Saturday Afternoon Artist – M.I.A.

photo by Christopher Nelson

Originally from Sri Lanka, international star M.I.A. (Mathangi Arulpragasam London, “Maya” for short) had to leave her native country because her dad was a revolutionary and her family could have been killed in the civil war there.  With her mother she relocated to London, where she got hooked on hip-hop, punk music and Bollywood.  Maya’s family lived on a “council estate” (the English name for the projects) and Maya had no money. She started playing with a friends’ drum machine and learned to record her own parts.   This “play” turned into a style all her own.  She released “Galanga” on a small label in 2003 and then got signed by XL Recordings. Her first record, Arular, came out in 2005. Her second record, Kala, was released in 2007, and her latest, Maya, earlier this year.

From the beginning, Maya’s work had a stamp of social consciousness. Blasting down borders and finding unusual connections between cultures.  But it was  the song “Paper Planes” from the second album that marked her as one of the great artists of our time.  The song starts with a sample of the Clash’s “Go To Hell” and then adds samples of gunshots and cash register rings on the chorus. In my opinion there are no sounds, nor is there a better song that explains the deterioration of Western culture…

The rapper Nas said, “Her sound is the future.”

This year, with the release of the album “Maya”, M.I.A. stood up against censorship in her own way.  She’s intentionally pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable in the media and online.  Her song “Born Free” had a video that was disturbing, controversial. Where all the redheads in a community were rounded up and shot.  It’s her way of showing how power is not only corrupt, but also random at times in its choice of victims.  She told Rolling Stone, “My approach to politics is that I’ve never said I’m smart, but why aren’t I allowed to write about my experience?”

The video was immediately yanked from YouTube but you can still see it on MIA’s website, www.miauk.com

M.I.A. not only addresses revolution in its political sense through her music, but also personal revolution.  From her latest record, the song “It Takes A Muscle To Fall In Love” tells us that real strength is about connection.


MIA just kicked off her new world tour – she plays Showbox Market on Oct 17!
Michele Myers spins every Saturday on KEXP from 3-6pm. Every week she plays 3-in-a-row from a favorite artist and this week you’ll hear the work of M.I.A. She also produces KEXP Documentaries and hosts Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays 6-9am on WNYE 91.5FM in New York City.

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