Photography by Julie Bé
Last march, Madame Gandhi came by Montreal for two special shows at MAI (Montreal Arts Interculturels) and fired up the stage with an awesome crew of women musicians from Montreal. That night, the crowd felt like everything was possible, a night were we all rejoin and feel like a true collective. With her on stage, we got the chance to listen to the amazing voices of Tika The Creator and Odile Myrtil, two artists from Montreal. Overall, during the show we had the chance to feel the power and the richness of these women together, each one representing and embodying who they are in the most beautiful way possible, all shapes, all colors, all life.
Let me introduce you to this multidisciplinary feminist artist. Her work is centered on highlighting the huge potential of women in this world. Madame Gandhi is from warm Los Angeles, her origins from India and her influences from all around the world. Right now, she’s touring to show the public her EP « Voices » in prepation for her next long album « Vision ». She is conscious and committed, moved by a lively energy of change and understanding our collective issues with communicating and expressing love.
Before aquiring her artistic independance and producing her own work, she was the official drummer for Badass british artist M.I.A. With her, she got to experience the world, the big picture of being an international musician and creating next to incredible humans.
At the same time, Madame Gandhi was studying for her business degree and secretly working on her music. In 2015, she ran the London Marathonn whilst free bleeding on her period. This choice to show the world our nature and our strenght in one the factors making her an influencial figure as well as a new kind of feminist activist : leading the path to liberation from the body-independance itself. If we can dare to talk about superwomen, I’d say she for sure is one.
Madame Gandhi’s music in infused by sonorities from California and south Asian traditions. Her voice is strong and honnest. My favorite song is doubtlessly « Gandhi Blues ». Lyrics that are both soft and revendicative, sound is full of waves and sharp edges, it makes us move effortlessly and hope for a better future. In 2016, she released her solo EP « Voices », an explosion of statements and facts, a deconstructive kind of speech mixed up with rich musical inspirations, strenghtened by her experiences, smart collabs and a precise will to touch and open up a discussion about the feminine and the potentialities of voices like hers, not heard enough, not seen enough.
Through her art, she’s making a difference in representation, in her commitment to women’s rights and making music that matters. After the show, I got the chance to meet her and she agreed to respond to my questions. My goal : to give her a chance to express differently how she feels about her work, her standpoints and her views on the future.
Ready to enter her world ? LET’S GO !
1- How do you negotiate a consciousness of the American capitalist society, balanced with personal and political views on gender equality and discriminatory systems in place ?
This is a really good question and I think about this a lot. On the new album, and in the song that you saw performed, I have a song called « Waiting for me » that is exactly about this dynamic where we do experience a push in the pole anticipating an aspect of capitalism that could creat privilege for us that we all benefit from but also being brave enough to ask « At whose expense does my privilege come from? » and « What are things that I can do personnally in my day-to-day activities, actions and choices that can prevent me from contributing to the oppression of somebody else? ». I would say the main thing is being a conscious consumer. I really do get out of my way to understand where the clothes that I wear come from, how are they made or I am wearing brands that are female-led or female-owned. Am I visiting and consuming coffee shops that are fair-trade ? Am I consuming goods that are from a farmer’s market instead of goods that hve been imported from somewhere else or that are not ethically sourced or traded ?
In my own musical project, I also go out of my way to employ or collaborate with female-identifying folks, trans folks, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, women and folks of color, people of varying disabilities. You know just being self aware : How do I bring these opportunities to folks that tend to be overlooked in our industry. If tomorrow I put out an ad that says « Hey I’m going on tour and I’m looking for a bassist », the names that will get submitted to me just by default would be « Bob, Tim, John, Harry, Chris ». People think that the best musicians are the men and that’s also part of the work to bring together talent that is often overlooked so as to change the narrative to showcase us in our best light.
As you saw in my show, we had very talented women of color seven piece band and that was really special and important to me because the band was so talented and jolted so much on stage. I don’t people have ever seen that before maybe apart from the Beyonce 40 person all female, all black people band. It’s very rare that you see an independant artist travelling on the road and collaborating with only women and bringing our show to life with that caliber.
2- Whilst developing you music career and working in this industry were you exposed to casual sexism or noticed it unnoticed around you ? In which specific ways working with mainly women musicians matters to you ?
I can definitely talk about what it means to experience sexism in the music industry. It is often when people don’t think that you know what you’re talking about, passive-agressive or micro-agressions from sound engineers when they arrive at a venue. And I’ve actually learned that it is not effective then to over-assert yourself . It actually is way more powerful to just lead with femmes instead of having a passive-agressive tensed dynamic with the person you really need to depend on in order to have the best sound. Showing then another side is important. What if instead me being angry back at them I was just super kind to them and peaceful and let my work, my experiences and my knowledge speak for themselves. Let’s remember that whilst those folks might have been sexist to me, it’s also a lack of their own desire to expand and learn. I can’t beat then up for that, only show them the other way.
I think many times we have shifted the energy of something that felt negative or frustating into something that is collaborative or team-building . And then I go on the stage and I litterally talk about those things and the folks who I just worked with trust it because they witness it first hand moments we got on the stage. So I think it’s about being the change you want to see in the world. If someone is sexist to you, or mistreats you, it can hurt our feelings, it can hurt our ego but it’s also really powerful to rise above it ans say » Hey, I know that I know what I’m talking about ». I too want to have empathy. Sound people and sound engineers tend to be really bust around and really talked down to. Maybe there’s somthing that I can do to make theur experience more pleasant if they’re not going out of their way to make my experience more pleasant.
I try shift the negative energy and lead by example, I take back control of the space instead of feeeling dependant to someone that doesn’t necessarily want to work with me or has not initially respected me .
3- Of what aspect of your work are the proudest ?
I’m the proudest of all the things that I do completely by myself. You know i’ve spent a lot of tiome investing time in my own producer’s skills, in my ability to sing, to understand rythm and complex musical melodies. There are many songs that I work on collaborating with other people, because I like their sound or I haven’t learned how to make that specific sound just yet. But I think I’m the most proud of the moments when I have a song idea in my head and I can just be in my own home, my own studio, opening up my laptop, produce that song.
Even two days ago, I had an emotion, I recorded this little song on my loop machine, recorded that onto the laptop and then BOOM, ended up with a four minute track just by going for a couple of hours adding up drums, percussions, vocal effects, adding in syncs and base lines and piano keys and little samples and I’m so proud of it ! I think the reason i’m so proud of that is because the very meta aspect of my message is that we, as women, as fem, as folks who tend not to be what you’d think of when you picture a « producer » it creates this dependency that I really actively rejected in my carreer ; this notion that you have to be liked by the gate-keepers. I’m really more interested in improving my own technical skills so that by the time I have an idea, I can produce it end to end and then perserve the sincerity, the authenticity and the emotion of the work.
4- Your music brings me to unknown places (California, South Asian sonorities), what would you want your public to understand about these places and cultures that inspire you ?
I love that you put California as one of the unknown places, that is so awesome ! (laughs) I definitely wrtie a lot of music in the desert. I tend to go there two or three days to take time and write. It’s always about the space. I always say that I like creating in California because unlike New-York city or Boston or DC or Montreal where I spent a lot of time growing up, you have way more space in California to just think or create and make something that is coming from inside as opposed to seeing what is happening in the external world and then reacting to that. Both create inspiration but I think you end up making something more unique and ore individual, something that comes from your more authentic self expression when you have space and spending some solo time. It’s the desert sound you know, it’s really peaceful, ambient.
Every week or so. Madame Gandhi and team create a all-female musicians playlist on spotify, it’ll make you dance, weep and smile your heart out :
The long form album that I hope to put out next year will really be more of my sound, a little bit different from some of the collaborations you heard on the stage. But yes it is true that idian fast percussion, pandora music from the north of India trully inspires me. Flute music from the north of India as well. Music from Nigeria and Mali, listening to Oumou Sangare , Amadou and Mariam, Fela Kuti, listening to Songhoy Blues.
Listening to all of those projects from the continent of Africa that have made their way west inspire me so much because the music is so hopeful, beautiful and peaceful and precursive at the same time which is how I express myself. You see when I playing the drums it is not loud and agressive or punk-rock, it is pretty effortless and peaceful, this is something that I really value. My producer, Alexia Riner, who helped me make the record « Voices », actually taught me that your own music should be your favorite because it’s an effortless combination of all the different things that inspire you and I would definitely say that about my own music in the sense that it’s getting closer and closer to trully embodying that. I was really influenced growing up by « TV on the Radio » , M.I.A, Thievery Coorporation. They were my favorite because they had such a sound.
5- You express yourself strongly about acting towards change and equality more efficiently, maybe more anchored in reality, in touch with what is going on right now: Do you have specific ideas in order to achieve that : for artists or non-artists ?
Definitely. Some of the answers I gave already are critical to that. The idea of being self dependant when it comes to producing your own projects . I take a lot of pride in being and independant musician who has been able to make it work full time by diversifying my sources of income wheter it’s coming from public speaking or from licensing my music or performing live or drumming for other people or even doing smaller consulting projects like I did when I gratuated from business school.
I think we as musicians have to understand that we have so much to offer and we have to think how those different skillsets can be employed in contributing to somebody else so we never say broke. That mentality can absolutely be exported to non-artists . What can you do to stay financially afloat ? What can I can do that is interesting and financially valuable ? I always want to make good merch that people want to buy . We’ve been working hard to propose high-quality merch in betweens tours or when I’m making music , that extra money is very very important. If you doing something you love, the fun is in the work.
6- Your music matters so much in terms of representation and transmitting an empowering message of self love and collective strength to young queer women, brown women and women with Indian heritage here in Canada : what does it mean to you to be or become a model for these women ?
Oh my gosh ! It’s being about vulnerable in your own battles, your own struggles. It’s about being open. Sharing the things that re the wins and sharing the things that suck. Whenever I give talks or when I speak to my audience or I really do my best to say » Hey, I’ve experienced things that you’ve experienced ». We all know what that feels like.
We, as queer women, as brown women, as folks of color or LGBTQIA+ folks, we have so much to offer to the mainstream ! It’s not even about them giving us the favor by « letting us in » or being inclusive, it’s about us actually creating the change and the alternatives we wish to see and building alternative structures that inspire other people. We’re interested in making our own models that people want to come check out and enjoy . I think that really is where the radicalness is and the hopefulness lies ans this is the reason why people tend to resonate with my music.
7- Can you talk to me about the book you read during the show in Montreal : the Feminist Utopia Project ?
Yes ! The Feminist Utopia Project is a gift that was given to me in 2015 by a collective of authors after I had run the London Marathon bleeding freely on my period to combat the stigma that women and fems and people who bleed in the world face.
When I received that book, I loved it so much because that is exactly what I try to do on stage is build this little 45 minutes Feminist Utopian church if you will where it’s a mixture of feeling happy and sad. It’s about delivering hope and inspiration and joyfulness and drums and uplifting energy so that my audience, no matter how they indentify leave having learned something but also feeling better in their own body and more exciting about living ! That’s what I’m trying to do .
I remembered writing this little piece with a vocal loop pedal at my house in downtown LA and thinking « This is missing a reading from The Feminist Utopian Project ». Since then it’s just become a staple of my show. I always thought that I wanted to record that whole song and make it like a more produced thing but I think it’s really positive and powerful that we save it as something special for live audiences only.
THANK YOU !
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