“Own your voice, don’t be afraid,” is one among the many inspiring lines from Los-Angeles based musician and activist Kiran Gandhi aka Madame Gandhi’s song “The Future is Female” that climbed to Number 8 on the Viral US Top 50 Spotify Charts following the 2017 Women’s March. The young musician says her mission is “to elevate and celebrate the female voice.” She has toured professionally drumming for M.I.A and Thievery Corporation and currently DJs, drums and produces music under her own name. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics, Political Science and Women’s Studies from Georgetown (COL ’11) and an MBA from Harvard Business School (2015). ), and has used her degrees to run her own musical project as well as advise music companies Spotify, Stem, Bonnaroo, Pandora, YouTube and D’addario.
In 2015, she ran the London Marathon free-bleeding to combat period stigma around the world. The artiste was in India on a seven city tour and for the Bengaluru leg, performed at The Humming Tree and Social Church Street. Edited xcerpts from an interview:
How has your trip been in India?
Everywhere I go I am met with a lot of love and good vibes. You never know if a message in one place will translate into a different place. All we can do as artistes is to arrive humbly with our ideas about the world we wished we lived in and share them and hope that it resonates with someone. I have been so overwhelmed with positive feedback I have received on social media, not only from women but also from men thanking me for the performance and saying they love what I do. I resonate with your mission and that’s healing. It’s been a really joyful trip.
What is the creative process of writing lyrics and composing songs?
It’s different for different songs. I have been a drummer my whole life, the melodies usually come first. Then I decide all the different themes and things I want to talk about. Usually the melody tells me whether it will be a more feminist anthem song or a love song. Sometimes, I make some cool beats and write some lyrics on top of it. What’s interesting is that how much I speak or how clear I am about all these things, writing lyrics is so difficult because I am very cerebral but that doesn’t necessarily translate into a club anthem. I find deciding the final lyrics is difficult. We as artistes we also know our intention is to write music for the rest of our lives. To not keep over thinking it. Just honour that song and then move onto the next song.
You believe in the Fourth wave of Feminism, and you say own your voice, what voice do you want to give expression to?
My Feminism came from times when I felt quieted, not somebody actually telling me to be quiet, but just the subliminal messages sent to women that we are not supposed to speak up when we see something that is happening at our expense that we in our gut know is wrong. The fact that we can’t talk openly about menstruation is so problematic. When I went to business school at Harvard, where you think the women have some of the strongest voices in the world, I felt really upset at how I would often find men as far more domineering than the women because it’s a male thing to assert yourself at the expense of others.
But when we can’t hear our voices then I think it comes at the expense of a prosperous society. So when I say ‘Own your voice, don’t be afraid, it’s like one of the first steps of many of us as women and any kind of vulnerable minority community to question when something has been done unjustly and to start rebuilding the world we wish we see. In terms of the waves of feminism it’s not that you need the waves to happen in order. In fact, those waves are very American so I say Fourth Wave Feminism simply because I am American and a lot of my work is back home in the States.
To me, Fourth Wave Feminism is not about us figuring out how women can break into male societies. It is how we can value femininity as an alternative archetype of leadership that all types of gender identities actually aspire to. We don’t even know the extent of female leadership. It is often about women having to masculinise to having made it to where they did, which I am not interested in. I am interested in women leading from their femininity. That’s why I call myself Madame Gandhi. I think its a reminder for me everyday to step into my femininity and lead from that side of things. My emotional intelligence, my care, my love, my nurturing energy, my desire to see something prosper instead of my desire to dominate something. This is Fourth Wave Feminism. This is what I stand for.
Some would argue, in the universe of rights not everything is equal. What do you have to say about this?
We are actually not interested in equality, but in equity. You have two people standing looking over a fence, one person is six foot and they can see over the fence and one person is four foot and they can’t see over a five foot fence. We are interested in giving the four foot person a one foot bench that now they can see over the fence. It’s not about equality because that ends up backfiring, and so when we say give women menstrual leave, some men have said then we should get diarrhoea leave, and I am like menstruation does not have the same parallels as diarrhoea, don’t be a child. You should accept it as a privilege that you don’t have to bleed every month, that biologically you don’t have to experience the pain we have to go every month. And therefore we are giving one gender the ability to take a leave to take care of themselves so that they can be their best selves at the workplace. So we that we have a prosperous society where everyone can be taken care of.
What’s stopping women, some men say…
Women are valued only for our looks. Men are valued only for their money. The same system of oppression affect us in different ways. But if I were to choose my oppression I would prefer to be valued for my money as opposed to my looks because looks is something that is age restrictive.
As women we put in a disproportionate amount of time on our looks and are taught if you want a job you have to look a certain way. That’s hours being taken away from me being a better drummer, a better singer. I am very dialed into the present moment. It’s how I came to India with six bags with half the hotels not booked, half the gigs not booked, half the band arrangements not booked, and still wound up with a seven city tour. Band members I believe the Universe does rally to meet the needs of the moment.
Why did you chose the drums?
It’s rebellious, it doesn’t require that much practice.
Why is such a big deal made out of menstruation?
Quite honestly, our period is not sexy. It is in the same way they don’t want us to have hair because they fetishise us for our youth , I think it’s related to that. Since it is not that sexy we have to pretend it doesn’t exist. By day or two or three, I usually run out of pads or tampons, so I free bleed. Not because it is a radical act because for me it makes sense I am busy. I do excellent laundry.
Studio. I’ll be back in LA writing.