Rock Star Drummer Studied Drumbeats at Georgetown
February 19, 2014 – The drummer for the British rock star M.I.A. is a Georgetown College graduate who once completed a 6-month independent study at the university on mathematics and drumming.
“Whenever I tell someone I’m a math major they always say, ‘OK, so that’s great but what’s the relevance to your life and what do you want to do with that?’ Kiran Gandhi (C’11) said in a 2011 Georgetown video. “And a lot of people say, ‘OK, math I get it, math and drumming, there’s a relationship there.’ But I really want to flesh that out for myself.”
Gandhi fleshed it out for herself – big time. Now an MBA student at Harvard Business School, she also tours with the rapper Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam, who goes by the stage name M.I.A.
The Beat Went On
A double major in math and government with a minor in women’s studies who had been drumming since middle school, Gandhi approached math professor Mattias Eller about doing an independent study on math and drumming.
After some introduction into the nature of the human ear and the perception of sounds, Gandhi studied the wave equation and some Fourier analysis. Near the end of the semester, the student gave a presentation about the vibration of the drum using partial differential equations.
"Kiran seems to have the remarkable ability to turn dreams into reality," Eller says. "Among all the students I have taught at Georgetown, she may be the student with the highest motivation, initiative and drive."
Math, Politics, Music
Gandhi looked at what happens when a drumstick hits the drum and an “infinite amount of vibrating modes” and “circular vibrating shapes” occur. She used partial differential equations, linear algebra and multivariable calculus in her independent study.
The native of Manhattan didn’t just drum and do math – she played on the women’s squash team and helped it win a national championship. She also interned for then-District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty and then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Her original thought was to go into politics, but music remained an important constant and she saw the intersection between the two fields. But she didn’t think music was going to pay the bills.
“I had been gigging five times a week, but I was hardly making any money,” said Gandhi, who developed her own show at the Eighteenth Street Lounge in Washington, D.C.
Improving Artists’ Lives
That led Gandhi to take an internship after graduation in Los Angeles at Interscope Records, M.I.A.’s label. She ended up developing the company’s first digital analytics program to help map out trends in the industry.
“I wanted to innovate around how artists’ lives could be better,” she said.
Knowing she could do more with more education, she applied to Harvard Business School and was accepted in 2013.
Around the same time, Gandhi got an email that would change her life forever.
“I got an email in my inbox,” Gandhi said in a recent TEDx talk. “ ‘Yo, Kiran, we found out about you from Interscope – M.I.A. wants you to tour with her next week.’ ”
Gandhi now does her MBA work on planes and in hotel rooms and travels all over the world. Most of her tour dates are on the weekends, so she’s only missed a few days of class.
“When someone gives you two amazing opportunities – do you want to learn with some of the best people in the world and also go to Japan and Chile and Argentina [with M.I.A.],” she explained in her TEDx talk, “I don’t want to choose. I just want to make it work.”