Artist Feature: Madame Gandhi
Madame Gandhi is an artist and activist whose mission is to celebrate gender liberation. From touring as a drummer for M.I.A. to being a 2020 TED Fellow, her music is driven, uplifting, and powerful. Pandora spoke with Madame Gandhi ahead of Pride month to talk about giving back, expressing herself in life and music, and how to truly empower diverse representation.
You’ve uniquely combined activism and music in your career—what inspired you to start doing both of these? Since childhood, music and lyrics have always inspired me. It was listening to lyrics to understand someone else’s perspective or journey, learning from it, and feeling energy from it to go and better not only my own life, but the lives of other people. So it felt like the most natural progression in my own journey to make music that allows me to speak my truth about gender liberation, in an attempt to offer my perspective on difficult topics that might elevate the conversation in the collective consciousness.
Your music is bold and direct. Where do you get your inspiration from and what’s most important to you to be conveying through your music?
Fela Kuti most inspires my music—I am listening to his music right now! What is most important for me to convey in music is love energy, personal freedom, and truth about problematic gender constructs that exist in society today, and saying here’s why we should not tolerate it and here is what we can do about it. I love singing about the value that feminine energy brings to all of us, and why squashing it is so problematic.
You’ve headlined and spoke at Lesbians Who Tech, Dinah Shore, and other queer events. What does it mean to you to be a queer woman in the music space? It is important to show the multi-faceted nature of our self-expression, love, and sexuality. For me, my queerness has always come from a place of radical expression, to be able to love and be with whomever I want, whenever I want, however I want! And showing queerness from a place of personal liberation rather than from a place of oppression is why it matters that I bring my music and my message to these spaces, to show up on my stage fierce and strong so that it may inspire others to find that same power for themselves.
How do you encourage other queer women in your industry and what advice do you have for aspiring queer female musicians? I have always found my queerness to be this shield of armor because it allows me to have functional working relationships with cis men without there being necessarily an expectation sexually beyond the actual work we are doing together. I’m not saying I haven’t experienced problematic behavior, but I do believe that this allows me to trust my creative partnerships with men more because it is in service of the work, rather than the expectation that we might become romantically involved. To that end, my advice is to be fully yourself and work with people who just love and adore and align with you!
You talk about Harvard—where you got your MBA—as a source of continuing the patriarchy, but also how it helped you better understand it. How have you navigated the male-dominated music industry to get to where you are today? I do choose to work mostly with womxn, queer folks, gender non-conforming folks, and trans folks because I believe that these alliances are radical and when we aspire to work only with the name brand gatekeepers of the world, we are implicitly validating their power and privilege! So we need to be brave enough to trust each other, support each other, bring out the best in each other, so that we inherently combat oppression together.
Tell us more about your business degree—how does it play into both your activism and your music?
I find I use my MBA every day! It made me a better public speaker, it taught me about using my emotional intelligence to be a better leader, it taught me to diversify my sources of income as a musician/creative/entrepreneur and it taught me about doing the right thing in the moment ethically no matter what.
You talk about elevating female representation with your work and working with brands that align with your values. How do you find brands that are truly doing what they say, and how do you ensure this representation at every level of creation? I tend to work with as many small brands that are truly doing the right thing—from their policies with employees (I find that female owned businesses, for example, tend to have a much more humane policy with their employees), to the kinds of products they are making, to the mission that is public on their site. When I work with big brands, I look at the track record of representation in their marketing and media. I usually engage with bigger brands through the lens that I am interested in serving as representation from a marketing and media perspective of being a queer south asian American woman. And I am usually being featured because of my work and mission, and it matters to me that this message is broadcasted!
You’ve been active with live streaming and virtual shows during quarantine. Any previews of what you’re working on now you can give us? What’s next for you? I am working on my next album between live streaming! I have already put out two EPs, “Voices” and “Visions.” So I see this next project as the 3rd set of those previous albums.
Do you have any female mentors or inspirations? I truly love the Riot Grrrl era of music! I love Veruca Salt, Babes in Toyland, Bratmobile, and Fiona Apple. I listen to their wildness, their pain, their journey of personal liberation and it makes me dance around and cry and scream!
How will you Pass the Mic? I Pass The Mic in a few ways. I teach beatmaking and DJing to incarcerated girls twice a month with an organization called Give A Beat. I run a weekly music playlist with my team that features songs from 30 female or gender non-conforming artists who inspire me. And finally, I continue to work and seek out collaborations with other women in the industry across disciplines, not only in my band, or in my team, but for my music videos, or my choice of photographers and even the food and restaurants I choose to seek out in the cities I tour!
Stay tuned for other artist features and listen to more of Madame Gandhi’s music here.