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Sounds of revolution – MaRS Discovery District

How artist and speaker Madame Gandhi mixes music and technology to create positive change

Madame Gandhi makes music to move people — both physically, thanks to her energetic, propulsive beats, and emotionally, as a result of her candid, inspiring lyrics. The award-winning, Boston-born drummer, activist and electronic music producer (née Kiran Gandhi) entered the public consciousness in 2015, when she used her experience running the London Marathon to spark a global conversation around destigmatizing menstruation. In the wake of that experience, Gandhi turned to music as a vehicle for advocacy. She firmly believes in the power of art to bring about change. As she sings on 2020’s “Waiting For Me,” a stirring eco-conscious anthem: “If we’re loud, they can’t ignore us / The earth is still waiting for us!”

This month, she appears at the Elevate Festival to discuss the role of her creative work in raising awareness around climate action and other vital topics. Here, Madame Gandhi shares her thoughts on sparking action through music, breaking gender taboos and embracing the power of atomic living.

While studying at Stanford, you built an underwater microphone to capture the sounds of nature. What was that like?

One of my first homework assignments was to build the hydrophone to gather data about nature and use the sounds for music and audio production. We first went out to Monterey Bay and recorded whales singing underwater. There were so many unexpected things that came with getting it right. We had to turn off the engine to get really clean sounds and the mic was knocking against the side of the boat because of the waves. But I had a lot of practice. So when I went to Antarctica, I was prepared to record the sounds of glaciers melting, penguins, sea lions and whales. Now we’re about to release the [sound] pack on Splice so that any creator can take kick drums and synthesizers made entirely from nature sounds and put it into their own music.

You’ve suggested that listening to these sounds can have an effect on climate action. Why is that the case?

A lot of people change their behaviours because of strong emotions. When I went to Antarctica, the thing that spoke to me the most was how this is one of the few places on the planet that has not been interacted with by humans. The colour of the water is beautiful; the freshness of the air is unlike any air I’ve ever breathed. It’s this perfectly closed ecosystem with beauties and tragedies. You see the bones of penguins lying where the glaciers meet the water. But those [bones provide] the minerals that keep the balance of the water healthy and keep the ice intact. The sounds of water are tragic and healing at the same time. My intention is to create empathy and [spark] a desire to preserve the goodness of the planet. When we create empathy through feeling, this is how we create change.

When you participated in the 2015 London Marathon, a photograph of you running with blood on your leggings went viral. You seized the opportunity to speak up about taboos around menstruation. Can you talk a bit more about how this has influenced your gender-based activism?

Women and people who bleed are expected to hide away and pretend like this natural thing is not happening to be accepted by a society that was never designed for us. We have to start speaking bravely and boldly about our authentic experiences so that we can redesign the systems to accommodate what it is that our bodies are doing. So often, we’re sold products to stop our periods or to hide [our blood] away. I want the system to be built around what is true, rather than [feeling like we have to] constantly change our bodies to fit into an old paradigm that doesn’t suit us.

You delivered a TED Talk on atomic living — a concept that has become very important in your life. Can you walk us through what this mindset is all about?

Atomic living is about being mindful in the moment so that you can make decisions that are optimized for joy, for meeting your own needs, and ultimately ones that allow you to use your passion for purpose. Every moment, we are shaping our future based on our choices, and we are so often [derailed] by anxiety. I grew up in a hypercompetitive, academically charged, success-oriented culture. I was so focused on this future concept of happiness, but it was a fallacy; it’s what keeps us on the hamster wheel running towards nothing and tiring ourselves out for no reason. In my opinion, less is more. Resting allows you to be present in the moment to notice opportunities to practice gratitude and to ask yourself what actually matters? What do I want? What do I think? What can I contribute?

Catch Madame Gandhi at Elevate on Thursday, Sept. 28 at 10 a.m. on the festival’s main stage for the Day 2 Kickoff and Meditation with Ali Love, and again on the mainstage at 3:10 p.m. for The Sounds of Climate Change.

Photography: Lindsey Byrnes; courtesy of Madame Gandhi

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MaRS is the world's largest urban innovation hub in Toronto that supports startups in the health, cleantech, fintech, and enterprise sectors. When MaRS opened in 2005 this concept of urban innovation was an untested theory. Today, it’s reshaping cities around the world. MaRS has been at the forefront of a wave of change that extends from Melbourne to Amsterdam and runs through San Francisco, London, Medellín, Los Angeles, Paris and New York. These global cities are now striving to create what we have in Toronto: a dense innovation district that co-locates universities, startups, corporates and investors. In this increasingly competitive landscape, scale matters more than ever – the best talent is attracted to the brightest innovation hotspots.

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