Featured in The Georgetown Voice

Just as I was getting worried about starting school again and feeling disconnected from the people and from the campus, staff members of the Georgetown Voice, a weekly news magazine, contacted me independently to feature me in the first issue. The first was regarding an interview for Rhythm & Culture — the funny part was that since I was listed as the label manager, they did not realize that I also happened to be a student at Georgetown. The other article was a feature on the GUSA Senate — the author wanted to know why I was not running again and some details on my experience with the organization in the past. Here are both of the articles:

How Gandhi got her groove back

August 22nd, 2010
"Even with all the international instruments, they could use more cowbell"

The music on Rhythm & Culture’s new compilation, The Sound of Rhythm and Culture, would be hard to locate in a big box record store like Best Buy or Wal-Mart. Would you look under Electronic or World? It is difficult to find a broad enough term that characterizes all of the tracks, which draw from innumerable cultures and genres. Kiran Gandhi (COL ’11), the label manager for Rhythm & Culture, prefers to call it a brew.

“The idea is to represent sounds from around the world,” Gandhi said. “To make people both dance and then also to make chill-out tunes. The goal is to makes each song serve both of those purposes.”

Rhythm & Culture is a fledgling record label started by DJs Thomas Blondet and Farid Nouri.  It features the D.C.-based electronic group Second Sky, as well as DJ and string musician Zeb and others. The label hopes to capture the energy of the early ‘90s D.C. music scene, when pioneers like Nouri regularly threw underground warehouse parties and house shows.

Though she was still watching Power Rangers back home in New York in the early ‘90s, Gandhi has heard enough stories from her Rhythm and Culture cohorts to know how different those times were.

“The cops used to crack down a lot less,” she explained.

To the rest of the Rhythm & Culture crew, Gandhi is considered the “international beatmaker.”  She first got involved with Rhythm & Culture when she was a live percussionist for The Underground Soul Solution, a weekly DJ set curated by Nouri that showcases the international sounds of the label.  In addition to Gandhi, drummers come in from the Malcolm X drum circle to participate. Ghandi’s enthusiasm helped her stand out, and this summer she was offered a job coordinating the label’s public relations.

All of the artists on Rhythm & Culture are D.C.-based, and they promote a style of music that is unique to the District’s “multicultural soundscape.” As for who they work with, the label is not particularly restrictive. Rather than encouraging a particular sound, their goal is simply to encourage their artists to make whatever kind of music moves them. “No one else from D.C. is doing this,” Gandhi said.

Rhythm & Culture's Thomas Blondet

Rhythm & Culture’s most recent release is surprisingly consistent, featuring five different artists and a handful of guests. There is also an alluring quality to the message of the compilation: its 14 tracks are meant to take the listener “around the world,” sometimes to multiple nations simultaneously. One song pairs an Iraqi oub with Jamaican dubtones. Sitars, dub beats, and Balkan horns are all also present.

Rhythm & Culture isn’t the first group to attempt this kind of musical diversity. Tracks such as these may sound familiar to anyone who’s heard Thievery Corporation or Balkan Beat Box. Be warned that this album does not have any rockers or club bangers, though, and will be more appealing the listener with a truly curious ear. But the music’s versatility is true, and it is amazing to hear an intensely local organization achieve such a versatile sound.

“If you blast the music really loud you can dance to it,” Gandhi said. “If you play it softly in your car you can chill out.”

Second Sky is playing at The Yards Park Sept. 10. Eighteenth Street Lounge is having a record release party for The Sound of Rhythm and Culture on Sept. 16, and The Underground Soul Solution plays at the Eighteenth Street Lounge every Sunday.


Saxa Politica: GUSA needs perspectives

At the Voice, we have a saying about Georgetown University Student Association presidential elections: “The most articulate bro always wins.”

GUSA suffers from a number of image problems in the University community, but the most glaring of these is its apparent lack of diversity. With 20 Georgetown alumni in the United States Congress, it’s no surprise that GUSA attracts a number of polished, slightly pretentious, white, male government majors who see GUSA as a kind of audition for the major leagues. Parliamentary procedure lends itself to grandstanding, and the loudest members of the “bro caucus” are the ones who most frequently make headlines.

But the most visible senators don’t necessarily represent the entire body. As former speaker Adam Talbot (COL ‘11) pointed out, six out of the 25 senators in last year’s Senate were women, compared to four out of the 35 senators in the 2008 Senate. Last year’s Senate also had more ethnic diversity than the year before, and there were no votes along racial lines.

It’s also important that GUSA senators advocate for a diversity of student passions. Through the GUSA Fund, GUSA helped pay for an eclectic mix of student interests, from a ballroom dancing competition to a Hate-Free Georgetown initiative against prejudice and intolerance.

But there is still progress to be made, and this year is pivotal. With last year’s highly contentious passage of club funding reform, the seven senators on the Finance and Appropriations Committee now control over $300,000 in student activity fees.

Last year, the Finance and Appropriations Committee consisted of seven white, male GUSA loyalists who voted in near lockstep. Since the advisory boards that used to approve the allocation of student activity fees have been stripped of their votes, it is crucial that representation in the Finance and Appropriations Committee include a wide range of student perspectives and interests this year.

Furthermore, the full Senate is underutilized in its role as a liaison to the administration. After the Plan A: Hoyas for Reproductive Justice protests last year, in which students chained themselves to the John Carroll statue demanding access to contraceptives, the HPV vaccine and rape kits, Talbot lamented the fact that Plan A campaigners never came to GUSA with their concerns.

“I thought it was unfortunate that we hadn’t yet demonstrated we could provide that kind of service,” Talbot said in a recent interview.

If GUSA were perceived as representative of a broader range of the student body—starting with, say, more female students—perhaps the protesters would have thought to approach GUSA for help.

For students who want to run for GUSA, getting a seat on the Senate is generally not difficult. Many seats are uncontested, and in some districts no one runs. The problem is that too many talented leaders self-select out.

Kiran Gandhi (COL ’11) ran for GUSA as a freshman in New South. She told me proudly that she beat five other boys for the seat. But while she enjoyed her time on GUSA, she said that she became disillusioned when those GUSA stereotypes seemed to hold true. She was one of only a few girls in the Senate. When the Senate discussed the Student Commission for Unity during her sophomore year, she was frustrated that the debate split along racial lines. The next year, Gandhi left GUSA to study abroad and pursue her interest in the city’s music scene.

“A lot of the [other senators] didn’t understand the need for [the SCU], nor did they make an effort to see a need for it,” Gandhi said. “I didn’t like working at a body that wasn’t interested in something I valued as really important.”

As Gandhi pointed out, it’s natural for people to gravitate towards other people who share their perspective. But talented leaders who opt out of GUSA do us all a disservice. Without a wider range of representation—and senators who speak up without grandstanding—GUSA will never be a healthy, functioning body. Fortunately, democracy allows periodic opportunities for reinvention. So if you go to the GUSA booth at SAC fair and think to yourself, “I don’t belong here”—run for Senate. We need you.