By Andrew Longabaugh for milk.xyz
After making electric waves with the release of her stunning VOICES EP, Kiran Gandhi, the front-woman of her newest project Madame Gandhi, took 2017’s SXSW by storm. And though she came to a more anonymous version of fame as M.I.A.‘s drummer (and a way less anonymous version of fame as the woman who free bled through the London Marathon), this artist is now taking center stage.
Milk.xyz sat down with Gandhi post-SXSW for a brief chat on her new sound, feminism, and the undeniable power in celebrating the future being female; read the full interview below.
Tell me a little bit about the genesis of the Madame Gandhi project.
I’ve always been a drummer on somebody else’s project, whether it was M.I.A. or tons of different bands growing up in New York City starting at age twelve and when you’re the drummer of the project, I find it’s incredible because you’re supporting someone else and I love the freedom of playing the drums, I like the lack of pressure not having to be the front person. But what ended up happening was after I was in business school for two years and after this story… did you read about the menstrual marathon I ran?
During my second year of business school I was training for the London Marathon and when I got to the starting line, I realized I was about to get my period and so I had a choice and I ended up using that opportunity to run freely bleeding because around the world, especially in parts of India and places in Africa I’ve visited, so many young girls end up dropping out of school because once they hit puberty, none of them are educated on how to take care of themselves when they start a cycle and the taboo and stigma runs so deep that they’re shocked into shame making them unable to own their own voice and their own body. After I ran this marathon, the story went unexpectedly viral. I was just planning on writing a blog about it on my page and share it on my social feeds but it went completely viral. When that happened, I was really given a choice: either I could be quiet about it and hope it dies down, or I could really step into my own and take that megaphone and say all the things that I have been preaching to my friends and family for so long about what I believe modern-feminism looks like.
In that moment, it was very radical shift for me because it was my moment of moving from the drums, to really having a voice and believing in myself enough to bring my voice and heart to say something about social justice. That’s how the project was born. It wasn’t really even a choice, it compelled me to start speaking on issues through my music and adding a platform to my current passion and voice.
I think it’s very unique how bold and fearless your activism pushes through within your music and how natural it comes through your speaking voice without a mic. Where do you stand on the current view and relationship of politics and feminism with the arts?
I’ll explain it this way. I have always wanted to be someone who elevates and celebrates the female voice. Whether I had a huge space to do that or I was in my own personal circle of friends, this is something I have been doing since I was really young. Even when I was five or six-years-old I remember being on a tennis court and being the only girl out there and one of the tennis instructors was making fun of me and I was like, “GIRL POWER. FEMINISM.” like I didn’t even know what it meant at that point but intuitively I knew that it meant gender equality and that it wasn’t ok for him to be singling me out and calling me ‘girly’ as an insult. It was completely innate to me. Now, if my goal is to elevate and celebrate the female voice, I’m going to use whatever tools to do exactly that. From the beginning the music has been a choice as a medium, as the creative body through which I choose to express these ideas, by it’s very nature it’s feels super organic.
The opposite of what I’m saying looks like, “Oh, I want to be a famous pop star and politics and feminism seem to be working these days so I’m just going to re-engineer those in my favor.” No. People are totally and absolutely able to detect inauthenticity. Whether I choose tomorrow to use my music or my speaking or my writing, the goal is forever the same: to elevate and celebrate the female voice.
I also think that an artist’s job is to make the most honest, authentic art they can make and then let the world decide what to do with it. Some artists aren’t interested in being openly political because that’s not their goal or passion and that’s ok. I think it’s worse when someone feels they have to comment on politics when they don’t even want to because that’s not what their art is about.
The last track on your EP VOICES is titled The Future Is Female. Can you tell me more about that.
The reason why I love the statement ‘The Future Is Female’ is because I think it’s a perfect representation of the Fourth Wave of Feminism we are currently in. It’s not even about equality necessarily, it’s about loving what is ‘fem’; a stepping stone to get past the gender binaries and live freely in a world that is more queer and more trans-inclusive. The statement is exposing how obsessed we are with the masculine, everything is like ‘man-up’ or ‘be a man’ or like ‘be strong’ and then we are so quick to insult the feminine like ‘don’t be so girly’ or ‘don’t be a pussy’ and then that puts gender on a ranking system: male vs. female. That’s how we get transphobia and homophobia because we are afraid of what’s feminine and that upsets the gender hierarchy. Once we abolish this hierarchy, once we live in a future that is female, the idea that we actually love and value what the feminine energy brings to the table in our world, then all of these other things in between go away. If you are gay, how wonderful. If you’re trans how wonderful. If you are woman, HOW WONDERFUL. How incredible is that people have their own unique mixes of male and female energies?
It’s pretty beautiful when you actually think about.
Right? And one is not better than the other. They just are.
Who are some of your role models or artists that have helped shaped or are currently inspiring you are as an artist?
Nina Simone (who I share a birthday with), Princess Nokia, Lizzo, M.I.A., St. Vincent, tUnE-yArDs, and… that’s probably the shortlist for now. Oh and definitely TV On The Radio.
What’s next for Madame Gandhi?
Music! I’m working on lots of music. I’m in the studio this week and then again in May… It’s always a struggle as an artist because I get called to do shows all the time and I always want to do them but then I find myself constantly on the road and that makes it hard to create and write the next project. So, the current goal is to write the next body of work.
One last question: If you could, what would you tell your ten-year-old self?
I would tell her to literally not do anything just please somebody else; to really follow her intuition and her bliss. For the most part, I have been serious enough to do that but the few times that I knew better and I followed what somebody else wanted from me, whether it was selecting a major in school or catering an outfit to what I was ‘supposed’ to wear instead of what I actually wanted to wear or not studying a certain instrument… All of these things, are things that I wanted to do but I listened to society.
I would tell ten-year-old Kiran to follow her intuition as fiercely as possible.
Images courtesy of Sarah Jasmine Montgomery
Stay tuned to Milk for more OG feminists who slay.