Elle Magazine: Madame Gandhi Opens Up About Her Nude Polar Plunge In Antarctica, Climate Change, New Music And More

– “There’s a solidarity in the performance art of connecting my own body with nature’s coldest temperatures with a desire to preserve these cold temperatures.”

There’s more to Madame Gandhi’s music than foot-tapping beats and catchy rhythms– there’s purpose to inspire change. With activism in her art and power in her voice, she doesn’t hesitate to be the change she wants to see and pushes boundaries to spark important conversations. In 2015 she went viral around the world when she ran the London Marathon while bleeding freely on her period to combat the stigma associated with menstruation. Madame Gandhi is currently pursuing a Master’s in Music, Science and Technology at Stanford University’s CCRMA and has spent time in Antarctica* sampling the sounds of glaciers melting for her music to create empathy and awareness around climate change. She rose to viral recognition once again when she polar plunged nude in Antarctica for over 3 minutes for climate solidarity. We sat down with Madame Gandhi to learn about her experience, journey and more:

What was the bigger aim and mission behind polar plunging nude in Antarctica? Tell us more about that experience.

Madame Gandhi (MG): There are so many levels, I think the first and most important is that we as humans are meant to interact with nature in our most natural way. And I think that in nature, and especially in a place like Antarctica where very few humans have gone, things that exist in a human construct, like a cell phone, or a bathing suit seem silly to me. Why would I wear a bathing suit? It’s just me and mother nature— there’s no problematic construct around my divine connection in my natural body with nature. So first and foremost it was my own desire to feel the ocean on every cell of my skin, it’s an honour and a once in a lifetime experience.

The second is total vulnerability and surrender. Even a bathing suit or a wet suit are levels of protection and I think there’s enormous power in trusting your own bravery, your own ability to survive, your ability to keep your mind right. I really wanted to channel my own meditation practices to be able to immerse myself in the water, much like a baptism. The naked body as we’ve seen, really only exists in the context of pornography or sex scenes in a movie and that really does us all a disservice from being able to love our bodies, in contexts other than sex and sexuality. We’re so lucky to be able to enjoy pleasure as humans in a healthy way, that’s a right that we have. But at the same time, we also should be able to enjoy our skin and our bodies, without fear or shame or scrutiny.

Photo courtesy of Kiran Gandhi; Photographer: Erica Simone

The third is this really divine solidarity with the cool temperatures of the planet. The whole point of the polar plunge is to raise awareness around the fact that these polar temperatures are warming, they are getting hotter and hotter. And so there’s a solidarity in the performance art of connecting my own body with nature’s coldest temperatures with a desire to preserve these cold temperatures. 

Instagram took down the video from my page even though the community guidelines state that breasts and female nipples are actually allowed if there is an act of protest. And so to this day, the video has been removed multiple times, even though it exists on other channels. And to me, it’s very hypocritical of Instagram, because this was very much in solidarity with the planet. 

How did you come up with the idea to sample the sounds of glaciers melting for your music?

MG: I am wrapping up a Master’s in Music, Science and Technology here at Stanford University at the Centre for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, that’s CCRMA, which they pronounce as ‘karma’. So I’m at Stanford karma, which feels very fitting name wise (laughs). In my first semester, we learned how to build underwater microphones. We went out to the bay in Monterey and recorded the sound of whales singing into the microphone. Last year, I released a pack of nature sounds on a website called splice.com. And this pack of 300 sounds sampled from nature where I was making kick drums, snare drums and synthesizers, all crafted from organic sound material that I had recorded won the New.Wav award

My motivation for this second round of nature packs was working on it here at Stanford for underwater sounds because we had constructed these microphones. So when I went out to Antarctica, my goal was to record marine biology underwater once again. I recorded penguins singing into the mic for me, I recorded sea lions underwater, they have this very electronic sound when they communicate with each other. But the most unexpected sound was the sound of glaciers melting underwater. And it’s a tragic sound because it’s the sound of climate change. It’s the sound of global warming because these beautiful big rocks of ice that exist as mountains have trapped air bubbles in them. And when they fall into the ocean, because they’re melting, they start to release all these trapped air bubbles. The sound is just this gorgeous kind of prana or life energy and it just feels delicious and magical and alive. I wanted to capture that sound. And as a musician, I always think about how can I use what I’m good at to make the world a better place, to use the few gifts that I’ve been given to raise awareness for issues that I really care about. And so I thought, what if I sample the sound of glaciers melting in my music, to raise awareness and empathy around climate change. You’ll be hearing that on my album ‘Vibrations’ this fall.

Photo courtesy of Kiran Gandhi

What sparked your interest in music and drumming? How was it like touring with M.I.A while also getting an MBA from Harvard?

MG: I really loved the drums as a kid because I knew it was ‘rebellious’. I knew it wasn’t necessarily what girls were encouraged to do and yet I loved being able to be the beatmaker, I love being able to be the one to make people dance, I love the joy that drums bring, and the power that drums bring. Drums are like the heartbeat. The first instrument babies are exposed to is the mother’s heartbeat in the womb. It’s so profound, it’s literally the sound of life. And that inspires me. When you follow what it is that you love, when you follow your bliss, it turns into purpose over time. It’s almost like the bliss starts first, and you just feel good, but your intellectual mind hasn’t confirmed why you are doing this thing. So a lot of times when kids or young people are following their bliss, they’re shut down before they can see it all the way through, because no one can make sense of it right off the bat. But things change if we gave people space to follow their bliss, a little bit more time to understand that there’s something here— I don’t know what it is but I’m going to trust the fact that it makes me feel good and allow that to be good enough. For anyone who’s reading this article, I really want them to take away this kind of affirmation, that when you stay following your bliss, really incredible, wonderful things can happen in your life that will change your life.

I would be in Harvard Business School classes Monday through Friday, and then I would get on a plane and we’d go and play in Japan or Poland. I was on stage with other incredible women for sold-out audiences. And people would tweet about how they were inspired that there was a female DJ and female drummer. M.I.A is an incredible woman, she was uplifting women of colour on the stage with her, which was really, really beautiful. And I was also learning from an institution that has been a leader in business thinking. And so I felt empowered in both my heart and my mind in that phase. And it taught me to say yes to the things that might have the chance to change my life.

What got you interested in activism? And what does being an activist mean to you?

MG: When I was young, my parents, Meera and Vikram Gandhi would really encourage my siblings and me to think about how can we make a difference in the world. How do we use what we’ve been given for good? And I think a lot of folks try to pretend that they don’t come from privilege or that they don’t have the privilege. But all of us in some way, shape or form, have given some kind of blessing. And I think the responsibility is less to pretend like those blessings don’t exist, and instead to own the blessings and do something with them. That’s really where the power lies. When it comes to activism, for me, activism is every day, and it’s more about consciousness than it is about standing up in protest. I love to protest but at the same time I think activism is also quiet, it’s about learning and asking the right questions and then changing the behaviour. You know, for me, my messaging is very much about uplifting women, but that doesn’t need to come at the expense of other genders. And so, again, in my own language, I’m also looking, at how can I be more inclusive.  I’m very guided by making the world a better place, but I don’t think it looks like the grandiose thing that we often think it might look like. I think instead, it’s about small radical actions behind the scenes every day.

What are some environmental concerns that need immediate attention?

MG: I usually cook for myself but on days when I don’t have time, I order in. The food comes in plastic, and there are very few options— maybe I can choose not to get straws and utensils, but it’s still coming in tons of plastic bags, and plastic containers and I feel set up to fail.  Every time I have to throw away the plastic containers of the food I’ve eaten, I feel disgusted with myself and I feel disgusted by the situation. So for me, that’s a really big concern right now. 

Photo courtesy of Kiran Gandhi

What are the small ways that one can be more environmentally conscious in everyday life?

MG: Noticing how your choices affect the planet, I really think the biggest one is consciousness. For me, I definitely was not aware that I could go to a music venue that I’m performing at and ask them to not put plastic bottles backstage, instead ask them to just put one big jug of water and we will bring our own water bottles. So that’s a big one—consciousness— how do I consciously change my behaviours so that I’m doing my part? I think leading by example and quietly letting your actions speak louder than words are the biggest ways we can each take steps towards saving the planet.

*Madame Gandhi visited Antarctica with Daybreaker (@dybrkr) who travelled to the 7th continent with 168 artists, entrepreneurs and environmental leaders and double carbon offset total CO2 emissions for all 168 guests to be not just carbon neutral but carbon negative. 

By Sakshi Sharma for Elle Magazine