Music Monday: Madame Gandhi

How the personal became political on Kiran Gandhi's debut EP.

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In 1970, Carol Hanisch penned the iconic essay "The Personal Is Political." Her words were a call to arms, a formative idea that radically shaped the women's-liberation movement before becoming an integral axiom for future generations of feminists. On her debut EP, Voices, the former M.I.A. collaborator and LA activist Madame Gandhi continues the conversation first sparked by Hanisch's words. Through politically engaged lyricism, hypnotic backbeats, and sonic melody, she addresses the toxic misogyny of our era on tracks like "Her," "Yellow Sea," and "The Future Is Female." From beginning to end, Voices celebrates the power of femininity, collaboration, and our capacity as individuals and as a culture to evolve.

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On the day that Voices dropped, I spoke with Kiran Gandhi, the woman behind the moniker, about her hopes for feminism's future, the story behind her stage name, and how even a seemingly small act can ultimately be radically divine.

Dianca Potts: In addition to being an artist, you're an activist. What inspired you to merge your creativity with your politics?

Kiran Gandhi: Until recently, those two things have been approached separately in my life. When I ran the London marathon last year, I didn't think that act would be considered radical. I didn't think that it would spark a larger conversation about period stigma, but it did, and it was the best thing that could have happened. When I was at the marathon, I was just doing what made the most sense for me at the time. I've always been passionate about gender equality, so when that story went viral it was this kind of divine intervention.

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DP: Music has historically served as a catalyst for social progress. What do you think makes music such a powerful tool for activists?

KG: When I talk to students at universities or at the UN, I feel confident because I know the facts and I know the flow of the speech, but it's always a different reaction than when I perform. Even if I'm just playing the drums, the emotional connection and the vibe that I feel in the room when I'm playing my music is heightened, and it's received on a deeper emotional level, and that's the biggest challenge. Like on the final track of my EP, "The Future Is Female." I wanted to say all the things, but I didn't want it to be so brainy and literal that you listen to it and it feels like a speech. It's a really tough balance, but I want to get better at merging the two.

DP: You've spoken out in the past against period stigma. How can we start to change the way our culture talks about women's bodies and health?

KG: I really want to live in a world where the workplace is designed to accommodate day-to-day female experiences, because traditionally most offices are designed for men and by men. We need more intelligent maternity and paternity reform, more intelligent norms in the workplace that accommodate the human and female body. These are some of the things I'm most concerned with. I also feel that a lot of marketing and advertising needs to change. The way that we talk about women is always centered around being beautiful or how sexually consumable we are, and I think that that's unfair. Instead, I want to live in a world where we say, "Here's how you can feel your most comfortable, here's how you can be your best self."

DP: The way that an artist chooses to present themselves can reveal so much about their journey and what they value. What is the story behind your name? How does it represent your journey?

KG: The name Madame Gandhi came from a really good friend of mine who used to make fun of me because she thought that I was really old and brassy when it came to [getting] something that I wanted. I would just go out there and get it and she'd say, "That's such a madame thing to do." I didn't know that that kind of behavior was an anomaly, but I like that she mentioned it because it helped me embrace it. She also made me realize that acting like a madame came from when I lived in Bombay as a child. Because of British colonial rule, they call the women of the house there "madame," so when I was there, I was a little madame. That title taught me about female leadership, and now it reminds me to own what I'm doing, to feel confident, be strong, and believe in what I'm doing.

DP: On "Gandhi Blues," you pay homage to the transformative power of the genre's tradition. It made me think of how the blues, especially when sung by women, has inspired social progress and activists. Could you talk a bit about this track and what the blues mean to you?

KG: The title of that song has a dual meaning. It's about the fight to improve gender equality and being an activist, about talking to people who get it and being really energized by them and then talking to people who don't get it and being really discouraged by that experience. It's also about the parallel of being in relationships and feeling discouraged because you're so busy doing a million things that you're proud of that you're not spending as much time as you'd like to with your family or your lover. Also, the reference to Mahatma Gandhi is very intentional. He was highly criticized for not being good to his family because of all of the work he was doing for India. It also speaks to the tradition of the blues and its role in the civil-rights movement. It's all inextricably linked.

DP: In a way, "The Future Is Female," which in a way acts as a manifesto for things to come. When it comes to feminism's future, what sort of changes or growth would you like to see in the movement?

KG: I hold an MBA from Harvard, which is the breeding ground of the patriarchy. When I would tour with M.I.A., she would criticize me [about it]. She'd be like, "You're going to a place that produces capitalistic greed and fuels the very things I criticize in my music." And I told her, "Listen, I know that, but I think that it's important to understand all of those things so that you can fight fire with fire." I think that if we acknowledge that we live in a capitalistic society and we acknowledge how that influences people on a daily basis and use that influence to change the way our culture values women, if we could reeducate ourselves, I see value in that. It's not business that feminism should criticize, it is the lack of collaboration that a male-centered approach of business and capitalism brings to the table. We have to recognize our own sphere of influence, see what we can change, and then do it. We have to shake society into questioning its norms.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Dianca Potts is an assistant at Lenny Letter.

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