“It talks about different themes of resistance and empowerment” – Madame Gandhi on her new album, Visions
October 25, 2019 · 6 Minute Read
If you run a search query for Madame Gandhi, you will garner results ranging from ‘musician’ to ‘activist based in Los Angeles’ but there’s so much more to know about this amazing human being!
Recently, we got an opportunity to talk to Madame Gandhi about her new album, thoughts on gender equality in the entertainment space, and how working at a record label shaped her career as a musician.
From a Harvard graduate to a music producer and drummer, how did this transition happen?
My first job out of college was at Interscope Records in LA, one of the biggest record labels in the world. I had worked there for two years as a digital analyst, studying streaming patterns. My intention with getting my MBA at Harvard was to be able to come back into the music industry as a leader. However, after I had gotten the opportunity to drum for M.I.A all over the world during that same time, and started to speak my truth as a feminist thinker as well, my work started to take off and I was getting invited to speak and perform more often. It was a natural transition for me because as long as I was using my music for social change, be in the music industry or as an artist myself, I was achieving my larger purpose. And moreover, having an MBA has certainly allowed me to run my business in a more financially sustainable way. When you are spending someone else’s money, you often have less creative control, so being able to make art that maintains its integrity has been deeply important to me.
How did working with Interscope Records right at the beginning of your career help you shape your mindset as an artist?
I learned how to benchmark streaming details, and learn how to plan a release timeline. For example, I learned that putting out a music video within one to two weeks after the single comes out is the most effective way to get eyes and ears on both. You capitalize on people getting excited about the single, and while you still have their attention, you drop the video. Another study I did was making sure to expect a reasonable amount of streams depending on the platform and the genre. For example, EDM historically performs better on streaming services, while hip-hop typically performs better on video-based platforms. Things like this give you perspective when you are planning your own release, and empower you with managing your expectations accurately.
What was it like growing up in New York and Mumbai? What influence did your South Asian roots have on your music?
For me, it was always the dhol drum and bhangra music! It doesn’t hurt that my dad‘s side of the family is also Punjabi, so I think it runs in my blood. I love the high energy, joyful noise, and busyness of the drums and dance. I remember at weddings I used to have the most fun when the bhangra music would come on. I also learned how to do bhangra dance at the troop at my school when I was an undergrad at Georgetown. While a full-on bhangra track has not made it into my repertoire yet, I definitely think that I play drums and percussion with the swing that I found in the genre and the joy that I experienced when I would go to different events. DJ Rekha is also a big influence on me and growing up in Mumbai and New York City, I would listen to her records and then go to Basement Bhangra parties!
We heard your new album, Visions and it sounds insane! Tell us about the thought and inspiration behind the whole concept?
It is electronic, it is global, and it talks about different themes of resistance and empowerment. But overall, it is a very positive album as is the body of my work in general. I am so happy that my friends at JioSaavn love it!
Would it be possible for you to talk us through the story of all the tracks and help us get a better understanding of the emotions on each one of them?
Yes of course!
“Waiting For Me” calls for personal freedom and a heightened awareness of corruption and greed, with a positive focus on reclaiming women’s history to inspire climate change. On “Waiting for Me” I reject much of the capitalist abundance that comes with living in the world today and pushes the idea that freedom lies not in having access to excess, rather in being able to think and act freely.
“Top Knot Turn Up,” an electronic trap banger that explores Brazilian baile funk, is about putting your hair up in a bun, getting work done, and not being troubled by others when you’re focused.
“See Me Thru” is a vibey downtempo trip-hop love song that paints a vision of what healthy love can look like when placed in the right hands. We have to be really self-aware about ourselves so we have the strength to succeed and thrive in a relationship and keep giving to it.
“Young Indian” is the empath’s anthem, layering a critical hip-hop vocal attack over rhythmic sitar-infused psychedelic rock melodies. It explores the experience of not fitting in and being bullied as a kid. I think empathy is radical. As soon as you have empathy, you know what it feels like on the other side to experience someone who is not being kind to you.
How would you classify your music genre-wise?
I would say this album is a global resistance album. I would say my genre is uplifting percussive electro-feminist anthems!
We noticed something special about the contributions made to this album, there’s a 50/50 gender split of names credited to the album. Was this move intentional? If yes, why?
Absolutely! I think that we have to actively combat the unconscious bias in the industry that tends to favor male engineers, producers, and creators over their female counterparts. Also, more and more people are denying the gender binary, and instead claiming no gender. It is a very powerful time, and I wanted that different mix of energies to come across in my record.
If there’s one thing that you’d want your listeners to take away from this work of art, what would it be?
That they must use their passion for purpose!
When we talk about women empowerment, is gender equality is still a far cry in the music industry?
It starts from a young age when marketing tends to tell girls that they either have to play with dolls, or play with make-up. As girls become teenagers, they are constantly bombarded with messages that value them for their beauty and looks as opposed to their skill set. Boys, on the other hand, are valued for their skill sets, so tend to spend a disproportionate amount of their time getting better at these skills, instead of feeling like they have to put time and effort into their looks, like getting their hair or nails done. These kinds of things hold us as women back from the beginning so that by the time we reach adulthood, we have not spent as much time on our craft as we would like to. In general, I believe that we have to be brave enough to combat those gender stereotypes from a young age, and also be brave enough to give each other these opportunities so that we have experiences that allow us to grow and get better at making our music. That is why I am so intentional about using other women collaborators, because if I don’t most of the work will go to the men, and we as women will continue to be overlooked.
In your opinion, can music help one express himself/herself in a better manner? Also, what do you think of raising awareness about socially sensitive topics through your music?
Music caters to the emotions, so it makes it a very effective medium for creating empathy. I felt that growing up in New York City I would always learn about the stories of other people in New York simply through hip-hop and rap. To that end, I want to make music that brings people in with the beat and the music and the emotions, but then instills a message of freedom, liberation, and joyfulness.
Wrapping up this conversation with your thoughts on what’s the definition of success for first, Madame Gandhi the artist, and Madame Gandhi the activist?
I think success is when you feel happy. When you feel that your actions align with what you think and say. When you feel that the dreams that you have imagined in your head come to life. When you feel that the thing that brings you joy, also brings joy to others. My mom used to always say, you are to the universe only as much as you get back to it. I think that anytime I have felt that I have to serve someone else, I feel happy and successful. I think my answer stands as both Madame Gandhi the artist and Madame Gandhi the activist.