Brightest Young Things: 10 Minutes In Ancient Egypt With Madame Gandhi

By Kaylee Dugan for Brightest Young Things

We’re beyond excited to spend next Friday (May 10!) partying at National Geographic’s “Queens of Egypt” exhibition (get your tickets now). We’re taking over the whole museum and taking you back to a time where Nefertiti, Nefertari and Cleopatra ruled the world. To get you ready for this tourist-free after hours, we called up Madame Gandhi (who has drummed for MIA / Kehlani / Thievery Corporation and will be live drumming / DJing our sweet party) to chat about her favorite queens (royal), Queen (the band), (drag) queens and so much more. Yes Queen.

BYT: If you were a National Geographic explorer, what would your specialty be?

Madame Gandhi: If I could be a National Geographic explorer and I had an expertise, I think I would love if it was one of two things… My gut reaction was actually rain forests and multilayered rain forest ecosystems. As a kid, whenever we’d go to the New York City zoo, the exhibit I never wanted to leave was the rain forest exhibit. I loved the sounds, I loved the rain, I loved the wetness, I loved the greenery. I loved the fact that you felt like you were outdoors but the trees kind of protected you. I loved the humidity and the warmth. It was interesting because I think jungle culture scares people, but rain forests have always really inspired me.

I would also want to be an expert on indigenous instruments. The history of different indigenous drums and flutes and instruments of all kinds.

BYT: The exhibition is about the queens of Egypt. How do you feel about The Bangles?

Madame Gandhi: I love culture and I love women writing songs about women, but I probably didn’t love the perpetuation of false stereotypes of what it means to be Egyptian. I think even growing up and seeing people do that dance, doing the “Egyptian” dance… When I visited Egypt, decades later for the first time and saw that it was actually an Arab nation, my conception of ancient Egypt was so different than real life on the ground. I realize how problematic it is that we as Americans often perpetuate really false, strange stereotypes. Maybe I’m more critical than I am positive.

If anything, I think I felt a little embarrassed about how ignorant I was when I went to Egypt for the first time.


BYT: Can you tell me more about that trip?

Madame Gandhi: Yes, so I had been studying Middle Eastern culture at Georgetown. It was a class called “Ancient History of the Middle East” and that was really illuminating to me. As an American, we have really problematic assumptions about the Middle East. We understand war, we understand “terrorism”, we understand religious extremism, but we don’t understand all of the really enormous, beautiful aspects of Middle Eastern culture. The fun and the music and the love and the food and the vibrancy and the people and the joyfulness.

First of all, that class was really helpful because I had already learned a lot more about the context of the Middle East. When I went there, it was like seeing some of those roots in practice, so I understood where some of the tensions came from, from a more historical perspective. But I also got really obsessed with Middle Eastern culture. I love Shisha and the culture of of not getting wasted at every meal, just having tea and remembering the conversation… And being in this desert and eating really light because you’re in the desert, eating vegetables and different kinds of curries and breads. Being around a lot of people, the way it is in India where everything is very crowded. Being around families that are celebrating with drums and shakers and flutes and singing. Also, everyone knows the same songs, so when one person in a club or a celebration or a Shisha lounge is singing, everybody starts singing and they are so about it! It’s so humbling because you’re like, humans are the same where ever we go. We’re all the same.

BYT: Who is your favorite queen?

Madame Gandhi: Nefertiti! I just imagine her, super in her power, but leading from her femme and leading from her elegance. Again, it’s less my factual, historical understanding and more of cultural stereotypes, so I definitely frame my answer with that very honest disclaimer… But when I think of an Egyptian queen, when I think of Nefertiti, I imagine a black woman leading from her power, from her graciousness, from her elegance, from her peacefulness, from her intelligence and from her care, a genuine care, for her people.

I think that’s also the reason why I rep madame in my own artist name, it’s about looking at what does female leadership even look like? What does it mean to lead from the femme? What does it mean to lead with the maternal elegance we often don’t get to see in a mainstream leadership context?

BYT: If you were a queen what would be your first royal decree?

Madame Gandhi: I would stop incarcerating the youth. I think that’s where I would start.

BYT: Many of the queens in ancient Egypt were buried with their important possession… What would you want to be buried with?

Madame Gandhi: Drums! Musical instruments of all kinds, but you know what? I think I take that back. The second you bury the person with all their goods, what good does that do? Those important possessions could be helping folks get out of poverty. Maybe I would make sure that all those prized possessions go to the most vulnerable populations in my land.

BYT: Another royal decree! What’s your favorite Queen song?

Madame Gandhi: There’s “Boh Rap”… And then there’s “Best Friends”… I think “Best Friends” because there are not enough songs that celebrate your best friend and I really have such a good best friend. It’s very special and spiritual and integral to my success.

BYT: Who is your best friend?

Madame Gandhi: Her name is Lara and she performs as Lara FM.

BYT: If you could be an Egyptian deity, which would you be? I have a list of them if you need some inspiration.

Madame Gandhi: I’m definitely down for your prompting.

BYT: Here are some of from Wikipedia – Heh is the personification of infinity, Kek is the god of chaos and darkness, Nu who is the personification of the formless watery disorder from which the world emerged…

Madame Gandhi: Maybe that one, the watery disorder. That’s pretty interesting. Maybe it’s because I’m a Pisces, which is a water sign and I do think all of the good stuff comes out of all the disorder.

BYT: Are you into astrology? Who is your go to astrologer?

Madame Gandhi: Probably Chani Nicholas and then also AstroSagas. Both of them are queer identifying astrologers and every time I read their descriptions of Pisces stuff, and also that’s happening that week astrologically, I really connect with it. It’s almost very forgiving. It’s kind of a relief for me to feel like there are things that are universal, that are not necessarily in our control.

BYT: Who is your favorite drag queen?

Madame Gandhi: RuPaul. I saw him on Broad City and that kind of attitude and passion is something I feel like we can all learn from and channel for ourselves.

BYT: Your platform, your slogan, your saying, whatever you want to call it is “the future is female” and this is a party about the past. So, would you rather go back or forward in time?

Madame Gandhi: Definitely forward, but of course you have to understand whats been done. We can learn so much from the past because, sadly, many of the things we’re fighting for today when it comes to quality and liberation are things we have fought for in the past. We have to learn what’s been done and what worked and what didn’t work in order to successfully move forward.