Lifestyle Asia: Musician & activist Madame Gandhi on making the world a better place

Kiran Gandhi aka Madame Gandhi recently released her new music video, ‘Waiting For Me’.  And it is turning heads around the world for all the right reasons. Here, the musician and activist shares what fuels her passion to obliterate oppression and find liberation, for herself and others alike.

Photos by Sajna Sivan

Bright colours, sharp aesthetics, eclectic music, and poignant lyrics, that’s how ‘Waiting For Me’ greets you, and then takes you in completely. A song that communicates the oppression faced by females and the liberation awaiting them, it resonates deeply not only with Madame Gandhi, but also the world we live in today. The Los Angeles-based musician grew up between Mumbai and New York and alludes to the schooling that imposed conformity over creativity, and how to break free from it in ‘Waiting For Me’.

“What if we allow the kids to step into the fullness of their potential instead of limiting them?” she asks. But the song’s not only about her, “I want the audience to watch and ask those questions—what aspects of my life oppress me and what aspects could liberate me?”

Along with the strong message, the video has been making noise for its visuals—directed by Misha Ghose, whose previous work includes the likes of Parekh & Singh. “I was like ‘I don’t want to talk to any other director, I want you’,” says Gandhi about being certain to work with no one but Ghose. It also features illustrator & activist Priyanka Paul, transgender radio jockey Shanthi Muniswamy, and others who share Gandhi’s causes of supporting feminism and queer community, who were all brought on board by producer Aastha Singh. “We wanted a group that would bond both on- and off-screen. We all hung out a couple of days before the shoot so we’d have real chemistry. When you’re genuinely inspired by who you surround yourself with, it’s easy to have that translate onscreen.”

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Gandhi has always been about music. “I don’t think I ever knew I’d make my own music, but always felt really motivated by it.” She’s been a drummer for M.I.A., Oprah’s 2020 Vision Stadium Tour, and Thievery Corporation in the past, however, it was after her story about running the London Marathon 2015 while freely menstruating went viral that Gandhi decided to make her own music, thereby her own voice heard.

Since then the Harvard MBA graduate has released two short-form albums in the past: ‘Voices’ (2016) and ‘Visions’ (2019). Her song ‘The Future Is Female’ was wildly popular, reaching no. 8 on Spotify Viral US Charts in 2017. Her music and activism have also garnered her spots so Forbes Music 30 Under 30 member and TED Fellow. And she constantly strives to weave her ethos into her professional working.

“When we hire folks that are typically underrepresented, some people feel that’s not fair, it’s perpetuating the problem. But I push back on that and say we’re basically actively offsetting inherent bias that exists in our industry,” Gandhi says of employing persons from oppressed sections of the society. “I do seek out other queer, disabled, and other folks whose mission aligns with mine. They won’t get the opportunity otherwise and the quality of their work is so inspiring, you show the world something it’s never seen before.” The results are, of course, just as impeccable as any other production. “Every time someone watches my music video and says this is so good, it’s so inspiring. It feels good and I’m like ‘ya, it was a fully female-led team and a high calibre product’!”

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Her activism, like her music, has always existed in Gandhi. “[It] really comes from my parents. They raised me to have a desire to give back, be a conscious citizen of the world. If you are aware of your own privilege and of how to be of service to others, then you always have something to give.” And since childhood she’s volunteered, been a part of student governments, and used her music to protest—be it Obama winning elections, homeless shelters being shut, or presently Black Lives Matter. “I am very connected and moved by the pain of others. So, where I feel I can add value, I always try to.”

However, it wasn’t always that her two commitments flowed together, the amalgamation of music and activism happened gradually. “They lived separately in my world for a long time, then I realised I want to live more holistically and want my work to be directly related to my activism…I felt I had something for myself, that’s what made me make that shift.” And her cause isn’t limited to any one community, in fact, she loves it when men too connect with the project. “Men face limitations too, which are rarely talked about as they are in a privileged position. They experience rape, heteronormative hierarchies, and of course, queer men face a lot of harassment…It really is a movement for anyone seeking personal freedom.”

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While she believes that standing up for any cause needs to be purely authentic, she also maintains that artists cannot be ignorant of their impact. “Artists don’t need to be activists, but I do think artists need to be conscious of deeply powerful their work is.” And opening up that platform and supporting the up & comers of the music industry, she’s sharing all remixes of ‘Visions’ by female producers next month.

As for continuing her positive impact on the world, Gandhi is working on her next album, ‘Vibrations’. Out in 2021, she describes it as, “A healing album. It’s about positive vibrations, about working on yourself to be a better person, being vulnerable, honest about your emotions—what makes you happy or sad, and having that internal dialogue.” She also wants to stir change in the way we perceive being emotional. “The lack of female leadership in the world prevents us from having emotional intelligence. I want this album to cause a radical planetary shift where are infusing love, tenderness, and emotions into the music very consciously and elevating the vibrations of the planet.” And that is Madame Gandhi for you—truly living up to the opening lines of ‘Waiting For Me’—‘I don’t want every day to turn up to the sound of my own oppression, you feel me?’


By Megha Uppal for Lifestyle Asia