Kiran Gandhi On How Her Passion For Gender Equality Tunes Her Music

When I spoke to music activist and artiste Kiran Gandhi two years ago for choosing to bleed freely while running at the 2015 London Marathon, she had told me how The Spice Girls had helped her understand her own power.

Gandhi, who plays the drums, has toured with the British singer and rapper M.I.A. She has studied Mathematics and Women’s Studies followed by an MBA at Harvard University.

She has analyzed music trends for Interscope records, and has adopted the stage name, Madame Gandhi, to write and make music that celebrates the female voice.

“I use my Feminist message and tie it with my music because my music is going to be with me forever. I am motivated to make the world a better place for young women and female-identifying people. So it’s my passion for gender equality that informs my music.” 

“We have to pay attention to the things we are passionate about and the things we’d be doing no matter what, even if no one was looking. For me, that’s music — singing, writing, playing the drums, expressing myself musically. Also, paying attention to issues in the world that we care the most about, that we are always thinking about, that makes us the most upset. For me, that’s gender inequality, when woman lack opportunities to be their best most authentic selves.”

It was a summer camp in Maine, US, where the then 8-year-old Gandhi tried her hand at a drum set for the first time. It came to her naturally and she loved the fact that she could play with different people who were looking for drummers. For the people, it was unusual to see a young woman play the drums so confidently.

Working with M.I.A, she observed how the singer was true to herself in her work and inspired her team to be their most creative. This enabled Gandhi to harness her voice and her idea of a world ‘where each of us treated equally could look like’. She started espousing those ideas in her own music.

When it came to picking a stage name, she chose Madame – “I loved the idea of Madame – as a celebration of female leadership.”

Combating sexism

Asked about talented artiste Kesha being abused and blackmailed by her music producer, Gandhi has a two-part solution to this problem — how she treats herself and using social media tools effectively.

“I feel the industry sets women up to fail. When we look beautiful, they discredit our talent. When we are talented, they tell us we are not beautiful enough and so we can never really win.” 

“People treat us how we treat ourselves. If I eat well, then people will offer me food that’s really good. If I don’t drink then people will stop offering me alcohol. If I play gigs that will make a big impact, people will only offer me those gigs. If I don’t take up gigs that don’t offer a certain amount of money, people will offer me gigs that will only financially make sense. In the same way, we have to teach young women that the pressures of the industry shouldn’t teach them to sexualize themselves, that we can only use our sexuality in places where we want to. It’s only then that other people will stop objectifying us.”

Women need to help each other

“The industry is designed to enable men to do whatever they want — with this boys will be boys culture. So the next generation of women need to invest in themselves and their skill sets and really help each other. That way, we don’t have to depend on men to exploit us and potentially oversexualise us.”

“It is important to control the narrative about our experiences — to show love, power, joy, depression, passion, hard work, sex — all of these different things that women experience but aren’t shown in the mainstream. This is how we combat sexism, by showing vision and visuals of the alternative.” 

Control our narrative

Even on social media, Gandhi says it is important to control our narrative. “So, on my social media, you might see me drumming or giving a talk, in a classroom of young girls, then a photo of me with my family or with my partner — showing ourselves in a three-dimensional light allows us to combat the stereotypes that we are only valued for our looks as opposed to our skill sets.”

Gandhi only works with women and female identifying persons — behind the camera, photographers, producers, lighting, creative directors, graphic designers, assistants, tour managers, backing vocalists etc. Everyone on her team is a woman.

She adds, “It is very important for us to elevate women and to live our truths by encouraging each other instead of tearing each other down and being competitive. That’s how we allow women and people of marginalized communities to step into themselves.”

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