Madame Gandhi took time out from promoting her new album :“Voices” to answer some questions for the Blvd. You may know Kiran Gandhi as the former standout drummer for the groundbreaking cross-culture superstar M.I.A. and Thievery Corporation. She will be forever linked to the display of bleeding freely during the London Marathon (Part II of our interview will cover this and more). These days Kiran has decided to focus her time on activism through her music. A recent Harvard Business School Grad, acclaimed drummer, and world traveled public speaker may be the reason she’s currently featured on the Lifetime Fempire Moments campaign:
What were you like growing up? You seem to be one to march to the beat of her own drum.
Well in 6th and 7th grade I remember getting bullied a lot in school to be honest. I came back after living in India for couple years to my same school of friends in New York City. I went to an all-girls school, and I remember trying to wear the coolest shoes and the coolest backpack and the coolest hairstyles and nothing was working… I was still bullied no matter what, and then you know I had music and I found the drums, and found piano, and singing, and dancing, and I just started spending all of my time practicing and really getting into that.
I learned how to DJ, taking lessons at Scratch DJ Academy in New York City. And before I knew it, music was my out. So instead of competing with the other girls for attention as to who is the coolest with the coolest shoes etc. I ended up just being on my own journey with my music and that allowed me to find my confidence. To find my niche, and find the respect of my classmates. And to be a cool kid in school by the time we hit high school (laughs).
So what kind of student were you?
I was always doing creative things. I loved building robots. I used to love getting A’s in school, but I would get A’s in a unique kind of way. If there was a project I would take a really different spin on it which then usually helped me do well on it. I loved mathematics too, and science the best. I would always get A’s in those subjects and maybe A-minuses in English history and French. The more romance side of the brain.
I had one teacher named Miss Olsen and she used to look out for me. She mentored me through certain life issues and it made me feel really good, and made me feel really loved.
What would you tell the youth that don’t believe they can be great at anything?
Oh my goodness I went through that for sure! I would say self-select out. Stop spending time in places that make you feel bad. I used to play in bands where people would make me feel bad and I always thought it was my fault. Or I’m not good at drumming… But I also realized that I’m going to stay bad at drumming if I’m not around people who are really excited about me and what I do; and are really grateful to have me. Who really encourage me to push myself. And the more I stopped spending time with people who are not healthy for my drumming and my mental well-being, the better I ended up getting. If there’s no one at the time who’s there to love you and welcome you in; I would say to just spend time alone.
Focus on your drumming, your craft, your music, whatever it is that you’re passionate about. Do it quietly, do it for yourself, don’t look for the validation of others and before you know it when you’re so good at what you do because you’ve been doing it and working diligently then the respect comes pouring in and people are really grateful for the gift you have to offer.
What would you tell young girls who want to play drums like you?
I would say take lessons. Study every day, and get good at the techniques, the rudiments. Put in a little bit every day after school and listen to artists who inspire you and start drumming your own versions of their songs. That way you develop your own voice and you’ll own your own craft. I think the best drummers are not only the ones who can have the technique down, but actually the ones who have their own personality and flavor with their instrument that you actually can’t get anywhere else. That’s how you create enormous value for yourself; and that’s how you create an entire career for yourself around your drumming, or your instrument.
What was the scariest experience you’ve had to overcome in your life?
That’s a really good question… I definitely think being in (Harvard) business school for my first year. Having to acclimate to the climate of the classroom was a very intense process for me. I was touring with M.I.A. simultaneously; so I would be going off on the weekends to play drums then I would come back and be preparing for class. I would think I was prepared when I’d actually get there I would choke and not really know how to raise my hand or how to contribute intelligently.
So over time I remember it was a really big stress for me, but by the second year I absolutely found my voice and it’s interesting because it was that very training that taught me how to be brave in the classroom. To really take an opinion and stand by it. To speak intelligently about a business subject that I may not know anything about. That very power is what enables me to write and sing and speak my mind on my own record. *So that experience in a very different context which was business and grad school ended up being the tool for me to be able to start my own project as: Madame Gandhi.
Who are your musical influences?
Well I love: Thievery Corporation, M.I.A., TBA on the Radio, Fela Kuti, Tunenyards, Saint Vincent, the Spice Girls, Dirty Projectors, Massive Attack. Right now I’m listening to GAYNGS.
Failing ForwardWe should be teaching bravery.
So what is like to be on the stage for the first time?
I always talk about failing forward. Most artists never feel they’re actually ready to be on the stage. When you’re playing new music even when you’ve been on a stage your whole life you always feel like, ‘oh this show could be better’ the show could be more prepared, but if you keep waiting and waiting and waiting you’re never going to get on the stage.
Even though, there have been so many times I wanted to cancel a show and just be like ‘I don’t want to play -I’m not ready’. I always end up doing it, and I’m always glad that I did it. Either because I learn something, or because it ended up being a great show. Or because the audiences show me which songs they like the best. So now I know I’ve learned what set list works the best. I learn what aspects of my show I need to work on, and I just get better at performing. Essentially I get more confident and comfortable on the stage.
So I guess for anyone who’s performing for the first time I always recommend going for it and having low expectations and just doing the best you can. Failing forward so you just keep trying a little bit every day. And the more you perform; the better each show gets. But you have to have the bravery to actually try something. The bravery to take risks.
We shouldn’t be teaching perfection, we should be teaching bravery.
The future is Female and it looks like Madame Gandhi. Check back for Part II of Kiran Gandhi’s interview!
By: Rodrick Golding
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