Advocating to the Beat of Her Own Drum | Kiran Gandhi

Author: Kristen McCloud

For Kiran Gandhi, her love of music and visual art goes beyond simply making something that is nice to listen to or pretty to look at. The drummer and activist is set on making her voice heard in the realms of inequality and oppression, as well as giving a voice to others who are often unheard. Kiran drummed alongside many big names who were also activists in their own right, including MIA, but it was her viral marathon run “free bleeding” to raise global awareness about period stigma that launched her into the spotlight. Kiran is now using her own solo platforms as a women’s rights advocate in a way that is both creative and effective. We met up with Kiran at FLYGRLS LA to chat with her about her political views, latest EP Voices, and more, check out the interview below.

Why did you decide to pick up drumming? What have drums been able to satisfy in you that other instruments haven’t?
I had always been playing piano and other instruments and I felt like it was limiting. With piano there was always a right or a wrong answer, you’re either playing the song correctly or incorrectly. Even as a young kid I don’t think that I was attracted to learning how to do something that somebody else made, I preferred self-expression. I just loved the drums because I felt like I couldn’t go wrong. Yes, you have to play in time and yes there’s maybe a rhythm that someone wants you to play, but I felt like there was so much room for expression without someone telling you that you’re playing it wrong.

I remember being at a summer camp and there was a dusty drum set in the corner and I didn’t want to go swimming that day. There was a maintenance man in the theater cabin sweeping the floor and he actually knew how to play the drums, so he started showing me and the rest is history.

You’re very politically outspoken and have owned the “personal is political” sentiment. Have you always been this way? What advice do you have for other people--especially women--struggling to make their voice heard?
Yes. When I was really little, I must’ve been three or four, I dressed up as Power Rangers with my two best friends who were twin boys. I dressed up as the red one because I just liked Jason the best, I thought he was the strongest, the best fighter, and the leader. They got really mad that I chose to be the guy ranger instead of the girl, I think my politics started from there.

Pop culture is the thing that accesses everybody way sooner than actual politics. As a three-year-old, I was watching cartoons, Spice Girls, and the Power Rangers. Not a speech that Hillary Clinton was giving, you know what I mean? So for that reason I’ve chosen to combat gender inequality via pop culture, music, and visual arts. I have always been politically minded. I haven’t always been as organized with my thoughts, but I have been able to after rigorous training at Georgetown and Harvard. I feel really lucky to step into my role as someone who uses music for their activism.

For advice, every day we have to practice what it's like to be brave enough to speak up. There were so many times when I would let things go and then later I would be so mad that I didn’t have my speech ready to say. So I started to read more and really practice how to explain sexism and handle situations that I anticipated weren’t going to make me happy. One piece of advice I also have besides just practicing being brave is to actually go through the healing process of dealing with your own pain, so that later on when you do talk to someone who has the potential to make you upset you’ve already dealt with it. You can intellectualize things like sexism and inequality such that you’re empowered enough to explain it and protect yourself from it.

How has your musical style shifted over the years? Has the focus of your music always been on advocating for a greater cause?
I’ve only worked with artists who are politically minded. I worked with Thievery Corporation for a while and then with MIA who both are artists who I admire so much because not only was their music extraordinary and internationally minded, but they also had a voice and a cause that they were championing.

As a drummer I was always on someone else’s project. But, after my story about running the marathon free bleeding as a symbolic act to combat period stigma went viral, it gave me a platform to step into my own as someone who has a brain and a voice on these issues. As well as a way to express many of these ideas that I care so deeply about.

Can you describe the story as well as the creative process behind your EP, Voices?
Voices is absolutely about giving a platform to voices that are unheard. It’s also a double entendre because on the record itself you’ll hear many of my voices. You’ll hear me beat boxing, singing, chanting, humming, rapping, spoken word, or giving a speech; using my voice in so many different ways. One song, “Yellow Sea,” has the idea that I made the whole song with just my voice. First, there were a couple of layers of me humming, then the beat came from me beat boxing, and then I’m singing on top of it. We brought it to life with actual electronics but I think that the human voice is extraordinary.

We live in a world where many voices are quieted. I speak often about a future that is female. I do believe that male energy is very hierarchical so therefore it believes that there are triangles and pyramids of rank and structure. It believes that for one person to win somebody else has to lose. I really believe that if we looked to the female archetype for leadership we would see that that’s not true. Each person has something uniquely themself to contribute to the table, and if only we gave them the space, platform, and ability to do that we would live in a much more thriving world. Each person would be contributing their part and being their best selves. Since we live in a world that has so much oppression, so many people are not able to give their gift. We’re so quick to underestimate the power of others. We often accept our own powerlessness instead of questioning it. We should be focused on creating an environment that enables everyone to shine so that we live in a better world.

“We often accept our own powerlessness instead of questioning it. We should be focused on creating an environment that enables everyone to shine so that we live in a better world."

Can you explain the concept behind “3D femininity?”
It’s a very straightforward concept that comes from when I heard Amy Poehler speak at the United State of Women Conference at the White House last year. She said that one of her biggest problems with media today was that it only depicts two dimensional portrayals of women. It’s so unfortunate because any time I’ve created a series or a film--or even Disney or any of these big companies has--with a three dimensional female character that has a full spectrum of emotions and is honest and relatable, that content does so much better. Think about Frozen, one of the first Disney movies besides Mulan to give a unique dynamic for a relatable female lead character. It did so well.

3D femininity is something that’s exhibited on my record, where feminism doesn’t mean just to work hard and be powerful all the time. It actually means that we celebrate the very fact that as women we’re allowed to access our fullest spectrum of emotions. I can be mourning a breakup or complaining about the inability to manage my own life, but also be powerful enough to talk about a future that is female on the same record. This is the idea of 3D femininity. That femininity is something that is multidimensional and that should be celebrated, rather than used as an insult.

You’ve talked about making the decision to reject your own stigmas in order to become more liberated. How do you think we can get more people willing and able to do the same?
Little acts of bravery. There’s so many times where I think that if I own something that I’m doing, no one can shame me. I always reference the last scene in 8 Mile where Eminem goes to do a rap battle and he just lists off everything that someone might be able to call him out on. Then, when the next rapper goes up to insult him he has nothing to say. We can only be shamed if we let others do it. I just try to be fiercely good at all the talents that I have and be fiercely myself when it comes to rejecting a shame that prevents me from being my most comfortable self.

If you could have dinner with any woman dead or alive who would it be and why?
It would absolutely be Nina Simone. She and I share our birthday, she was a musician obviously and a very famous activist. I think there’s something spiritual there where I have a lot to learn from her and I would ask her a lot of questions--even though she might not be that good at it given her life story--about how to stay sane and balanced when you very authentically believe in the difficult work that you’re trying to do.

What does MISSBISH mean to you?
I actually don’t like the word bitch but I understand that it’s BISH and the reclamation of something positive. Obviously the reclamation of female leadership is something that I possess by choosing the name Madame Gandhi. I would imagine that MISSBISH shares the similar idea that we’re seeing a resurgence of women leading by being authentically themselves, instead of trying to masculinize or be someone that they’re not.

Who’s your MISSBISH? Tell us who she is and why she’s an inspiration to you.
There’s obviously so many but after just thinking of who's on my mind right now, I would say Beyoncé. At the Grammy’s Beyoncé not only looked so good but used her platform to talk about motherhood, and black female leadership, and it was just next level. And the Grammy’s are white as f*ck, so for her to do that and for it to be allowed to happen because she’s so powerful was amazing. They know that if she’s performing there’s going to be eyes on the Grammys, so it’s worth letting her do whatever she wants. That’s powerful. So I would say that right now it’s Beyoncé. She’s using her fame to really make an impact on the world in a way that I hope to one day.

Photos by: Angelo Vazquez

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