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Small Bio

Born Maya Arulpragasam in Sri Lanka, rapper M.I.A. moved to London with her family in 1986 after civil war broke out in their home country. She began making music in 2002 and two years later released her debut album, Arular.

A full bio can be found on her website, MIAUK.com, it's in flash so I'm not typing the whole thing out right now ;)


Real Name

Maya Arulpragasam


Really serious documentaries. It

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M.I.A. Pushes Lyrical Boundaries, Lines Up Tour

Sri Lankan musician forges her own path, reflects her world in challenging lyrics.

If you're looking for M.I.A. in America, your search will soon pay off. Barely on U.S. shelves one month, 27-year-old Maya Arulpragasam's debut album, Arular, has scored M.I.A. a co-headlining gig with LCD Soundsystem as well as warm reception from critics.

While M.I.A.'s video for "Sunshowers" has been getting its fair share of airplay, it's "Galang" that will actually be her first single, according to a Beggars Group label rep. Part of the confusion over the release date for the single and tour schedule is because M.I.A. was also just picked up by Interscope here in the States.

"I think Jimmy Iovine heard the album and went 'Oh my God, she's got the beats!' " M.I.A. imitated, using her best American accent. "He rang and said, 'If I can't beat you, I'm going to join you.' "

A stew of dancehall and raga electronic beats, M.I.A.'s music defies all efforts for true classification. Is she worried that label bigwigs will try to change her look and sound to make it fit one genre? "They can only start meddling in my stuff if they knew what to do with me, but they don't. Nothing has come before me like me, and they have nothing to compare it to," she explained, adding that it isn't as if they can say, " 'Well the other Sri Lankan girl is doing it like this, so we should do it like that.' They don't have that, so I'm pretty much forging my own path."

Carving her own path isn't something that Arulpragasam is afraid to tackle. At the age of 10, the London-based MC was forced to flee her native Sri Lanka, where her father, a Tamil freedom fighter, remains to this day. Arriving in Britain, she and her mother and two siblings were housed on a notoriously racist council estate south of London.

Much has been made about her background simply because it has infused so many of the songs on her album. Surely talking about revolution is nothing new for musicians, but M.I.A. believes that gender also plays a role. "It's really difficult to come out, as a female who's artistically driven, to make sense of your world and discuss it and put something out that's to do with your life experience

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Arular Review - PopMatters

Rating: 9 out of 10 - Very Nearly Perfect. A superlative example of music of any form, a pinnacle of an artist's achievement, and something that all music lovers should hear.

In late 2003, "Galang", the debut single by 27-year-old Maya Arulpragasam, AKA M.I.A., was well-received by those who heard the small indie release, but it wasn't until a few months later that word started to spread about the London artist of Sri Lankan descent, who, along with a budding career as a visual artist and as a musician, just happened to have a father who was a soldier in a Sri Lankan militant group. Internet denizens who frequented the burgeoning MP3 blogs online started downloading "Galang", as the exponentially increasing word of mouth kicked in among music hipsters. For good reason, too; the song was irresistible, yet mysterious, with M.I.A. singing lines of ebullient dancehall slang ("Boys say wha gwan/ Girls say what wha?") over a jarring beat and blaring Moog synths, the song concluding with a coda featuring a contagious vocal chant that sounded simultaneously jubilant and menacing.

Equally interesting was the follow-up "Sunshowers", released in July 2004, which continued the fascinating contrast between playful and defiant ("I salt and pepper my mango/ Shoot spit at the window"). The accompanying video, filmed in a lush jungle setting, evoked Bollywood, but while M.I.A. was shown perched on an elephant, the song spoke of urban violence and anti-Muslim sentiment in the West. By the time the underground mix tape Piracy Funds Terrorism, a collection of reworkings of M.I.A.'s songs by her DJ Diplo, surfaced late in the year, a small cult of fans had formed among urban music listeners and indie rock geeks alike, something that did not escape the eye of the music press, who are always on the lookout for the next critics' darling. In fact, it's gotten to the point where the increasing media attention has come dangerously close to overkill, but now that M.I.A.'s highly anticipated full-length Arular is finally upon us, we can finally let the music do the talking. And frankly, all that's left to say is, without hyperbole, she's done it. Ms. Arulpragasam has delivered the best UK debut since Dizzee Rascal's Boy in da Corner.

"I've got the bombs to make you blow/ I've got the beats to make you bang," declares M.I.A. on "Pull Up the People", the fiery, yet minimally arranged track that kicks of the album. That starkness, which runs through the entire CD, might initially seem to bear the influence of grime, but in actuality, it's something completely different from the trendy garage beats of East London. A simple, low synth note rumbles and quavers, as if backing a Peaches song, the claps of a straightforward dancehall beat the only source of rhythm, and the odd metallic clank and synth twitter appears on the periphery every so often, as every few bars are punctuated by an enticing vocal sample, a two-note yelp that starts low, but ends quickly in a sharp, taut squeal. Compared to the sample-heavy Piracy Funds Terrorism, Arular sounds simple and minimal at first, but turns out to be surprisingly rich musically.

She might possess a vocal style that's every bit as identifiable as that of Dizzee Rascal, but unlike young Dylan Mills, M.I.A.'s great strength is not in her lyrics, but in her music, which, despite the simplicity, is loaded with vocal hooks and melodies that carry each song, not to mention a musical backdrop that dips into various musical styles. It's the classic case of a new artist lifting sounds from different genres in hope of creating something unique, but instead of producing a madly ambitious musical pastiche that tries to do everything at once, the influences are much more subtle. By the time the album ends, listeners are left remembering fleeting glimpses of hip hop (especially crunk), ragga, bhangra, reggaeton, '80s electro, and even punk rock, everything assembled extremely well by producers Diplo, Richard X, Ross Orton (from Fat Truckers), and Pulp's Steve Mackey.

At a surprisingly taut 38 minutes, M.I.A. wisely avoids the risk of sounding repetitive on Arular, and the end result is a record devoid of filler. "Bucky Done Gone" is built around a boisterous trumpet fanfare sample, as she shifts from her heavily accented, dancehall vocal inflections to the album's only instant of straight-ahead rapping. "Fire Fire", originally a B-side of "Sunshowers", appears with its thunderous beats jacked up more than the original version, while "Amazon" has the most layered production on the album, as various percussion instruments and synth bleeps swirl gently around the mix, sounded like an insect-ridden rain forest. "Bingo" contains chimes of reggaeton style steel drum, which are offset by abrasive electro screeches, the sultry "Hombre" has a terrific, multilayered vocal hook, and "10 $", arguably the most incessantly catchy track on the album, is propelled by M.I.A.'s versatile vocal performance, highlighted by her coy flourishes of, "Oh-oh oh-oh oh-oh hey hey."

Much has been made about her political views, and the facts that militaristic imagery figures prominently on the album, and that Arular is named after her father's nickname given to him by the guerilla rebel faction he co-founded in Sri Lanka (meaning "the ruler"), will undoubtedly have people wondering just what the lady's agenda is with this album, but many will be surprised at just how tame her lyrics are. Images of war have always featured prominently in both her visual art and her music, but M.I.A. skillfully removes them from context, juxtaposing such jarring, violent images with depictions of Western pop culture. She pulls no punches, but her songs are not so much fanatical political rants, as blunt looks at what she's lived with all her life, and how, in these war-ridden times, that surreal blend of pop culture and violence continues around all of us.

A fair amount of M.I.A.'s lyrics are little more than fun, nonsensical dancehall sing-alongs ("Galang" being the prime example), but there are moments where she elevates her songwriting to a higher level. "Fire Fire" and "Amazon" serve as the heart of the album; on "Fire Fire", she depicts war-torn Sri Lanka during her young years ("Grown up, brewin up/Guerilla getting trained up") before switching abruptly from the battleground to contemporary hip hop in a brilliant moment of wordplay: "Click suits and booted in the timberland/Freakin out to a Missy on a Timbaland." "Amazon", meanwhile, has her fantasizing about her own abduction ("Blindfolded under homemade lanterns/Somewhere in the Amazon, they're holding me ransom") pleading in the chorus, "Hello, this is M.I.A./ Could you please come and get me?" Placed between both songs is the short "Freedom Skit", in which she refers to her missing "freedom fighting dad," describing the Sri Lanka government "call[ing] him a terror/Put him on wanted ads", her voice sounding frail and innocent. When you later hear her sing, "It's okay you forgot me," on "Amazon", you get the feeling she's achieved somewhat of a reconciliation with her past.

The best idea on Arular was to leave both "Galang" and "Sunshowers" to the end, allowing the newer tracks to show they're more than able to hold op the first three quarters of the album. Still, those two songs, as well as the strong hidden track denouement "M.I.A.", brings everything to a rousing climax, highlighted by the line, "You could be a follower, but who's your leader/ Break that circle, it could kill ya."

While it's considerably more listener-friendly to North American mainstream ears than Dizzee Rascal and The Streets, whether or not mainstream audiences will warm up to the punchy yet enigmatic Arular, and make M.I.A. more than just a cult fave, remains to be seen. However, based on the strength of "Galang" and "Sunshowers", the potential is there. It's an accessible album, but one containing challenging contrasts. In the end, what's most impressive is how Arulpragasam powerfully weaves a consistent theme of rootlessness throughout the record, drawing on her experiences in both the third world and modern London, from civil war to Western urban culture, and her own, highly unique, bastardized form of pop music is the extraordinary end result.

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nterview: M.I.A.

Story by Mark Pytlik

Ten things you probably already know about M.I.A., listed in order of the probability that you already know them:

1. M.I.A. is from Sri Lanka by way of London, England.

2. She has a really excellent album due called Arular, which has been marinating for over a year like a gourmet sirloin. The reason for this delay is partly because she wanted to release a perfect album, partly because of music industry politics, and partly because it was a great setup for the joke that came in the form of a bunch of record labels suddenly passing it around like a hot potato on the eve of its release.

3. M.I.A.'s father, for whom Arular is named, is a revolutionary with links to the Tamil Tigers. Although her lyrics are salt and peppered with violent imagery, M.I.A. has no terrorist affiliation. But politics follow her wherever she goes, and she likes it that way.

4. With the help of boyfriend Diplo, M.I.A. slipstreamed a bootleg mix called Piracy Funds Terrorism into our veins last year. This ridiculously great disc contained snippets of Arular interspersed with bits of Jay-Z, the Bangles, Missy Elliott, baile funk, and other stuff like that, and pretty much everyone who heard it loved it.

5. M.I.A.'s real name is Maya Arulpragasam. She is 27 years old.

6. M.I.A. mentions the PLO in the lyrics to a song called "Sunshowers". The reference makes some people angry, some uneasy, and others curious. So far, it is the closest thing she has to a "Creep".

7. After graduating in film from London's St. Martin's College, M.I.A. eventually fell in with Elastica, who commissioned her to make their tour documentary. She got her start in music when Justine Frischmann gave her a Roland 505 and encouraged her to start making tracks of her own.

8. Bloggers really love her, but she has yet to make Billboard's acquaintance.

9. Arular was produced by a revolving door of people, including former Pulp bassist Steve Mackey, British pop mastermind Richard X, Fat Truckers' Ross Orton, and Diplo himself.

10. If there's a better album than Arular released this year, a lot of people will be really happy. Actually, if Arular is released this year, a lot of people will be really happy.

So that's out of the way-- here's the fun stuff. On the eve of her first proper headlining gig ever, at Toronto's Drake Hotel, Pitchfork caught up with M.I.A. to talk about politics, music, terrorism, rubber bands, British rap, L'Oreal, council estates, and click suits. Here's the hour plus conversation in its entirety.

Pitchfork: Tell me about growing up in South London.

M.I.A.: Everything seemed really gray. It took time to find pockets of things that were interesting. I didn't know where to start. When I arrived, I didn't want to accept the things offered to me. So when people put you in a council flat and go, "This is what you are, now behave yourself," I just didn't want to accept it.

At school, they sent me off with the special-needs people-- that's how I learned English. For the first couple of years, I didn't feel integrated into anything, cause I was always that weird kid who gets put into a van and goes somewhere else for four hours a day. You're sat in this room with other foreign kids and kids who are a bit slow, and you have to watch TV programs and learn English and play games and stuff like that.

In Sri Lanka, I thought I was really smart! And then you get to England and you're like: "Shit, I'm so bad, it's unbelievable." Everyone in Sir Lanka thought it was amazing that we were getting out and that suddenly we were going to turn into these amazing foreigners. But when we got there it was like, "Listen, you're just shit on my shoe, don't even get it twisted."

Pitchfork: You were born in England, then moved to Sri Lanka, and then came back to London at 11?

M.I.A.: Yeah, I was six months when we [first] left. When we were living in London, my Dad was going through the same racist scenarios in the 70s that I went through in the 80s. He'd go to the pub to have a pint-- that was his way to integrate into Western lifestyle-- and he'd get beaten up, so he'd have to fight back. So when I was six months old, my Dad decided be a part of somewhere he called home rather than live as a second-class citizen.

Pitchfork: The theme of identity is a huge part of the record.

M.I.A.: Yeah, I just didn't have one.

Pitchfork: Do you still feel that way?

M.I.A.: I'm still trying to find it. I'm trying to make one by not having one, I think. Ultimately, what this record gave me was a ticket to go around the world and find other people who felt like me, and I think that's kinda where Wes [Diplo] comes in. Because Wes, even though he's a white kid from Florida, with his Mom and Dad still together-- you know, he knows where he is and where he comes from and all that-- musically, he doesn't have a home. He doesn't quite fit in, and when I met him I totally felt some affiliation to that.

There are so many people in London now who don't fit into a niche. There are kids who listen to both hip-hop and indie and there are kids who dress a certain way but act another way. But it's OK. That could be the new thing-- that we're all a bit confused.

Pitchfork: Like me in my bedroom listening to a Crime Mob record.

M.I.A.: Exactly! We have a right to [listen to] everything.

Pitchfork: A friend has a theory that, no matter where it comes from or how underground it is, all music is made with the intent to be heard by as many people as possible.

M.I.A.: When Lauryn Hill got really big with the Fugees, apparently she turned around and said, "I don't make music for white people." I feel the opposite, 'cause it is about communicating. I want to talk about where I fit it on this planet.

My problem is that politics is the first thing that defines who I am. It's like, "You're just The Other, you're this thing. You have evil thoughts about the world." When I watch President Bush on the telly going, we need to fight the axis of evil and kill these terrorists by all means necessary, I just go, "Shit, poor Dad." In the 70s all he wanted to do was be a revolutionary like Bob Dylan. He had idealistic views about changing the world for the better and fighting for people who don't have a voice-- the same thing that Bob Dylan wanted to do. Now, he's like this straight-up, evil terrorist; a gunned masked man with a semi-automatic ready to take down and behead people.

It's not like that; it's really not. It's so much more complex. They've made a cartoon character out of a terrorist. It's so ironic that I'm here because the front of this week's Newsweek is exactly what I was singing about on "Sunshowers". It's like, "Who are these people and can we stop them?" And the people on the cover just look so ghetto. Back in the day it used to be N.W.A. with gheri curls, shades, and guns-- now it's the terrorists.

Pitchfork: Isn't that all strategic? If you want to rally a bunch of people to take someone down, the first thing you have to do is de-personalize your enemy.

M.I.A.: Yeah, of course, but the average person doesn't know that. That's really what it's about, to get to the average person and to go, "Look, this is how complicated it is." I come from a part of the world where most of the people are caught up in all that shit. They live in an area surrounded by conflict. They don't even need to take sides or have anything to do with the Tigers-- because they're Tamils, others can just [dismiss them] as not cool. It's the same as saying all Muslims are not cool, it's really dangerous to do that.

Pitchfork: What does your father do now?

M.I.A.: He's a writer. He writes books. He's trying to invent ways to create energy and rebuild Sri Lanka without money; ways for people to produce and maintain a certain standard of living that doesn't take a lot. He [still] has some political interest-- he's trying to stay ahead of what's going on, but it's really difficult.

Pitchfork: Is he based in London?

M.I.A.: No, he's in Sri Lanka. My Dad [stayed] in Sri Lanka.

Pitchfork: When you're in Sri Lanka, do you feel like people identify you as a Londoner and vice versa?

M.I.A.: When I go to Sri Lanka-- I mean, I haven't been that many times-- but when I went, it was really difficult, just because of how I dress and what I look like. They go, "Oh my God, she's so Westernized." I have brown bits in my hair, and my Mom was practically on her knees screaming, "Nooo! You have to dye your hair before you leave the house or I'll kill myself!" I'd be like, "What are you freaking out about?" and she'd explain the Tamil Tiger girls have been in the jungle for so long that their hair goes brown, and if you walk out like this, you're going to get shot because people will think you're a Tamil Tiger girl. And I'd be like, [posh accent] "Mom, this is fashion! From England! L'Oreal hair color, like, get with it-- because I'm worth it!"

That's how they knew I was Westernized, because I'd be brave and I'd walk to the shops. And they'd be like, "No no no-- you just don't do shit like that around here. Get off the bicycle and quit it, 'cause you will get killed."

Pitchfork: But when you're in London-- or anywhere in America for that matter-- do people identify you as Sri Lankan first and foremost?

M.I.A.: I'm stuck in the middle with nowhere to go. Nobody wants me! So I have to throw myself out there and let anything happen, because I have no sense of home. Part of me wants to go through a mad journey because it's like I have nothing to lose. I have no one to disappoint if I get it wrong. And it's brilliant, because instead of being depressed about not having a home, you can embrace it and turn it into freedom. It frees me from having any cultural connections.

I didn't feel good growing up back in the day in London with Sri Lankans, 'cause they'd look down on us. They'd be like, "Oh, you haven't got a Dad. My Daddy's a doctor, and we're going to private school, and then I'm going to Cambridge to be a doctor." And I knew when I was a kid that was never going to happen to me. I had no parents helping me with my homework. My parents never came to a parents' meeting in school, I went to my own-- "How'm I doing this year?" [laughs] Then when I started doing art, and everyone was like, "Oh my God, your children are so thick that they have to take art!"

Pitchfork: I didn't think it was that conservative.

M.I.A.: Sri Lankans come over to England and aspire to be the Queen. They want to adapt and act like that. Or they want to preserve middle-class Sri Lankan values. And that's not even what's good about Sri Lankan culture! Put the sitar down-- we already know that it's something we can access.

Pitchfork: What do your parents think about what you're doing?

M.I.A.: My Mom never understood it. She still brought me application forms from the bank. [East Indian accent] "I got you a form, you need to settle and get a job! You might still have the chance to marry that man!"

Pitchfork: Does she do that even now?

M.I.A.: She's stopped because the Tamil paper gave me like two pages and they said, [thick East Indian accent] "This girl, we have not heard her, but they are all talking about her and we do not know what she's saying in her songs, but obviously it's good, so we're just going to have to support her. You'll have to ignore how she dresses and how she sounds, because underneath we think she wants good for us." [laughs] So my Mom read that in Tamil and was like, "Awww, you make music, huh?"

Pitchfork: Let's talk about "Sunshowers" a bit. First of all, were you conscious when making the video about putting across this image of you in a jungle setting?

M.I.A.: I wanted to make "Sunshowers" because I thought what I could bring to music was something that I wish R&B singers brought to music. When they go on about being a Nubian queen and being proud of their African heritage, I think, "Well why don't you go to Africa and show me?" That was the difficult thing for me in the music industry, like, do I have to be Western in order to get Western music across on Western television? What if I brought to England what I know, all the things I've seen? Can I communicate them through what I do?

How easy would it be for me to get a stylist and a choreographer and shoot a video? It's easy! All you need is a checkbook. Then I was like, "Well, I'm gonna sit on an elephant and just say my lines." Because I can! If I'm going to live in Western society for the rest of my life, I've got the rest of my life to stare at beautiful clubs and lighting and dancers, so why not bring in an elephant and chuck it into the mix?

Pitchfork: The first time I heard that song, it struck me as sounding very...pretty. And then I listened to the lyrics and realized how much violence was in there.

M.I.A.: Yeah, that's all I know.

Pitchfork: What do you mean?

M.I.A.: I always find myself a little bit hard for the average person, but I'm not really. I just wanted to communicate the sense of something from kids who might be caught up on the other side of what's going on. When I watch the news, it's like, "They're coming! You're going to get gassed on the underground and die." And I'd think, "I don't want to get on the tube anymore!"

I was thinking like that, too. And then I thought, actually, we need to find out what is really up with them. That's how you solve problems. If you and me have beef, I have to sit down and go, "What is your beef about? Let's work this shit out so we can solve it." But it wasn't like that. It was constantly, every day, "They're shit, they're coming to get us, they're coming to get us."

But I haven't heard one proper thing that talks about what the problem is. All I want is a shot of one kid in Palestine who actually says what the fuck is going on. I want one Al-Qaeda dude for every one they've shot and killed and arrested and put in Camp X-Ray to be filmed for five minutes and asked, "What the fuck is your problem, really, for you to give your life up for it? Why don't you just tell the world exactly how you feel?" You have to have a sense of what the other side feels and how they think.

And at the same time, most of my cousins in Sri Lanka are dying as part of a group fighting for the independence of Tamil people. They were revolutionaries and freedom fighters and people were celebrating them, yet here they're like, "Oh my God, they're blanket terrorists, we need to kill them all." I wanted to know what would put them in that situation, what would put someone like my Dad in a situation to be strong enough to take on a struggle. You don't wake up and go, "Yeah, I can take on the world today." Something has to drive you to that.

The media is too busy portraying the cartoon-character, the dehumanized animal. I'm willing to say things if [they] provoke discussion and thinking, and I'm willing to see everybody as a human being first and figure out what their politics are afterwards.

Pitchfork: Forget the PLO lyric, there are other lines in that track that are a bit offputting. It's brutality wrapped up in sweetness.

M.I.A.: The gist of that song is the chicken-and-the-egg story. I don't know who's good and who's bad because Western society is the superpower. When I go to Sri Lanka, I see how rickety their setup is-- it's so ghetto, I don't even know why they're fighting a war. It's like everything's frozen in the 80s, but the government's getting sophisticated ammo and sophisticated fighter planes from Israel and America and stuff like that, but I just think what's the point? Those people haven't had anything since the 80s, they haven't really developed as an economy or a nation; in fact, it's been spiraling down. The average person hasn't got the energy to run fast enough. Bicycles are banned, gasoline's banned, there's no motor transportation...

Pitchfork: ...bicycles are banned?

M.I.A.: Yeah, because they think you can use the inner bicycle tubes to make landmines. They banned rubber bands, so the Tigers apparently used inner tubes to make rubber bands. So they banned the whole bicycle! And that, to a Sri Lankan, is the main mode of transport. [if] you take that away-- you take their work. So then when you've got a plane that fires 29 shells per second onto a mud hut, you just go what's the point? You could chuck a stone and kill them! You could use a bow and arrow to kill them-- they ain't moving too fast. Then I started feeling like I'm the bad one because I'm part of a country that is so powerful. I live in England, I pay my taxes there, and it's my life now. I've learnt the values, and I live by them. My survival technique in Britain was to forget Sri Lanka-- completely and block it out of my mind.

Then I thought, "I know the other side, I've lived through that for 10 years, and I have to speak for them at some point. If people wanna listen they can, and if they don't, at least I tried."

Pitchfork: Tell me about working with Elastica.

M.I.A.: The thing that I got exposed to when I met Justine was a lot of middle-class kids making music in England who had everything at their disposal and nothing to say. They didn't rep anything! Yet everybody was having soul-searching issues going, "Oh my Goooooood, who am I, what am I doing? I might have to go to a yoga retreat this year." And I'd be like, "Why don't you just look at what's going on and be a part of the planet, instead of wanting to be what's come before?" Which is how all those bands set themselves up-- they aspired to be [older] bands and forget what's going on [today] and how they feel.

Justine gave me the [feeling of], "Fuck it, I have to do this because no one else is going to." She had it and she didn't care about it, she just didn't care. [The artists] she thought were good didn't care enough either. The people that she'd introduce me to, [it'd be like] "This is so-and-so, I just think he's great because he really feels!" And I'd be like, "He's on uppers, downers, uppers, downers, uppers every day! What does he feel today?" Up and down, up and down, but underneath, when you scratched the surface, there wasn't anything there. It was all getting muddled into things like, "What do I need to be to be a rock star and smash a few televisions out my hotel room? And if I just get the right haircut, I'm on it this year."

That's an easy, lazy copout. I want some information. I want someone to talk to me. I went to hip-hop and they were going on about something and it was like, [sighs] "Dude, shut up about the Rams already!" So I went to indie and they were going on about wanting to slit their wrists and I'd be like, "Aww, how could you? Why don't you just make yourself useful?" You go to any other genre, and there's shit going on. You go to world music-- not that I did-- and there's nothing going on there: There's six billion people and they're all pissed off, yet they can't pick up the fucking stick and bang out a few tunes?

Pitchfork: So she gave you a 505 and you made your first demos on that?

M.I.A.: Yeah.

Pitchfork: Do you remember the first tracks you wrote? What did you go to XL with?

M.I.A.: Funnily enough, I took that "Ladykiller" song that's on the mixtape, cause I'd just made it that day. The next day I played them "Galang". I'd made them a special little CD case and they rang me back 10 minutes later.

Pitchfork: Can you tell me the story about going to XL for the first time?

M.I.A.: Justine was the only person I'd played songs to, and the first one I played her she was like, "Hey, this is really good, you should do this." I really needed the encouragement, but I could only go to one person because I was so embarrassed. That week, I just felt strong enough. I don't know why. I guess I was ready. So I phoned my friend and said, "Where do you think I should go?" Basically XL was the closest record company to my house, so my mate was like, "Well, there's a label called XL, they've got Dizzee Rascal, it might be quite good." They literally were over on the next road, so I said, "Could you give me a name?' And my friend said, 'There's a guy named Nick-- I met him at the Nike Shop."

So I went around and Nick was there and I was like, "Hi Nick, I heard you've been looking for me."

Pitchfork: That's a ballsy opener!

M.I.A.: I wasn't thinking like that! I was just like, you really have been looking for me! But Nick was like, "No. What are you fucking talking about? I ain't looking for you, who are you?" I said, "I just wanted to play you a song' so I played him 'Ladykiller" and [after] he said, "Well have you got any more I could listen to?" and I was like, "See? I heard you've been looking for me." The next week he called me in for a meeting with Richard Russell, who owns XL.

Pitchfork: You mentioned Dizzee-- do you feel an affinity with grime at all? You're getting a little bit of that here, and I don't really get it.

M.I.A.: No. Grime is just too localized for me. I've never been localized like that. It'd be untrue for me to start going, "It's all about East London!" 'cause it's so not! It's about all these mad continents that I've had to get through.

Pitchfork: What was the first genre of music that you fell in love with?

M.I.A.: Definitely hip-hop. I think it did save my life. It made me look outside of where I was. When I was living in the estate, I used to think the reason other kids thought I was shit was because I was not like them, and that I'd have to go out and aspire to be like them. Either I could spend my life trying to fit in with them and make them like me or find something else that was my own. At the time, hip-hop was just taking off and it was through the underground and I was hearing it.

The only person I was getting it through was this guy who lived on one side of my flat; my radio had been burgled by people who were beating me up on the other side! So there was a 14-year-old boy on this side and a 19-year-old boy on the other side and I was like 11 or 12, I could barely speak English. People started giving us stuff for our flat-- we'd just got it-- and so we had a video and a telly and I always slept with the radio on. I was listening to Paula Abdul, that's all I was listening to-- mainstream radio. And I'd be like, "Man, this is what the kids at school are listening to-- Madonna and Bananarama and stuff."

So when our radio got burgled, I went round there and said, "Please can I have my radio or I'm gonna tell the police." They pulled out a knife and said, "We're gonna stab you' and 'Go and call the police cause we haven't got it." That was a big fight to take on. I had no chance. [After that] it was Public Enemy, MC Shan, 3rd Bass, Ultramagnetic MCs, all that.

After the hip-hop thing, at that time, dance had started taking off in England, like ragga, which was really good because it seemed more British. There were Jamaicans who were just coming over and it was just really pure, whereas hip-hop was what we got from America. There was hip-hop music coming out of London, like Caveman and the Cookie Crew and stuff like that, but they just seemed a bit...I mean I liked Silver Bullet cause he was really fine, he was really good looking.

Pitchfork: I don't remember Silver Bullet...

M.I.A.: He did this fun song called "Twenty Seconds to Comply", he sampled Robocop in it. And he was so fine. He had so much style. But people in Britain talking about [their] struggle doesn't make sense to me. It's not the same. It's a different type of struggle, and they have to start working with that, but they don't-- they're still copying the struggle of Black Americans.

When ragga came out, it was wicked. I was like, "Woooooow!" It had the island mentality to it. It was good and way different. There was this thing called a click suit, which was a matching shirt and bottom. Supercat always wore it, and those click suits were huge-- they were everywhere! The main area where Sri Lankans moved into in London is called Tooting, which was also a real big ragga section 'cause there was loads of Jamaicans there, too. So all the Sri Lankan kids that came over that were slightly a bit on the edge soon adapted ragga culture. If you go to Tooting now, you can still find that-- you wouldn't be able to tell a Sri Lankan from a Jamaican. It's really weird-- Sri Lankans find coming to England and talking with a Jamaican patois accent is easier than learning the Queen's English.

Pitchfork: Did you have a sense of what kind of producers you wanted to work with? How did you hook up with Fat Truckers and Steve Mackey and Richard X?

M.I.A.: I asked loads of people and they were the first people to say yes. I went to this guy called Seiji out of Bugz In The Attic. They made this song called "Loose Lips Sink Ships" and I heard it and thought it sounded amazing, and kind of similar to what I wanted to do. So I went to them and I was like, "Please can you help me," and I had that "M.I.A." track and they told me I was too pop for them. I went to a couple of other people who said they couldn't take it on because it was too weird and they didn't get it.

Then somebody told me about Steve Mackey...I mean I did go in different directions and different genres. One of the people I wanted to go to was Rodney P for the hip-hop production or [Roots Manuva producer] Lord Gosh. So I was hitting in all directions, and the one that came through first was Mackey. He was DJing at some party and I went up to him and said, "Hi, I'm Maya and I've done this song and you might think it's weird, but I know you can't say it's really weird because I've seen you at some other club and you put on this girl called Bishi, who's an Asian wonderwoman who sang classical music over jungle and that shit is weird even for me, so if you get that, you fucking will get this, trust me!"

Pitchfork: When did Richard enter into the picture?

M.I.A.: Richard came into the scenario when he heard "Galang". He had been including it as part of his set on his tour. He got in touch with the guy that put the "Galang" white label out and said, 'I want to work with this girl.'

Pitchfork: What was it like working with him?

M.I.A.: It was really good because I think Richard really respects me and lets me do whatever I want. [He] lets me throw mad ideas in the pot and he'll run with them. Whereas working with certain other producers, it's hard to get people to be open-minded. Going to see Richard is like going to see a therapist. Not that I've been to one, but yeah, he kind of lets me exorcise my demons and make sense out of them.

Pitchfork: The album's been delayed for eons as well...

M.I.A.: Politics. It was just stuff like that, me wanting to move around and experiment. After I worked with Richard, I worked with someone else called Switch who did a track on Ms. Thing's album-- they're called Yes Productions now. And then I wanted to work with Diplo and that was taboo for everybody, it was like, "She's going off with an American now!"

Pitchfork: Where did you meet Wes for the first time?

M.I.A.: I found out he was playing at a club and I turned up there.

Pitchfork: So you knew of Hollertronix already?

M.I.A.: No, I just saw it on a flyer one day, that he was DJing at Fabric in London. It wasn't a Hollertronix thing-- he was DJing as Diplo for this Grime night that was happening and Wiley and Shystie and everybody was there. But I was going there to meet Wesley from Philadelphia who does Hollertronix. And then when I walked in, he was playing "Galang" and I thought it was such a good omen. When I went to the DJ booth, I didn't know what he looked like or who he was. There were like 20 guys there, so I just pointed to all the really good-looking ones and went 'You! Diplo?' [laughs]

He played "Fire Fire" as well and I was like, 'Wow, he really digs it.' Also, everybody had opinions on what my album should sound like, except for Wes, who was like, "Hey, anything goes." Richard wanted to make a bunch of tracks with me, but I didn't want to stick to any of those sounds.

I really get on with him, but we haven't really set up a proper method of working. Since I met him, he's been on tour and I'm out-and-about as well. We haven't had any time, but I think it'd be really interesting to make a proper body of work with him.

Pitchfork: Whose idea was Piracy Funds Terrorism?

M.I.A.: When I met Wes, the thing that I was finding difficult was making an album that sounded like a sketchbook. As an artist, most of the work that I rate is in my sketchbook. The way people always view making an album in the music industry is so sterile-- I wanted to make a really sketchy, mad thing come together.

Wes was the first person who understood that, and I felt like I had a chance to put together what a thing might look like if I did it exactly how I wanted it to be. So we did Piracy and it was really fun, documenting all the sounds that I've been into. I'm into hip-hop, I'm into dancehall, then I'm into this, and now I'm into baile funk and I'm looking at Baltimore club, and that's exactly the journey that I took for this album.

Pitchfork: Was there any worry when the mixtape came out that you were giving too much of the album away?

M.I.A.: People need it. When you come from England, people feel so shortchanged all the time. They always talk about getting charged so much money for something that people really haven't put their heart and soul into. I always feel like I do it the other way. My mom is exactly the same way. She's a seamstress and she puts her heart and soul into [something], and takes four days and do this amazing thing and then she'll just charge however much it cost her in gas to drive to that person and deliver it.

Pitchfork: I don't necessarily mean "giving it away" as in giving it away for free, I mean tipping your hand as to what the record is going to be before it comes out...

M.I.A.: That's cool, it's fine. It's just what I'm doing. There are no rules. I don't want to do anything under the table and have this great marketing strategy and all that. If I've made the wrong choice, then I want everyone to be a part of that wrong choice and make me realize that it was wrong. I want people to interact with my career and where I'm gonna go and what I'm gonna do, because I feel like right now I'm just like putty in people's hands. I don't have a set direction or anything, but I'd rather have interaction with people and get them involved in my career.

From Day One, this has been a mad, crazy thing: I say the things I'm not supposed to say, I look wrong, my music doesn't sound comfortable for any radio stations or genres, people are having issues with my videos when they're not rude or explicit or crazy controversial. I find it all really funny.

Pitchfork: When did you first get the sense that this massive buzz was building for you?

M.I.A.: On October 31, I did Hollertronix in Philadelphia and I was only there for a couple of days or whatever and I sensed it then. When I went, I had no backing singer or anything, I so wasn't ready, it was off the cuff. I did "Galang" on stage-- it was so wrong, I wish I'd never done it-- and everybody knew the words, they were freaking out. I thought, "I sound so terrible and I'm so not confident on stage right now", 'cause I was really drunk and totally out of breath, everything was wrong, and yet they were still freaking out!

That's when I went back to XL in London and said, "Something weird is happening in America-- you need to really look at it." And they said, "It's a figment of your imagination, Maya, you must be tired, just go home..."

Pitchfork: "You're still drunk..."

M.I.A.: I know! "Just lie down for a second, it'll be fine, talk to me tomorrow."

Pitchfork: And that's why you're releasing the record in North America first?

M.I.A.: I think it's because I live in London and XL and me battle it out every day. I think it seems more relevant to me in Britain, but they don't have an arena [for] the tempo of my songs. There are no clubs that play reggaeton, baile funk, dancehall all in the same room. They just don't dance there. They stare!

Or they get really pissed, rock out to a guitar band, and then come home. How do you get British people in a room and make them dance to bloody reggaeton? That's like a 10-year program to me. So I need the time for these clubs to open up. Now they're opening and people are sort of coming to it. But rock and indie music has been their stronghold and they're not gonna let it go that easily. But I'm chipping away! You ready for something new, hurry up...

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M.I.A: From Congo to Colombo

Reported on Tuesday, Apr 26, 2005. 12:26 by thetourist

You're playing Super Mario Bros on an old Nintendo Entertainment System. Your Brazilian flatmate is listening to some of his weird favela music. Bass is grinding down through the roof - your neighbours upstairs sound like they're hosting a 3 day carnival in their flat. All these sounds are strangely mixing together - suddenly, smashing through your living-room window; a Sri-Lankan English girl in homemade clothes appears and proceeds to hold you hostage with a vocal as seductive in sound as it is terrifying in content. Meet M.I.A.

Who is M.I.A? Maya Arulpragasam, 28, lived the first decade of her life in war-torn Sri Lanka, the daughter of a founding member of a militant Tamil group - a Tamil Tiger. Fleeing with her mother and sisters in the late eighties to the UK, she settled as a refugee in a notoriously racist council estate.

From this third world background, littered with violence and poverty, she began a new life in the UK. She learnt English, graduated from Art School, successfully exhibited politically charged, cut and paste art, and was commissioned by UK band Elastica to provide cover art for their second album - which led to her following the band across the United States to film the tour. It was on this tour that she met electro-clash artist Peaches, who in turn introduced her to a Roland MC-505.

Maya's return to the UK marked a turning point - creating a six track demo with the help of Elastica's Justine Frischmann, she quickly became M.I.A - her track 'Galang' was treated by Ross Orton and Steve Mackey (Pulp bassist) - promptly launching her into the arms of music critics and clubs across the UK and US.

Her album Arular, which has been ready for release for over a year, but subject to a label bidding-war and a sample licensing issue, is finally due for release soon. Even last year Arular was predicted to be one of the major releases of 2005, with expectations, rumours and hype increasing with every release date delay, mp3 release, and web blog dissection of her sound, image and authenticity.

Arular is a sound from nowhere in particular, yet acknowledges and embraces an array of different sounds, from raggaeton to hip hop, from punk to baile funk. None of these sounds necessarily overshadow another - trying to consider M.I.A in terms of being in any one genre is fruitless. Brazilian Baile funk, a sound enriched just as much by poverty as it is by the raw sexuality of its beats, is as relevant to M.I.A's sound as punk, with its overcharged political aggression. The lyrical flow of hip hop is reinterpreted and melded with the swing and beat of the Caribbean - resulting in a vocal that sounds as ethnic as it does urban, dropping and repeating lyrics like the beat of a steel-drum. Lyrics that range from "I bongo/With my lingo/Beat it like a wing Yo" to the subversive "Semi-9 and snipered him/On that wall they postered him/ They showed him a picture then/Ain't that you with the Muslims?"

Music critics have been unusually united in their praise for Arular and relish the notion of a Tamil Tigress transforming a shantytown into an electrified dancehall (it should be noted that Maya herself has no involvement with militant groups). Discussions on web blogs ponder every possible M.I.A scenario - from ethnological forgery, to most important album created this decade, anywhere. This relentless critique and discussion simply propels the hype and enigma that is M.I.A to even greater levels.

BT: The hype behind your album Arular and your sound has been steadily increasing over the past year. Are you surprised by the extent of this success?

M.I.A: Very - really weird (laughs) I mean even the idea of being interviewed from Australia is weird. When I think about where I came from, what I've seen so far in life - it's crazy to think people actually pick this music up and think 'there's something in that.'

BT: It would definitely surprise you to hear 'Galang' gets airplay here?

M.I.A: Totally - although that song has a life of its own now. It's pretty much a separate living thing now, growing quicker than me! I've always got my mum to test my popularity with though - she asks me when she will see a poster of me, to confirm I might be popular. Even if she did see one she'd be like (Sri-Lankan accent) "you need to brush your hair, it's too messy.' Only the other day she said to me 'I understand now, you are a part of this 'underworld'. Somewhere she'd heard or read the term underground, and in her own way reinterpreted it. And at the same time, she asks me when I'll start a real career, a doctor, a dentist, a lawyer...

BT: Do you think she'll ever realise your current career is substantial enough, especially when considering the cultural relevance?

M.I.A: I sometimes think if I buy her something it might make her realise.

BT: Like a car - seems to be the parental gift of choice for newly celebs?

M.I.A: Nah - if she had her choice it would be a Black BMW with chrome styling, the whole ethnic thing, you know? I'd buy something old with style and character, something dirty...

BT: Mid-seventies, dark brown, from the Surrey Wreckers?

M.I.A Yeah! exactly - I love the idea of her driving that around, thinking about the underworld, it just makes so much more sense. Then again, a toaster would probably be what I actually buy her... She's doing her best to try to understand what it is I do though.

BT: How have audiences reacted to your sound so far, particularly the American market?

M.I.A: Amazing - especially considering the background it comes from, you know? To think that coming from a refugee with a strange sound - people are actually listening - is bizarre. I like the fact that people are listening and maybe understanding the context though. Especially when I think about the audiences that listen to them - and how I see those audiences myself.

BT: You were born in England, moved to Sri Lanka, came back to England as a refugee and you'll no doubt be spending the next few years living globally... Do you consider your music to have a country of origin - Or is it truly a global sound, with no national grounding?

M.I.A: I don't even consider it at all. I think about England - nobody talks to each other, like really talks, it

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A heady brew of the political and funky


As the daughter of a militant Tamil freedom fighter, Maya Arulpragasam had a childhood unlike those of most budding pop stars. In 1983, when she was seven and living in her native Sri Lanka, civil war broke out. Her memories of the time remain vivid.

"People are fighting, your mum's crying, the army's returned, your dad's missing, your cousin's dead," she says. "What do you do? You can't play out in the street 'cause it's dangerous. I used to sit and draw."

Arulpragasam's mother escaped to London with her three children in 1986. Their new home was a poverty-stricken public housing estate, but the middle child wasn't going to let anything stop her from pursuing her creative ambitions.

"In England your opportunities are predetermined by what class you're in," she says. "Coming from Sri Lanka, I just didn't give a shit. I was like, 'No one's going to plonk me in the middle of somewhere and expect me to live like the dirtiest, poorest person in town', you know what I mean? I just didn't want to be a victim."

She talked her way into Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in south London, where she studied film and fine art. A series of incidents led her to switch creative fields to music.


The cool older guys who lived next door on the estate had turned her on to the ferocious hip-hop of Public Enemy and NWA in her early teens. After art school, she worked and became friends with Elastica frontwoman Justine Frischmann.

Through her, Arulpragasam met the provocative punkette Peaches, who inspired her to buy a Roland MC-505 drum machine. A holiday in the Caribbean gave her the final push.

"I was in a part of the world where there was just so much music around, and it just soaks into your head," she says. "I kind of just wanted to work out why I wasn't musical," she says. "Cause so many people used to say that to me: 'How come you're really, sort of, tone deaf? You can dance and stuff like that, you obviously love music, but ... you're really bad at it'. People wouldn't even let me sort of hum and stuff around them."

Ironically, those very people may be having trouble stopping themselves from humming to Arulpragasam's debut collection of infectious beats and rhymes, which she recorded under the name M.I.A. (It comes from one of her art-school projects and stands for Missing in Acton, as in the London district.)

Her album Arular was named after her father's activist handle. It's a piquant brew of the political and the funky, as heavily influenced by the dance-hall sounds of the Caribbean as by Arulpragasam's unusual, intense upbringing: a call to arms with crisp minimalist beats, fuzzy bass effects and unshakeable melodic hooks.

It also has all the credentials of something excruciatingly hip - from its maker's art-school background to the rabid support of style magazines such as Dazed and Confused. As a result, some might view M.I.A. as a stunt.

"Yeah, people would think that, but that's the nature of how things have gone so far," Arulpragasam says. "It's nothing to do with how I fit into it. I can't let that hold me back; I've got to be whatever I am. All I want to be is honest. I don't think I can just go out and do it right ... but I make the wrong as right as I can."

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Oh look! She's a babe too, I didn't even know that - I just read a review and "previewed" a few songs without ever seeing her pictures. I'm going to by the album, no doubt.

I didn't know Svelte was into British hip hop, but it's a nice surprise ;) Galang must be one of the catchiest songs of the year.

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blurdk, i like a bunc of different music but recently i've been getting into british hip-hop as well as some of what they call reggation and baile funk as per MIA. i like to sample everything and see what i like. even if i don't find much that i like, i'm a huge fan of MIA. i've got more photos of her, some i need to scan so if you enjoy the photos i've posted so far, get ready for some amazingly beautiful photos of her :heart:

galang is a super catchy song - and her album is just as addictive. make sure you get Piracy Funds Terrorism, or i could find it for you online :lol:

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galang is a super catchy song - and her album is just as addictive. make sure you get Piracy Funds Terrorism, or i could find it for you online :lol:


What's that? Another album?

if you enjoy the photos i've posted so far, get ready for some amazingly beautiful photos of her :heart:
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back when Arular was 'in limbo' she 'hooked up' (musically) with a philly dj by the name of diplo and released a mix tape. it's got most of arular on it, of course those songs have different samples, added verses, etc. plus a few non-album tracks and some non-MIA tracks. it's superbly amazing. one great part in Sunshows on PFT - they use Salt-n-Peppa's 'Push It' beat, and when MIA says "I salt & pepper my mango" diplo stuck in S-n-P's stuttering 'salt & peppa' from the 'salt-n-peppa's here'

i've got a few more articles/interviews/reviews to post before i get to the gorgeous photos :)

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Tamil burning bright

M.I.A. proves one person's hip-hop artist is another's freedom fighter. By Anthony Carew.

Rapping in a junglese patois over brazen beats belted out on a 505 drum-machine, Maya Arulpragasam - aka hotshit London hip-hopstress M.I.A.- defines herself, in verse, like this: "Got brown skin/but I'm a West Londoner/educated/but a refugee still, huh".

But, it's obvious that the 28-year-old is infinitely more complex than these cute contradictions. Born in London in 1976, Arulpragasam's family returned to their native Sri Lanka when she was 6 months old.

When she was 7, civil war broke out; and her family - ethnic minority Tamils - spent the next three years as refugees, before mother and children returned to England, leaving Maya's father in Sri Lanka to fight for Tamil independence.

He's the founding member of a militant sect called EROS, and Maya has named her debut M.I.A.album, Arular, after him but she's adamant that she's not aligned with the notorious Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

''I've heard lots of people say that I'm part of a terrorist group and I'm singing about that, and singing songs for them, but that's wack, I'd never do that," Arulpragasam says.


"When I'm put in a box, it's my nature, to want to get out of it; but that, that Tiger box, that's the only one that I really care strongly about. Because I'm worried that if that's what people think of me as, I won't be able to talk about things, or that people won't listen to me. And I'm worried that it'll be part of this greater whitewashing, where if you're a Tamil you have to be a Tiger. It really doesn't work like that."

Arulpragasam would prefer to be thought of as a "freedom fighter", a noble term that she believes has been replaced by the standard slander of "terrorist".

And, even though she knows that "the only people that talk about this stuff in the West are Sting and Bono", her album - which delivers a vicious mix of electro-pop, dancehall, baile-funk, and crunk that's very much the latest evolutionary step in English hiphop - is filled with politics.

On the brilliant single, Sunshowers, Maya depicts images of wartime persecution, and even gives a shoutout to the PLO.

And Arular's artwork finds the imagery of war reproduced in pop-art repetition. It's a striking frontcover, which is no surprise, given Arulpragasam first made her name as a visual artist; her lurid spray-paint-and-stencil works attracting the attention of famous followers like Jude Law and Justine Frischmann. But, back then, Arulpragasam didn't feel artistic satisfaction.

''When I was doing art I found it elitist," Arulpragasam says.

"I felt like I was that one-off kid that got off the couch, that refugee that got offered a scholarship. I was going mad, I needed to find something real and true, or honest. And that was music. Because you can take a song to anyone, and everyone can react to it, and can tell you whether they like it. You don't have to have a specific education to be able to deconstruct and analyse it, you just feel it."

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M.I.A is blatant about defending our rights

Rising star M.I.A, aka Maya Arulpragasam, blends politics and music to devastating effect. Kelly Hilditch spoke to her about her life and work

I just want to make music that makes people feel good, that makes people want to dance. But when people ask me questions, I want to talk about stuff, about people

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