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'Are you lesbian?' 'No, I'm making music.'

Here's a little tip for the kids. If you're going to be interviewing

Miss M.I.A., be sure to tell your editor you're going to need at

least a half dozen pages to squeeze in all the good stuff. If your

editor finds this unreasonable, get a blog and just reprint

everything there. That way, everybody wins.

So. Today we talked to the delightful Maya Arulpragasam. The 800

word version of our encounter appears in tomorrow's National Post.

If you'd rather just read a couple thousand of her words without

ours getting in the way, this post is for you. Laughs have been

edited out. But they were frequent. And wonderful.

This will be far too long. And, for the uninterested, boring.


On handling the hype:

Hopefully, you know, it's not going to last forever. I must be the

only person who's like, thank god this is going to end soon... When I

went to Germany I felt that. I went to Puerto Rico to do a show and

then I went to Philly and then New York. And I did that in about two

days. And then I had to fly to Hamburg and then Berlin. And it all

happened in about five days. Then I was like, `I physically can't

handle it.' I thought, I'm just going to disintegrate.

On the audience in Germany:

It's not even like English. [but] Germans get it. And they're really

into it and stuff. I was thinking, `Do they even know what my lyrics

are?' But they kinda do. They just feel like it doesn't even matter.

I get that impression from them. As long as it's real. When I do

music I want to make sure that there's [something] there for anyone

and everyone. So that's fine that they only pick up on that. The

journalists pick up on the lyrics and stuff, but my cousins in

Germany call me up and they go, `You video's on in Burger King.' And

I know that whoever's playing it is not really into the lyrics.

On the controversy with MTV:

I'm thinking still. I have to do it by today or tomorrow. It's just,

I don't know, I'm going to wait until they get bored of asking me.

Then I'll tell them something. They're going to play the video. And

they said that they'll let everything slide as long as they have a

statement. Otherwise, they'll have to cut sentences out of the song.

But I feel like I shouldn't have to compromise at all. And they

should know that.

On her shoutout to the PLO:

I was thinking, the Wu-Tang Clan said it all the time

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M.I.A.'s been on the move. The sounds she's encountered have become

her own.

It's hard to say which is more interesting: M.I.A.'s background or

her music. Beginning as a youth on the run from authorities,

continuing as a teen refugee in London and now as an artist with

what is likely to be one of the most written-about albums of 2005,

the 27-year-old daughter of a Sri Lankan rebel has lived a tragic

yet extraordinary life.

Already, M.I.A.'s electro-Bollywood-hip-hop has generated gargantuan

interest among pop tastemakers, all of it based on a single

song. "Galang," named one of last year's 10 best singles in Rolling

Stone's critics' poll, is an intensely rhythmic culture clash that

draws heavily on American gangsta rap and Hindi film, Jamaican

dancehall, Europop and multiculti gibberish. The song exploded in

the U.K. a little more than a year ago. It began washing up on

American dance floors last summer and is now bubbling up to radio.

M.I.A.'s debut album, "Arular," out next month on XL Recordings, is

a more in-depth exploration of the singer's refugee eclecticism.

From start to finish, it is an unstoppable riot of sound, weaving

London street slang with Sri Lankan nursery rhymes, world politics

and personal experience.

Vacillating between attitude and innocence, her songs are tough-

talking raps, but they're softened by a Hindi vocal style that ends

lines of lyrics with curlicue upswings.

M.I.A.'s recent sold-out performance at the Knitting Factory

Hollywood was equally iconoclastic. Waving her hands in the air and

self-consciously pacing the stage before a DJ, swirling lights and

background videos, she was half hip-hop bravado and half "how did I

get here?"

"It kind of shocked me that there were so many people that knew the

songs," M.I.A. says the next day. "My album's not out."

Singing along is no easy feat, laden as the songs are with Cockney

slang. Perhaps some in the audience were working off the lyric sheet

one enterprising fan was selling at the club.

Seeking out a sliver of sunlight in the dark Hollywood Roosevelt

Hotel dining room, M.I.A. seems oblivious to the buzz surrounding

her and her music. Feminine and model beautiful but entirely down to

earth, it's clear she hasn't bought into her impending fame and is

taking it all in stride. Stardom, after all, is just the next stop

in a life that has, quite literally, been all over the map.

Few Western pop singers have lived as chaotically as M.I.A. and who

would have wanted to? Her formative years were a steady progression

from bad to worse, going from poverty to persecution to war and

alienation before she was able to turn it around.

A father's influence

Born in London, Maya Arulpragasam, as she was then known, moved to

Sri Lanka with her family when she was 6 months old. It was 1978,

and tensions between the country's two ethnic groups were growing.

M.I.A. and her family were among the minority Tamil population in a

country dominated by Sinhalese; her father was part of a militant

group seeking independence.

Rebel activities kept her father separated from the family and her

family on the run for the next decade. When civil war broke out,

they relocated to India, living for a year and a half "in a room

surrounded by five miles of empty land," she says.

"When it rained, it flooded. You'd have to basically swim through

with snakes going past. My father's idea of safety was sticking us

in the middle of nowhere where the army couldn't get us but without

water, food, medication and money."

With her family close to starvation and her sister sick from

typhoid, an uncle helped move M.I.A.'s family back to Sri Lanka. In

their native country, they at least had a support system, even if

the war was in full swing. The area where they lived was regularly

bombed, including the convent where M.I.A. went to school.

Several failed attempts to flee the country ended with M.I.A. and

her family moving to India, then London. Her father stayed behind.

It's this core experience that drives much of the lyrical content

in "Arular," which is her father's name.

"For years when I moved to England, I was so embarrassed about being

Sri Lankan and never talked about it," says M.I.A., an acronym

for "missing in action." "The reason I started talking about my life

is because I'd gone out thinking I was British for so long, I felt I

owed it to inform myself on what was happening to the people I left

behind. On a personal level, I feel guilty that I got away and so

many kids didn't."

M.I.A. returned to Sri Lanka in 2001. She was hoping to make "a

random film about Tamil youth" and, in the process, sort out her

feelings over the ongoing conflict in her parents' country. She

returned to London more confused than ever. Much of the Tamil

population today is starving and restricted to refugee camps, she

says. The rebel group her father helped form is now considered a

terrorist organization.

"In the '70s, these people set out with ideas to be revolutionaries

and fight for independence and struggle for freedom. All these real

romantic notions," she explains. "Those terms don't exist anymore.

Who would you call a terrorist? Who would you call a revolutionary

today? I don't know."

It's a timely question, and you can hear her trying to sort out the

answer throughout the record in songs exploding with bombs, where

glitchy electronics mimic machine-gun fire. By the end of the album,

she turns the question to listeners: "You can be a follower, but

who's your leader?"

It's clear she's uncomfortable with those who blindly follow. Her

entire life has been a struggle against the prevailing culture, and

her personality and musical taste have formed accordingly.

M.I.A. was 10 when her family settled in a housing project in

London. Until then, her only contact with music was Bollywood films,

television theme songs and bootleg tapes of Michael Jackson and

Boney M. In England, she had a radio and a lot of cultural catching

up to do. Madonna and Bananarama were her guides. Then her radio was

stolen. Her ear turned to the hip-hop booming next door. "I looked

through the window, and it was a 19-year-old kid and his mates would

roll up in a car. It just seemed so cool, like a secret club," she


In 1988, rap still held a sort of outsider appeal that immediately

connected with the young South Asian transplant. M.I.A. didn't

understand English, but she connected with the rhythm and look of

Public Enemy, N.W.A and other artists she would later appreciate for

their politics.

M.I.A. never intended to be a rapper, or even a musician. She wanted

to be an artist. As a student at St. Martin's Art School in London,

she began exploring film. But when an art gallery asked her to

contribute work to a show, she branched out to painting, channeling

her Sri Lankan experience into candy-colored stencils of tigers,

palm trees, hand grenades and warplanes.

"I always grew up on the border of everything and not quite being

let in," she says. "I was concerned about what I wanted to say but

didn't really care how it came out."

It was her paintings that brought M.I.A. into contact with Justine

Frischmann, former leader of the rock band Elastica, who

commissioned her to create the cover art for its 2000

album, "Menace," and a video for the single "Mad Dog God Dam."

Frischmann also asked M.I.A. to accompany the group on its U.S.

tour, videotaping their shows.

Electro pioneer Peaches was touring with the band and encouraged

M.I.A. to begin experimenting with the primitive sequencing machine

that had become her stock in trade

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There aren't enough pics in this thread so I thought that I'd try to change that.

These are just some press shots from her site:







PS: Sorry about changing the thumbnail type halfway through but imageshack is always moody with me and pretty much gave up a few pictures into uploading.


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