Madame Gandhi: Artist, Public Speaker, Activist
A brilliant pluralist, Madame Gandhi, not yet 30, has accumulated lifetime achievements at a staggering rate. Indeed, her name might ring a bell. Global headlines hit the internet press after she free-bled through the 2015 London marathon, an intentional act of liberation. Two years earlier, she cheated time, joining M.I.A. on a major tour as she started her first semester at Harvard Business School. You read that right. Impressed yet?
Recent months have seen Madame Gandhi balance dual interests. A typical day might include six hours in the studio and an evening spent at a public speaking gig. She’s worked with or spoken to the likes of Spotify, Sennheiser and the State of Women Summit, all while performing shows and perfecting her artistry. Best of all, this endless ambition coexists with a northwardly moral compass. She inspires people to work harder and be better—an admirable balance to strike. That balance has made her a perfect ambassador to revive the rallying cry #TheFutureIsFemale with modernized, inclusive politics.
Earlier this month, Stem was lucky enough to have Gandhi join the first-ever 7% panel. The women-led event brings together members of the music landscape to address the industry’s egregious gender disparity. (An estimated 93 percent of producers and engineers are male.) Before she shared her wisdom with a packed room, she sat down with Stem to talk gender relations, role models and motivating the youth. Keep scrolling to see our Q&A. If you’re interested in learning more about the 7%, read Stem’s interviews with TRAKGIRL and Tiffany Kumar.
Whether it’s speaking at a 7% panel or working on music, what is your mission?
My mission is to elevate and celebrate the female voice. That often looks like me performing live music, drumming on someone else’s project whose mission I align with, or speaking to audiences.
When you’re looking at industry and education, what can be done better to push the needle forward for women?
I remember getting drumming opportunities when I was younger because I was cute or because I was a girl. It’d make me train less. People already preset the bar for me. That’s a tragedy. My friend is a boxer and she really wants to work with urban youth because all the athletic programs for “urban youth” feel like a favor to the kids. If a kid feels like that, of course they’re going to run off and do something else. No one is seriously investing in them. We all can detect when someone sincerely invests in us.
I bought a t-shirt the other day with this quote on it, “I water you, we grow together.” This is the idea. If we don’t give someone room to grow, of course we’re going to think it sucks. Like, “You little dumb seed! Look at all these other tall trees! I’m not going to waste this water on you, seed!” And the seed just needs to be put in the sun. It just needs a little water. Helping others can’t feel like a favor. When you bring women to the table, it’s not that women are lucky to be there. The group welcoming the women is so lucky to have them. There’s no one-sided favor. It’s mutual love.
You’re rightfully confident. Have you ever felt the need to look beyond yourself for empowerment? Where did you look?
Even just now, I was on Instagram watching Janelle Monae speak. She takes hella eight-second pauses between each word. I’m like, “Oh, that’s interesting.” That’s the opposite of my energy, but now I have a new tool in my back pocket. Luckily, there are people who are role models in each of the things I’m passionate about, but very few who combine everything as I have. When I did the M.I.A. tour while at Harvard, I didn’t know anyone who was able to excel at academics at a top level and also have their music swag at a top level. I was like, “Fuck it, I have to be my own hero in this scenario.” So I have both.
What advice would you give to a younger girl reading this interview?
First, invest in yourself. Keep learning. Spend time alone. Everything growing up is about what clique you’re in, but the time I spent drumming on my own, DJing on my own, it built my self-confidence. So I didn’t care what people were wearing or who people were kissing when I went to school. Second, find people to mentor you, female mentorship. They’re related, too. When you invest in yourself, mentors see you as a kid putting in effort so they want to guide you.
What can men do to help?
Notice the body language of a woman who’s eager, listening, leaned in, but hasn’t raised her hand or spoken up. Like, “Yo, you look like your brain is racing, sis! What do you think?” Support women in your advertising. As a drummer, every time I buy gear it’s way too big for my anatomy. If the gear company had females working there, you’d be dialed in to the fact that, maybe now there’s a low percentage of women buying, but if you increase the range of your size options, girls would buy it. There’s a business case for it. People never want to make that jump because it’s a short-term revenue dip but there’s long-term gain.
The male way of doing business is often, “Here! Now! Close the deal! Make the call!” The female way of business is just, “Let’s get to know the client. Let’s play the long game.” You need both. If everything is too aggressive, if it’s about getting to the colonized land, taking all the corn, killing the natives, you have no one left to teach you what to do when winter comes. Future Is Female does not mean female over male. When people send me feminist shirts that are aggressive toward men, that’s not my message. My message is about how feminine energy has love in it and that’s something we can all learn from.