By Tatiana Cirisano for Billboard
When Kiran Gandhi put out her debut EP Voices under the moniker Madame Gandhi last October, it was intended for a different world — one in which Hillary Clinton, she had hoped, would be president. In addition to standout track “Future Is Female,” the feminism-focused EP released with the election around the corner also included “Her” and its prophetic chant, “If you feel it in the air then appoint her.”
Reflecting back on the election’s true outcome, the 28-year-old musician-activist and former drummer to M.I.A. says she felt “pretty vulnerable.” But you wouldn’t guess it from the new Voices remix EP she dropped on Oct. 20, almost a year to the day since the original disc’s release. In fact, the remixed version is perhaps even more hopeful and empowering than the original — especially in the case of the TT The Artist-club remixed “Future Is Female” featuring UNIIQU3, the music video for which is premiering here on Billboard.
“I’m of the mindset, we have to balance fire with water,” Gandhi explains of the song’s upbeat approach to fighting misogyny, transphobia and other forms of oppression. “If we’re in this world of hyper-machismo and aggression, let’s respond to it with love and care and emotional intelligence and collaboration and show the alternative.”
These issues aren’t new to Gandhi. The artist holds a bachelor’s degree in Women’s Studies from Georgetown (later pursuing her MBA at Harvard) and has been campaigning through music and speech for women’s rights since; you might recognize her from the 2015 London Marathon, where she made headlines for running whilst free-bleeding to combat the stigma of menstruation.
It was a drive to work with other female artists that brought Gandhi together with her collaborators for the “Future Is Female” club remix — that, and a little bit of fate. Gandhi says she first invited the Baltimore-based TT to remix the song after the two met at one of Gandhi’s L.A. shows in May. Then, by pure coincidence, UNIIQU3 happened to be traveling from her native New Jersey to Baltimore to visit TT, her friend, over the same weekend Gandhi was set to play a show in the city.
As TT jokes, the collaboration seemed “meant to be,” and Gandhi invited UNIIQU3 to contribute a verse to the club remix. Helped by TT’s visual arts education, the group challenged themselves to shoot the entire music video in Baltimore that weekend, and they did — even when that meant some serious multitasking. “We were already recording the video before I even laid down my verse,” UNIIQU3 recalls, laughing. “They were literally recording me for the video as I was recording it in real life.” Adds Gandhi: “[TT is] a Virgo — she’s a real worker. She gets shit done.”
The final video moves from a grassy yard to the recording studio to a basketball court, where a young woman — a fan TT plucked from Twitter — teaches her toddler son to shoot hoops, flipping stereotypical gender roles. Finally, the friends crash a party at underground Baltimore club The Crown, where they play “Future Is Female” for a rowdy crowd of 20-somethings. Secret nods are hidden throughout: a half-second shot of the Baltimore city seal shouts out to TT’s homeground; at another point, Gandhi holds up a copy of Alexandra Brodsky’s The Feminist Utopia Project.
All this is soundtracked by an infectious made-for-the-club beat that incorporates simmering shakers and congo drums, while Gandhi’s drawling chant encourages throughout, “own your voice don’t be afraid / there’s power in what you say.”
And while the widely-used “Future Is Female” tagline has received criticism from outsiders, with some labeling it not inclusive enough, Gandhi says the slogan has nothing to do with anatomy. “My intention is to love fem energy in all of us,” she explains. “It’s about valuing femininity in all of us so men, women and all genders in between feel brave enough to be their most authentic selves.”
Gandhi, who grew up between New York City and Bombay, adds that her feminism stems largely from a childhood frustration with music media. Growing up between New York City and Bombay, Gandhi says she felt a disconnect between her day-to-day life — where her parents encouraged her to “play with K’NEX, to play all the sports, to be a straight-A student” — and oppressive, hyper-sexualized images of women imagined by popular music. “Music was where my politics came from,” she explains. “I didn’t know who Hillary Clinton was when I was seven, but I sure as hell knew who the Spice Girls were — and we have to pay attention to that.”
It would only make sense, then, to fight that oppression from within the same medium: Music, one activists have utilized for decades as a mechanism of protest. As Gandhi puts it, “the revolution is creative,” and it’s helping artists like UNIIQU3 — who speaks on diversity and the current political climate in her verse — find their voice.
“I’m just happy that I can talk about [politics] on a club track. Because when people think of a club, they don’t really think of politics,” she says. “That was hard for me to do before, and now it’s something I’m about to do more of.”
And TT maintains that it’s the collaborative aspect of the remix that gives it true power: “Women are coming together and taking ownership of our own destiny — we’re not waiting for the co-sign,” she explains. “If [women] really want to make a change in the game, we have to come together and make things together, and we have to shift that paradigm.”
In fact, Gandhi says she made a point to bring on majority female artists (and especially those of color) for the remix EP, motivated to prove wrong those who claim the industry is male-dominated because there are simply fewer female artists. Gandhi says one unnamed industry insider once gave her this shortsighted solution: “Tell the girls to keep spinning.”
“This remix record is an intentional resume, an intentional statement, to say here is a roster of an incredible up-and-coming class of DJ remixers and producers who are women of color, who are the future,” explains Gandhi. “They’re doing it extraordinarily, and I’m putting them on [the EP] because I have the opportunity to.”