Kiran Gandhi HBS ’15 on making art

Photo by Wendy FigueroaKiran Gandhi HBS ’15 is a drummer, activist and entrepreneur who has played with M.I.A., Kehlani, Thievery Corporation and others. She visited Harvard to share her story and her experiences in the music industry.

By Guest Blogger Milo Davidson '19

“I try my best to make the most honest and authentic art that I can make and let the world decide what to do with it,” said drummer Kiran Gandhi HBS ’15 during an intimate discussion with nearly a dozen students on Oct. 26 at the Office of Career Services at Harvard.

Her search for authenticity has paid dividends. Gandhi, not yet 30, has gained recognition in several fields with, seemingly, not a lot in common. She toured with rapper M.I.A. in 2014 while attending Harvard Business School during the week. She also worked at Interscope Records as the first ever digital analyst. She became the viral flash point of a global conversation about menstruation when she ran the London marathon while free bleeding.

Gandhi started off the OCS meeting by telling her story. She started with her childhood: She grew up mostly in in New York City. “We had this bus driver who would drop off the kids, and when he would pull up to the parents, he would play the classical music station on the radio,” she said. “Then as we would drive away, he would change it back to Hot 97. And it felt like the truth. It felt like something honest.”

She began drumming one girlhood summer at a camp in Maine.

Kiran Ghandi Photo: Gabriela Hnizdo
Kiran Gandhi Photo: Gabriela Hnizdo
After college at Georgetown University, where she double majored in math and political science with a minor in women’s studies, she pursued a job at Interscope with the dogged tenacity that has marked her career. “To get an internship at Interscope, you had to be a student in that moment,” she said. “I had graduated. So I drove to Santa Clarita Community College and bought credits, just so I could prove to Interscope that I was at a university. I wanted it that badly.”

After that, her career took off, and she began the work of balancing business school and a world tour with M.I. A. “I used to go to class, and then go and play Chile on Friday, or the next weekend go and play Argentina or Japan,” she said. “We played all over. One of the weeks we did a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday in New York. I used to go to class, and then [get on a] 2 p.m. flight to New York, play the show, and then Tuesday morning, fly back, go to class.”

Clearly Gandhi still gets what it means to be a student and to have aspirations. She’s committed to the importance of fostering younger voices. When one student at the OCS event said she was interested in studying South Asian hip hop, and mentioned three artists in particular, Gandhi casually texted all of them to set up interviews.

Additionally, the topic of misogyny in the music business came up. When asked for advice on how to deal with it, Gandhi said: “Don't. I'm not interested in telling young women to work for men. Don't do it. I'd rather go and work for women. I'm very strict about that. Even in the projects that I do, I only work with women and feminine identifying people, and for those men who I do work with, we have to have a very spiritual bond. They align with my mission and believe in it, and understand it, and have employed those values in their own spaces. And that means that the bar is very high.”

When it comes to her art, Gandhi has both the business and the craft locked down. How did she develop her artistry while juggling so many commitments?

“Consistency is key, and iteration is everything,” she said. “You have to make really terrible art before you make really excellent art. That is a real thing.”