You may know Kiran Gandhi from her eclectic, beat-based music under the nom de plume Madame Gandhi. You may know her as the badass touring drummer for M.I.A. You may even know her as the brave, pragmatic runner who completed the 2015 London Marathon on her period – free bleeding all the way to the finish line to debunk period stigma. There is a lot to know about Kiran Gandhi, as she is one of the most engaging and interesting new artists in the indie circuit. Who else could boast her level of skill as a drummer, an MBA from Harvard, and a resume lined with names like Interscope Records, Ted Talks, and Spotify? And she’s not even 30! But despite these achievements, Gandhi’s truest passion is her activism. She approaches her craft – whether it be writing lyrics or drumming, with a calculated mission: to make the world a better place for women everywhere.
This altruism has always been the core of Gandhi’s work, but it is needed now more than ever. Her 2016 EP Voices remains a bold and relevant piece of work, addressing sexism, self-worth, and the continuing need for female empowerment.
We were lucky enough to chat with Kiran about the ten records that have inspired her the most, and why she loves them. In fact, Kiran said she had so much fun making her list, that she made her list go to 11! There’s no shortage of #GirlPower and rich percussion in this list! Check out Madame Gandhi’s live video for her song “Yellow Sea” below, and don’t miss Kiran’s Top 11 playlist after her essays.
11) KALELA–CUT 4 ME
I wanted to give a number 11, which is Kalela’s mixtape Cut 4 Me. This whole record is so good. Kalela used to be a good friend of mine from D.C., she used to work a bunch of different jobs, I think she was literally a telemarketer at one point in L.A., just hustling. But she knew she was a gifted singer and now she’s killing it and touring all over the world, and that definitely inspired me – that breakout where she kept with it and it worked.
I mean, they have two drummers in the project and female vocals! It’s like my dream aesthetic; this album was especially influential on my record, Voices where I wanted to elevate and celebrate the female voice while having really strong, powerful drums and percussion with good sound design. And that’s Poliça – they have a sound. It’s her [lead vocalist Channy Leaneagh] expressing herself…I think she had just gotten a divorce and put a lot of her pain and her soul into the album.
I just used to jam to this shit so hard, and then I found out that Switch, who produced the song “Creator” on this record, was also the producer on the really popular M.I.A. songs, so, definitely a corresponding taste there with powerful female vocalists who are making amazing electronic music.
I love that Twigs built a brand off of her dancing and her aesthetic – that her music is almost secondary to everything that she does…that her visuals and her music videos were the main pull. She really is so inspiring, she’s a true artist and so humble. This record gave me a lot of comfort in 2014 when it came out and when I was in Boston. I used to have this on all the time – when I was doing my work, when I was practicing drums, when I was traveling. It gave me peace…it was just so unique and so her. I think the whole theme in these ten albums that I’ve picked is that, not only are they good from start to finish, but also that it’s the artist being their truest self and offering us their truest voice, which is so hard to achieve in a day and age which teaches us to be so insecure about ourselves. So that’s something I appreciate about LP1, and the song I chose is called “Pendulum,” it’s definitely the romantic song on there.
I toured with M.I.A. on this record! That’s the reason man, that’s the reason why this is number seven. This album came out in 2013, which is why I was pulled on to the tour; it was all over the world. It was my first year at Harvard doing my MBA and I remember flying between Boston and New York during record release week and playing all these songs and quickly flying back and making it into my seat in class at 9:10am after playing a huge show in New York the night before…it was such an epic time. But all of the music on this record is so special. It’s so Indian influenced, which is where my family is from. It’s so creative; it’s hard and soft at the same time. It’s political, it’s fun to dance to…it has so many options – all the songs are so different from each other. And her words – you could spend hours decoding everything she says, which I think is so amazing and difficult to achieve.
I mean, Annie Clark is a legend. The way she plays guitar…I have so much respect for women who not only sing but can also play their instrument because so much sexism faces women in music these days, that, to actually get good at your craft and shut out all the noise and the backlash is so powerful. And she just slams and she looks extraordinary and she invented her own guitar and the music is so good and powerful and passionate and precise. This one song “strange mercy” was just so beautiful and told a story as well. She is singing to someone – maybe a lover – she sings, “If I ever meet the dirty policeman who roughed you up”…you know, she’s saying, “I’ll beat them up.” I think this idea of going to bat for your lover and taking care of them is so romantic, and the fact that a woman can do that for her partner, regardless of being male or female, is so special and rare. It’s always the male as the protector, but this idea of a female being able to do that for their partner as well is really extraordinary. I also saw her do this session video with 4AD and it just blew me away. I used to come home from work at Interscope in L.A. and just put that session on and watch it because it made me feel good.
Number five are Dirty Projectors who opened for TV On The Radio at a show I was at in D.C. in 2008, and that’s how I found them, and I was so inspired. It was the brainchild of David Longstreth, but he has so many women in his project singing these really beautiful vocals. There’s this one song called “Temecula Sunrise” which is off Bitte Orca – it’s just so visceral…it’s like, “I live in a new construction home, I’m just trying to make rent; just having a smoke and watching the days go by…” It has this nostalgia to it…it’s a story I wasn’t even part of and yet I feel part of it…I feel nostalgia for it. And the passion, similar to the way Merrill of tUnE-yArDs uses her voice, he’s using his voice like that here…so beautiful, I love it. When he sings, “I live in a greenhouse and I’m getting baked. Wasted.” So good!
“Wear You Out” off of TV On The Radio’s Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes is just a random gem on this very famous album they put out. I think the reason why the record is so famous is because it has songs like “Staring at the Sun” and “Dreams” and it really put this small Brooklyn band on the map and now they’re one of the most famous bands in the world. But this song [Wear You Out] is so epic. They’re singing to their girl, probably. “Let me wear you out,” like, let me take care of you, let me pleasure you…and I love that. I love when men are givers – I think it’s the sexiest thing on earth. This song just has so much soul and swag to it. The whole record is just smooth from start to finish. I used to go and see them in New York any time they came through…so many shows. I met them a bunch when I was touring with M.I.A. and they were on the same bill, and they’re just so humble. Kip wore a Madame Gandhi shirt when I was on the same bill with him once, which was just extraordinary, haha. I think musicians who are that gifted and who are that successful remaining so humble is really a feat, and so deeply inspiring.
Number three on the list is Thievery Corporation. I found them when I was living in New York City and I was a sophomore, so it must have been 2005. Their most famous song is “Lebanese Blonde” from the Garden State soundtrack, and I used to love listening to them and their collaboration with the Flaming Lips, which is peaceful. It mixed the world together, all the global influences. But, the thing that inspired me the most was when I went to Georgetown as an undergrad – I found out that they were D.C. based! So I used to go to their lounge that they owned every Wednesday and hear their live band play. And I was SO inspired – so much so that they started letting me sit in on drums. Before I knew it they gave me my own night at the lounge every Sunday when I was a senior at college. And then I got to play percussion on the road with them at Bonnaroo, at Virgin Mobile Fest, and Summit At Sea. So Thievery Corporation has become a family to me. They really allowed me to come of age and take myself seriously as a musician. The song “Shadows Of Ourselves” is sung by a very gifted female vocalist named LouLou, and that song is the song I will always be able to listen to when I am upset about something and I will instantly feel better. The other thing I would add about Thievery Corporation is that their legacy is son long; The Mirror Conspiracy was put out in 2000. It’s 17 years later and it’s still such an inspiring and creative album. It’s a work of art; really a masterpiece.
Number two is Fela Kuti. I didn’t realize this until doing this amazing activity, that he didn’t even put out albums, he just kept putting out singles, so only later on after his legacy did people combine his songs into one record. The song that I am most inspired by right now is called “No Agreement.” I literally listen to it several times a day, and I’m working on a song that’s directly inspired by it. It’s so good. He was a musician in the 1970s in Nigeria, fighting for the end of British Colonial rule. He sacrificed his life, the life of his friends, his family, of so many different people, because he really fought for what he believed in. He created The Shrine, which was the place where he played music and brought together extraordinary musicians to come and play and to say all these things that no one had the bravery to say. But he said it through his music, so people were dancing and drinking and having a good time, but were subliminally impacted by his voice. There’s not a day that goes by when he doesn’t inspire me and my mission to elevate and celebrate the female voice in 2017, where our rights and our freedom are at siege in the Trump presidency.
So the first on the list is tUnE-yArDs and the record is called Whokill. When I first found tUnE-yArDs in 2011, I was so drawn to the passion and the courage in the music – the humanity and femininity in it…it’s just sheer liberation. I remember I’d just graduated from college and I was trying to find my way, and I was in an office, wanting that same liberation. So the song “Bizness” really spoke to me, and the whole record – it was so creative. It was made mostly with just Merrill Garbus’ drums and vocals, but because she was such a force it came out in the music.
I also got to work with Merrill, who is the brainchild of tUnE-yArDs many years later on my song, “The Future Is Female” – she sings the chorus on it – and I just learned so much from her. I learned from her passion for African rhythms, specifically from Ghana and Senegal, I learned that the name of her record Whokill was actually a reference to the phrase, “women who kill;” to show that we as women are always whitewashed and made to seem very goddess-like and pristine, and “good,” but that we have a range of emotions and capabilities just like men do. There are women who kill, and do bad things just as much as women do good things. I love the complexity of it, and the fact that the name has a secret message was so amazing to me. She’s also a fellow pisces – she’s exactly ten years older than me, and has just been a mentor. She became a mentor to me many years later after I was already such a fan, so she’s at the top of the list.