“Going deep, bravely into the pain” is how activist-artist Madame Gandhi describes Vibrations, her third studio album — and could easily double as a subtitle for it. For several years prior to the pandemic, the overachieving artist and public speaker had spent her life traveling on and off. (Here’s a sampling: Touring Oprah and MIA alike; leading a Ted Talk; writing a song for Hillary Clinton’s streaming series, Gutsy.) “While that time was beautiful, it distracted me from deeper emotional work that I didn’t know I had to do. Sometimes when we’re in that pain,” Gandhi says, “we forget that getting past it is possible. After all, pain are the pulsations that remind us we’re alive.
Vibrations (Sony Masterworks, 2022) is just as effervescently escapist as its name implies. Because when the vocalist-percussionist (real name: Kiran Gandhi) came out of isolation, she was a different person: uplifted, vivacious, content. A rush of joy and introspection, Vibrations manages to be everything at once: a psychic rebirth, a life’s plan, a celebration of existence. But mostly, Vibrations is the sound of Gandhi, transcendent storyteller that she is, bringing us together through her own vantage point. Even the album’s first lyric is the invitation, “Come with me.”
It opens with the idea of rebirth. The disarming “Past Life” is, she says, “a call to prayer, a mantra that honors the rawness that we all had to go through in the pandemic.” The song is satisfyingly tactile in its use of whispers, fluidic synths, earthy bongos, and otherworldly vocals. (Listen closely and you’ll also hear shakers, claves, crystal bowls, and even hand claps across the album.) Each layer of consciousness is executed mindfully. “You could play ‘Past Life’ backwards and uncover what I’m saying in the loop,” she notes. The song, written in just six hours, from dusk to dawn in her Downtown LA studio, set the tone for the rest of Vibrations: how healing yourself yields empathy for others.
“The pandemic was actually a very sacred experience for me,” Gandhi says. “It was this shared experience, and I think that’s really profound.” Vibrations is our collective awakening, the relief of shedding our old skin. It’s walking into, she says, “the greater knowledge that we, as a species, have post-pandemic.”
The album marks the completion of her “V” trilogy, which started with 2016’s Voices and 2019’s Visions. “Each mini-album begins with a V because I liked the subliminal reference to the feminine anatomy. It’s healing. It’s energy. It’s music. It’s touch, feel. It’s inclusive.” (Already a feminist-to-watch, Gandhi once earned headlines for running the London Marathon free-bleeding, as a middle-finger to menstrual stigmas.) But instead of being a coda to this trilogy, Vibrations is about “the feeling of soothing loneliness in a low, vibrational way.”
Connecting that vibration to the listener is part of her intent. “I like to operate with my feet planted, in a well-organized, tangible, simple, earthy way,” she says. “The ability to take things that inspire me on a spiritual level, but make them relatable is something that I take pride in. I feel organized as a human. I feel high functioning as a human.”
At its heart, the album is a five-part atmospheric meditation — albeit a highly danceable one — that’s a rousing reminder about gratitude. “Music and nature are core to my project,” Gandhi adds. The luminescent, off-kilter R&B of “Crystals & Congas,” which started as a beat she’d saved from a studio session, explores nature as a restorative force. “I wanted to write a song that honored my own healing modalities,” she says, “and into being a human who’s prioritizing the best version of myself.” A few tracks later, she’ll run with that sentiment in “Heart Wide Open,” produced by MNDR (Tokimonsta, Carly Rae Jepsen) and Ebonie Smith (Santigold, Janelle Monáe). It’s a joyous explosion of jazzy, brassy rhythms that happen to double as an homage to Fela Kuti’s legacy of life-affirming anthems.
She’s mindful to marry, too, the spiritual with the corporeal. “Set Me Free” transports you with hope to a paradise soundscaped with bright horns and island beats. It is a seductive ode to minds, spirits, and entwined bodies. At the other end of the romantic spectrum, the dreamy “Date Me” captures the vulnerable side of relationships, warmly beckoning queer love over a sped-up drum groove she recorded in Detroit with producer Caleb Stone and finished later with Cornershop bassist Anthony Saffery (Portugal, The Man) in Cambridge. “The whole point is the truth,” she says of these tracks. “What is the truth? We are humans who want love and connections.”
In the end, her healing is our healing. “We need to show the multidimensionality of our existence,” she says. “I think that’s part of the message of my entire project. Don’t limit yourself. What is your authentic expression as a human?” Of course, she doesn’t expect you to know all the answers. So she put Vibrations out into the world to inspire that journey.