Kiran “Madame” Gandhi describes herself as a drummer whose mission is to elevate and celebrate the female voice. It’s quite perfect timing for an artist like Gandhi, but this has been her mission way before women’s empowerment became the white-hot issue it is today.
Like many others, I first heard of Madame Gandhi in 2015 when her activism went viral when she ran the London marathon while free-bleeding on her menstrual cycle. Those are two incredibly daunting things 95% of the human population would never take on. 1) Running 26.2 miles consecutively 2) Letting anyone, let alone the whole world see you bleed freely during that time of the month. Combining those things into one rebellious act, is not something the average person would take on. Madame Gandhi is not your average human though (obvs).
Fast forward to summer 2017 when one of my music industry friends was visiting from LA and crashing at Kiran’s NYC house for a few days. He face-timed me with Kiran in the background. She seemed like a sweet, quiet young lady. I remember them showing me her Voices EP cover and Kiran telling me how much she loves the color yellow.
In her many incarnations, Gandhi has been the live drummer for hit “Airplanes” rapper MIA, and is also a graduate of Harvard business school. It’s not often you are blessed to be in the presence of such a bold connoisseur of life, so I sat down with Madame Gandhi and there are the 6 lessons I took away:
It’s Not Stagnation- There Are Reap Years And There Are Sow Years
There is an ebb and flow to life. There is a time for work and a time for reward. Be patient with yourself as you work towards your goals.
It’s taken Gandhi 7 years to arrive where she is today. She moved to Los Angeles from New York City in 2011 when she got a job as a digital analyst at Interscope Records. In 2013, she became rapper MIA’s touring drummer. Then, driven by the desire to improve her skills as a business leader, she studied rigorously for the GMAT, and got into Harvard Business School.
“In 2015 when my story about the marathon went viral, it brought me back to my focus of modern feminism, and I wanted to improve as a speaker and writer, so I did that (‘that’ being Harvard) in 2016. In 2017 I was on the road almost the entire year combining my passions for music and feminism. In 2018, I am definitely in a sow year, improving my production capabilities, honing in even further on my message, and writing the next record!”
We Can’t Predict Virality
In 2015 was it her intention to go viral while running the London Marathon free-bleeding? Gandhi says, “ My intention was to use the shock value of my own blood to combat much of shame and stigma that women and people who bleed face daily around the world. It was to spark a conversation about how we treat menstruation and menstrual health in various cultures, and be critical about how many of these norms hold society back. In that way, my goal was realized.” The shock value of the story and photos kept the story trending on Facebook for five days. Gandhi says she is still contacted by reporters, students and researchers about her perspective on menstrual health as it relates to feminism and the fight for global gender equality.
It’s Hard, But Try To See Obstacles As A Good Thing
I asked Gandhi if she experiences push-back when sharing her message, and her answer is yes. But surprisingly adds that these kinds of obstacles may not be a bad thing. “Recognize that something you said may have made someone else feel misunderstood, or did not align with their experience of the world. Consider then how their experiences might improve your stance, and make your perspective more nuanced.” It’s a truly feminine way of thinking to be inclusive of the diverse people one encounters, but it takes a really special soul to consider how backlash can make you, your mission and your message more effective.
Focus On Impact, Not Ego
In today’s social media age, as I look anonymously on different accounts and on my explore page on Instagram the thought that often runs through my mind unprovoked is, ‘You doing too much’. People are doing almost anything for likes, comments, views and fleeting attention- to feed egos. Gandhi shares, “It is very important to invest where you can have impact, and less where you can nourish your own ego. When we start out we want the bigger opportunities, but the truth is that if you are offering something of value, word spreads organically and the bigger opportunities come regardless.”
Invest in Your Home
Gandhi travels a lot. In January 2018, she toured 8 cities in India and closed 2017 by selling out dates on tour with iconic musician Ani DiFranco. She says that, the more you travel, the more you value your home. “I live in a yellow loft that I created with a stage and studio and bed in a very industrial part of Los Angeles, and I very much enjoy my time and routines here. So for me to leave, the opportunity has to meet certain requirements. If you invest in your home space, it makes you value yourself and your time more, and therefore the opportunities match that message you are sending out to the universe.”
Putting Her Harvard MBA To Use: Musicians Are Entrepreneurs
How does Gandhi’s Harvard MBA serve her as a musician? ”Musicians must be entrepreneurial or they will be out of a job. Instead of trying to be a second-rate version of someone else, be a first-rate version of yourself.” I love that. when you think about what you have to offer the world, instead of trying to be a version of another successful brand, offer the purest version your own brand. “This is the Madame Gandhi project. I can speak, perform, drum, produce, create. So at my live show, you experience a mix of all of these things, which are unique to me, and therefore creating something that is difficult to find elsewhere.”
Special thanks to the LIM students and young freelancers who we collaborated with on for this project so Gandhi and I could involve these young women on such a female empowering project.
Photographer: Gabriela Hnizdo / Photo Editor& Stylist Assistant: Soukayna Dieng / Makeup Artist: Kendra Dennis Project Assistants: Kimberly Guzman & Somara Son.