Exclusive: Indian-American musician Madame Gandhi speaks about her latest video and how the recent protests influenced her music

Shot in Mumbai, the video of Waiting for Me is an anthem of strength and defiance.

Paulami Sen Published :  03rd July 2020 12:00 AM   |   Published :   |  03rd July 2020 12:00 AM

Madame Gandhi aka Kiran Gandhi. Picture: Sajna Sivan

Madame Gandhi’s music and witty lyrics for her high-powered rap advocates freedom from the gendered roles. Following a theme similar to her former trendsetting singles like Top Knot Turn Up, The Future is Female is the recently released video for her number, Waiting For Me. Shot in Mumbai, this can be seen as an anthem of strength and defiance. It shows her voicing the need for love, truth and how that can set one free — like the uniformed school girls in the video who can't be 'schooled' on gender norms anymore. It’s heavy on percussion and thrives in colour. The visuals, where Kiran aka Madame Gandhi draws you into a vortex highlights nonconformity, shocks fluorescence of her hair and attire. This Los Angeles-based electronic music producer, artist, drummer and activist, also studied at Harvard. She has also worked with international music sensations like M.I.A, Kehlani and Oprah Winfrey’s 2020 Vision Tour. We spoke to her just before the video released, as she took out time while working on her third short-form album Vibrations. Excerpts:

The world is waiting for her!

Tell us about how you came up with your stage moniker, Madame Gandhi?
My real last name is Gandhi and I knew I wanted to preserve that name in my work as an artist. I wanted to hold on to my Indian heritage so that it is pervasive in my work, instead of feeling any need to Americanise in order to feel accepted. I think this is a pressure many American-Indians feel, and I wanted to combat that mentality and decolonise. I also knew I wanted to keep my artist identity close to my real name because so much of my work is so closely tied to my personal identity. I loved the concept of ‘Madame’ because it celebrates feminine styles of leadership, and mother energy, which I find not only deeply healing, but as the antidote to the oppressive patriarchal energy we all experience globally as women, gender non-conforming and trans people.

When was the first time that you felt that The Future is Female, as you sang? 
It was 2015 and I had just completed the London marathon. I was running freely during my period to combat the global menstrual stigma related to trans folks around the world. Someone had given me a ‘the future is female’ T-shirt as a gift and when I saw it I resonated with it because for the first time I saw a feminist slogan that didn’t aspire to a masculine ideal. It made femininity aspirational and that really moved me. 

A still from the video, Waiting For Me

You are so academically oriented and one can see it in your powerful lyrics. How do you strike a balance between so many references and keeping it peppy as well? 
I appreciate this so much because so often I feel that my words are too academically inclined (Laughs)! I remember when I used to drum for M.I.A (British rapper and musician), she used to tell me, “Kiran you are too heady! Get out of your head!” So I try to strike a balance, where I deliver the message while still trying to maintain a sense of lyrical style and swag. M.I.A paved the way for South Asian artists to step into the fullness of our identity, without conforming to Western expectations! I think my best work though usually starts with an emotion. I then start singing. If it is an emotion that deeply moves me, like love, or like freedom, then I continue developing the song into an idea. This is how Waiting For Me was born. And instead of doing any spoken word, we sampled my own speeches that I have given at TED or at other global conferences, since they were delivered with the original emotion they were intended to have. We even sampled an iPhone recording of my mom, Meera Gandhi’s daily meditation practice. See if you can hear it in the track!
 When did you first start drumming and playing the tabla? What inculcated the love for rhythm and drums? Also, does Indian music shape your musical thought in any way?
I started playing the drums when I was young! I learned the drum set because I knew it was radical for girls to play the drums. I loved that it was a rebellious and loud form of self-expression. But I also love rhythm. I love sports related to rhythm like running and boxing. I box or run every day! And even yoga is related to rhythm and internal meditation. My marathon run, was a response to how powerful it was that we as women and people who bleed have an internal biological moon cycle. I love how complex Indian rhythm is, and I think it is powerful for each generation to repurpose this tradition in a way to meet the needs of the time. 
Does the current atmosphere of protests — regarding Black Lives Matter — influence your music?

Of course, I’ve always been a protester. Drumming has always been the central instrument in protest. This song is like a global protest anthem. 

What do you want to say to girls everywhere about embracing themselves wholly? Is it challenging to be a female, brown and queer drummer in the present musical circuit? 
Own your voice, don’t be afraid! Step into your power so that we can show others what it looks like, inspiring them to do the same. I think it is powerful to exist in a time where queer brown and black bodies are globally being given the spotlight. That said, it is important for our art to be received for the quality of the music, beyond just our radical identity.
The video is out on streaming platforms. 

Catch the video of Waiting For Me on Vh1. (Inputs by Heena Khandelwal)

Pictures: Sajna Sivan.