kuti and hearing him talk about things like decolonization or about valuing your African name and he’s saying it in a really sexy way amidst all these feeds and uplifting melodies. And so noticing how that makes me feel made me know and allowed me to know that that was my path and that was what I wanted to do with my life and my music.
For some of us, there may be turning points that occur that become like a breakthrough moment where you discover something in yourself or in society that kind of shakes us. Many people are supporters of social justice, but they are not activists. At what point in your life or what was one of the points of your life that you realized you wanted to pursue activism towards social justice?
Hmm. I think I, I honestly, I keep coming back to empathy. I think that’s the theme of this interview because when I upset being bullied or being excluded from certain things or feeling, not seen for who I am or feeling like I’m less than somebody else, those feelings would hurt me, they wouldn’t feel good. And experiencing that made me want other people to never feel that way, especially younger women and younger girls. And so I think being brave in my own music, being brave in my lyrics, being brave in my public speaking, being brave on my social media to be vulnerable and share what matters to me are the kinds of things that made me want to be an activist because I could see it working and I could see the impact it would have.
I have noticed that not only do you play drums but often in your songs you vocalize drum sounds and perhaps other instrument sounds as well. Please tell me about the role of the drum (playing it and or vocalizing it) and how that has influenced your work?
Usually, rhythm comes very easily to me cause I learned rhythm as a child. That was like my main instrument. So that’s flowing through my body and rhythm feels fun and effortless. Melody then comes second and lyrics sometimes come third. I think vocalizing the percussion is both a necessity to my process but then also ends up resulting in something that’s very uniquely creative and unique to the Madam Gandhi sound. This is why I keep it (vocalizations) in many of the songs because I know it’s special.
It’s very interesting too in a sense that a lot of people when they hear songs and they don’t know the words, they’ll go ahead and they want to participate by doing a vocalization of an instrument. Understanding the significance of this participation aspect in regards to vocalizations and singing and tapping along and just kind of being involved in the entire process furthers your message of being involved and being motivated. One of your lyrics where you say, “I’ve been working on myself for a long time” in your song “Young Indian”, can you explain to us what the process entailed for you in regards to working on yourself and how you’re hoping your experience will be applicable to aid other young women to also work on ourselves so that we can go down that journey too?
I think I’ve always just wanted to keep evolving as a person. I’ve always wanted to be the best version of myself. All my insecurities and fears go away when I know I’m working towards the best version of myself. In fact, you’re speaking to me at a time where I very much feel it. My power these days, I’m definitely feeling happy. I’m feeling healthy. I feel excited about life. I feel joyful. I feel like I have so much to give because I am giving to myself. And I haven’t felt like that the past two years, the past two years I’ve had, you know, being so busy and being in so many different places, I’m growing, I’m learning, it’s information, but I didn’t feel as in my power. And I’m really starting to feel in this year and in this moment and knowing what that feels because I’ve been giving to myself because I’ve been boxing and eating clean and sleeping and surrounding myself with people who just love, love, love me, makes me feel happy. And then I notice what that feels like. And I noticed the performances are better. I notice my friends are happier. I notice the quality of my speeches are more impactful. I noticed that I have time for meditation to actually improve what I’m saying to my audience. They receive it even more. And so that’s why giving to yourself is so important because then you’ll always have something to give.
You also encourage us to take care of ourselves. What is one thing or concept that you feel we are neglecting physically, emotionally, or spiritually that is hurting us (women)?
If you’re brave enough to not feel like we owe anything to anybody. I think many times our day gets depleted because we think we have to do something and anytime we do something out of feeling obligated, I honestly believe the quality of that experience ends up being far less than what is enjoyable anyway. So when we bring the best version of ourselves to an experience because we want to be there, that’s very, very good.
As a woman, I’ve noticed that a lot of times being ignored and excluded effects situations where we need to progress and grow as human beings. You know it’s like you know you want to do something but then it’s like this block, something that’s blocking you from going on and developing and growing. What reactions from women have you been seeing regarding your message of empowerment that has surprised you and what made your message of empowerment more important now than ever?
I’m going to answer the opposite question, which is I’m going to say what aspects about my message surprises folks of all gender identities are that my activism truly comes from a place of joy. That is different than many radical activisms of the past that have come from a place of pain and anger. Rightfully so, because so often we have been beaten down, we have been depleted, all we have left is our anger. If you don’t give love to something, of course, the result is, is discomfort and radical activism in an angry sense. But that is why I do so much work to keep myself happy so that when I am educating, when I am talking about problematic issues, I’m talking about it with elegance, with intelligence, with love, with kindness, with patience, with the ability to teach and not feel angry that the person isn’t getting it to begin with. And so I think the part of my project that surprises folks the most is that it comes from a place of joy.
I love hearing you speak in front of a group and providing thought-provoking ideas and also challenging ideas of interest we should be addressing such as equity for women in today’s society. But I’m also want to include femme and femme-identifying individuals in this, particularly in the music business. As a journalist, I’m hearing more and more panels discuss and address the need for more inclusivity. Do you see other events, media formats, lineups, bookings, festivals changing towards becoming more inclusive?
We’re getting there. I think there’s some festivals where I’m really baffled at how out of touch they are. And then other festivals where I’m really impressed where from the moment I arrive I’m seeing signs about consent, I’m seeing signs about a no toleration policy of any kind of sexual harassment whatsoever. I’m seeing signs reminding folks to drink water, to treat each other with love and also posting signs where you can get help on the festival grounds if you feel unsafe at any time. I think the mixture of those festivals then being documented on social media allows people to see that we’re really moving in this direction and making sure that every festival go where it feels safe and seen. I think it always starts in the grassroots. It always starts with the smaller festivals. It always starts with smaller venues. And then the more that I get trained to know that I can even have that experience allows me then as my project grows bigger to demand that experience in the more mainstream festivals. Otherwise, I’m not interested in playing. So in smaller venues, we do have the luxury of requesting a female-identifying sound engineer and they provide that most of the time. In a bigger venue, if they say no, then we have the power to say, okay, we don’t want to play your show because we do want to make sure that I as the artist feel comfortable also that we’re providing opportunities to folks who typically don’t get those opportunities.
It’s clear that one of the ideas you explore in your work is that of creating your own destiny either with, with a proactiveness or education participation, et cetera. How do think that idea presents itself in this year? Like in this election year, let’s say in the United States?
I think we all have to be honest about what issues we care about. You know, I don’t think that all of us have to champion every issue. And I what my activism and my message is actually not for not only, let’s say for folks to be more gender-inclusive, but actually just for folks to step into their own personal power to say what issue matters for me the most and how can I use my passion and my joy to heal that issue and to make change either in my immediate community or in the world.
Is there anything else you want to say to your fans that you want everyone to know?
Listen to “See Me Through”, by Sarah Farina, because it’s a really, really gorgeous remix and I would be sad to see you miss out on it.
Thank you Madame Gandhi for taking the time to talk to us.
Check out Madame Gandhi’s Ted Talk here.