HYPEBAE: Kiran Gandhi on Elevating and Celebrating the Female Voice

By Audrey Bugeja for HYPEBAE

We catch up with the drummer, producer, artist, activist and Harvard Business School graduate.

“Kiran Gandhi who performs as Madame Gandhi, changed the game when she ran the 2015 London Marathon bleeding freely on her period. She aimed to combat period stigma around the world, sparking a global viral conversation about how we treat menstruation in various cultures.

Before this milestone which changed her world – and (finally) shook up the rest of ours – she toured professionally drumming for M.I.A and Thievery Corporation, working with Interscope Records as their first-ever digital analyst, DJ’ing, producing… and well, being downright the bomb.

Kiran is releasing a new album this summer, which is set to build on themes of three-dimensional femininity as she continues to set her sights on creating a positive ecosystem to help end exploitation in the music industry and beyond. Keep reading for the full interview.”

Did that moment of running the London Marathon change your life? If so, how? 

Running the 2015 London Marathon bleeding freely on my period has been my greatest achievement so far. The impact of this act still has teeth today in the menstrual health movement taking place around the world.

It taught me that when we are brave enough for ourselves, we can be brave enough for the world.

What is the importance of education for women globally?

The more access to knowledge and information we have, the more confident we are to protect ourselves, and the more secure we are to be able to reject opportunities that might be harmful to us. It empowers us to have choice, be selective and not feel dependent on someone else for anything.

The moment dependencies are created is the moment room for exploitation arises. It allows for an information asymmetry, whereby one party knows more than the other and therefore can pay less, ask for more or bully. This is what I want all of us to be able to avoid, which is only possible with access to good information.  

Kiran Gandhi

Why do you feel women have been and currently are so easily exploited in the music industry? 

When we don’t have role models of people who look like us in positions of power, we tend to pursue those opportunities that we think are suitable for us, which often exclude the most financially viable positions.

There is so much conscious and unconscious hiring bias in the industry whereby men tend to mentor other men and reserve the positions of influence for people who are like themselves.

Women time and time again express stories where they thought they were being mentored and encouraged, later to find it was because the male mentor expected something sexual in return. It is enormously frustrating, but it is also why I am a big proponent of two things. One is for us to learn as much as we can on our own so we can never be exploited – whether this means asking questions about the business and/or music production or anything really that you don’t know about, or reading about it online, or buying books; and two for us to build our own systems to invest in ourselves, have access to opportunity and face those mainstream music industry challenges head on.

My intention with working at Interscope and then going to Harvard where I fiercely pursued my MBA, was so that I could never be exploited. My intention is the same with how I have dedicated so much time to enhancing my own music production skills on Ableton Live and beyond.

I want to become such a strong producer so I can not only control my own narrative end to end, but so I can also serve as a resource for young up and comers in the industry who want a joyful, positive, talented, dope, non-exploitative, safe, non-vulgar space to create and develop their sound. I want to be that person. I want to create that space. I am motivated not by how much I can take, but how much I might be able to give, in the future, as a leader in this industry. If you want to create great change, you must build the alternative. This is my mission for the next several decades, day by day, hour by hour.

Kiran Gandhi

Tell us more about this positive supportive ‘ecosystem’ you’re wanting to create? 

I believe that we should be valued based on how much joy and value we contribute, not by how much we take. I believe we live in a world that tends to reward aggressive, often exploitative behaviour, but this is not sustainable for the long run.

The music industry imploded on itself when this greed became too much in the late 90s, and soon we will see this rise and fall again if tech is not careful to curb its own greed.

My mom always tells my sister, brother and I, “we are to the universe only as much as we give back to it,” meaning that our relevance, state and legacy is simply what we give. I try hard to live by this. I believe that we should be valued and paid for how much we contribute.

Today we live in a world that often times prevents women, people of color, people with disabilities, people of varying sexual orientations or gender identities and other vulnerable communities from accessing their fullest potential and ability to contribute. This is because the current patriarchal capitalist system was built by straight white men for straight white men to succeed. This statement doesn’t have positive or negative attributes when I say it, it is simply fact.

Knowing this, we have to be conscious about building and operating with love and positivity to make change. As Gloria Steinem says, which I later quote in my song, “The Future is Female”, we are all linked, not ranked. This is the hallmark of the future female that I am talking about.

You mention you want to focus your time and energy on improving your ability to produce, score, arrange and write. What are the steps you’re taking to achieve this? 

The best way to improve is to throw yourself right into it. Since the start of the year I have been writing and recording sessions with a bunch of different artists – flute players, vocalists, producers, keys players, bassists, fellow drummers, guitar players – and fostering the studio environment of my dreams for me and them!

I make sure there is good healthy food around, a joyful atmosphere, a psychologically safe vibe so each musician feels like they can take creative risk, and that I am paying attention to different ideas they might want to try out. I record as much as possible to ensure the session maintains its energy, fluidity and freshness.

When we feel we have a lot of ideas down, I then take solo time over the days that follow to arrange the song concept. I mine for gold, laying down vocals, creating loops and sub sections, and reaching out to anyone else I think might be a good fit for that piece.

You definitely get better simply by putting in the hours and learning by doing, so I have been improving my ability to produce by trying to produce almost every single day, either solo or with a group.

Kiran Gandhi

Talk to us about your new album – what we can expect?

The new record is definitely more produced. I would say you can tell my sound has matured.

I showcase more of my passions and skill sets across sound design, vocals, lyrics, living drumming and percussion. This record is more nuanced, while still building on themes of three-dimensional femininity that I explored on my Voices EP. It has joyful feminist beats, Brazilian trap anthems, love songs, moody Pisces songs, Indian electronic songs and a track inspired by Nigerian artist Fela Kuti.

I can’t wait for you all to hear it! I am aiming for summer/fall release, but anyone who catches me on my tour dates between now and then will have the chance to hear some of the new stuff live before it’s out.