I heard this incredible story of Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam, singer for the group M.I.A. She’s gone from her father working as an organizer for the Tamil Tigers in India, living as a refugee in London, getting a degree from London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, working with Jay Z, Missy Elliott, Timberland, Gwen Stefani, Nas, said “Her sound is the future,” she’s modeled for Marc Jacobs, contributed a score for Slumdog Millionaire and in February performing at the Grammy Awards to living in Bed-stuy.
Check out this Paper Planes DFA Remix, performed by M.I.A., and featured in Slumdog Millionaire!
Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam was born in Hounslow, London, the daughter of Kala and Arul Pragasam. Her family is of Sri Lankan Tamil descent. When she was six months of age, her family moved back to their native Sri Lanka. Motivated by his wish to support the Tamil militancy on the island, her father became a political activist, adopting the name Arular, and was a founding member of The Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students (EROS), a political Tamil group that worked to establish an independent Tamil Eelam. Her alias, M.I.A., stands for both Missing in Acton and Missing in Action.
Because of the conflict, the first years of her life were marked by displacement. Contact with her father was strictly limited, as he was in hiding from the Sri Lanka Army. As the civil war escalated, it became unsafe for the family to stay in Sri Lanka, so they relocated to Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, moving into a derelict house, with sporadic visits from her father. Later resettling in Jaffna, the conflict deteriorated further, and the family once again tried to flee the island. She has stated that her school was destroyed in a government raid. Eventually she, her two siblings, and mother (Kala) moved back to London where they were housed as refugees. It was in the late 1980s, on a council estate in Mitcham (South London), that Arulpragasam began to learn English. Arulpragasam speaks English and the Tamil language fluently. Arulpragasam has an older sister, Kali Arulpragasam, and a younger brother, Sugu.
Arulpragasam graduated from London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, with a degree in fine art, film, and video. She currently lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York, in the United States and is engaged to Benjamin Brewer, singer and guitarist for the band The Exit and a member of the Bronfman family. M.I.A. gave birth to a boy on February 11, 2009,naming him Ikhyd Edgar Arular Bronfman.
Art and film
Arulpragasam’s Pocko Editions Art book cover. (2002)
Arulpragasam’s first public exhibition of paintings in 2001 at the Euphoria Shop in Portobello, London, featured graffiti art and spray-paint canvasses mixing Tamil political street art with images of London life and consumerist culture. The show was nominated for the Alternative Turner Prize; (Jude Law was among early buyers of her art); and a monograph book of the collection was published by Pocko, simply titled M.I.A.
During her time in film school, she cites “radical cinema—Harmony Korine and Dogme 95″ as some of her cinematic inspirations. Having written a script, Arulpragasam was approached by John Singleton to work on a film in Los Angeles. Also, Arulpragasam expressed an early interest in fashion and textiles (her mother is a seamstress)—designing confections of “bright fluorescent fishnet fabrics”—and was a roommate of fashion designer Luella Bartley. In July 2008, she showcased some designs in a short video she made called Real Pirates of the Caribbean starring Okley Leslie, which she posted on her official website. Clothes from her limited-edition “Okley Run” line—Mexican and Afrika jackets and leggings, Islamic hoodies, and tour-inspired designs including “People Vs. Money Tour Tees” and “KALA Tour Tees” (T-shirts)—were sold in September 2008 at fashion-week Opening Ceremony shops in Los Angeles and New York in the United States and through her web store.
Music career . Early career
A commission from Elastica’s Justine Frischmann to provide the artwork and cover image for the band’s second album, The Menace, led to Arulpragasam following the band on tour in forty American states, video-documenting the event, and eventually directing the music video for Elastica’s single “Mad Dog God Dam.” The support act on the tour, electroclash artist Peaches, introduced Arulpragasam to the Roland MC-505 sequencing drum machine and encouraged her to experiment in the artform that she felt least confident in—music. Working with a simple set-up (a second-hand 4-track tape machine, a 505, and a radio microphone), back in London, Arulpragasam worked up a series of six songs onto a demo tape—included were the songs “Lady Killa,” “M.I.A.,” and “Galang,” which aroused interest.
21-second sample of M.I.A.’s single “Galang” from album Arular. First released in 2003, with its mix of 505 beats and claps, edgy vocals and lyrics, it marked M.I.A.’s emergence in underground independent music circles worldwide.
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A mix of dancehall, electro, jungle, and world music, Showbiz Records pressed 500 copies of the independent vinyl single “Galang” in 2003, which became popular and made an immediate impact. In 2004, file sharing and airplay on college radio of songs such as “Galang” and “Sunshowers”, with the rise in popularity of them in clubs and around the Internet by word of mouth, made her a household name to international music listeners before she had graced a stage, leading commentators to herald her as one of the first successful examples of doing so—someone who could be used to study and reexamine the impact of the internet on the way that listeners listened to and were exposed to new music. Major record labels caught onto the popularity of “Galang,” and M.I.A. eventually signed to XL Recordings.
“Galang” was re-released in 2004. The accompanying music video for the song, featuring multiple M.I.A.s amid a backdrop of her militaristic graffiti artwork animated and brought to life, was art-directed by M.I.A., depicting scenes of urban Britain and war. Her next single, “Sunshowers,” released on 5 July 2004, and its B-side (“Fire Fire”) described guerrilla warfare and asylum seeking, with one reviewer characterizing the former as “a portrait of religious persecution” and the latter as a “tug-of-war battle between pop culture and guerrilla culture.” For this track, M.I.A. filmed a video in the jungles of South India. A successful mashup mixtape of Arular tracks, Piracy Funds Terrorism, was released in December 2004 via the blogosphere and her live shows.
M.I.A. performing at Sónar in June 2005.
Originally completed and ready for release in September 2004, Arular’s release was delayed over several months, with pushed back dates of release between December 2004 and February 2005 mentioned. Prior to the LP’s release, Arulpragasam made her North American debut at the Drake Hotel in Toronto in February 2005, pulling in a diverse crowd. Receiving a response described as “phenomenal”, attendees already knew many of her songs.
Arulpragasam’s debut album Arular was eventually released worldwide in March 2005 to universal critical acclaim.Composing and titling the album Arular in acknowledgment of her and her father’s past, much of its focus lay in experimentation. Consisting of bold, jarring and ambient sounds, complimentary lyrics on Arular were both observational and reflective of her experiences of identity politics, indie culture, popular culture, poverty, revolution, war and with the working class, exemplified by songs such as “Amazon”, “Fire Fire” and “M.I.A.”. Referencing the PLO and the Tamil independence movements, its themes, use of culture-jamming, multi-lingual slang, and its mix of strident and elusive imagery, social commentary and storytelling incited debate.
Arulpragasam was first exposed to Western radio in London, hearing broadcasts emanating from her neighbours’ flats in the late ’80s. Her liking for hip-hop and dancehall developed from there, finding a common identity with “the starkness of the sound” of Public Enemy, records by MC Shan, Ultramagnetic MCs and the “weird, distinct style” of acts such as Silver Bullet and London Posse. Her time at college shaped her affinity for punk, the emerging sound of Britpop alt-rock and electroclash, after which she began writing songs. She has spoken of the large influence musicians The Slits, Malcolm Mclaren and The Clash had on her living in West London.
Making Arular in her bedroom in West London, she built tracks off her demos with programmed beats she wrote on the 505. Her work attracted artists such as the rapper Nas, who by early 2005 stated, “Her sound is the future.” Following “Galang” and “Sunshowers,” she later released her third single from Arular, the funk carioca-inspired co-composition “Bucky Done Gun” in July 2005. Arulpragasam performed through 2005 supporting her album at Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which drew a strongly favourable response and an unusually large crowd for the billing she played, the Bue Festival, a free headlining show at Central Park Summerstage and the Summer Sonic Fest as well as at other venues. She also toured with Roots Manuva and LCD Soundsystem. She appeared on the track “Bad Man” on Missy Elliott’s 2005 album The Cookbook.
On 19 July 2005, M.I.A. was shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize for Arular. In December, Arular was the second most featured album in music critics’ Year-End Top 10 lists for 2005, and named best of 2005 by publications such as Blender, Stylus and Musikbyrån. M.I.A. ended 2005 briefly touring with Gwen Stefani and the Big Day Out festival.
M.I.A. performing at the Prince in Melbourne in February 2006.
In 2006 M.I.A. wrote and recorded her second studio album, Kala, named after her mother. Following censorship controversies and documented U.S. visa problems in 2006, Kala was worked on while M.I.A. travelled through several locations including India, Trinidad, Liberia, Jamaica, Australia, Japan, the UK and US, using more diverse live instrumentation and brash colours for heavier textures, and layering, whilst exploring traditional dance and folk styles such as soca and urumee melam (in songs such as “Boyz”) and rave culture and music (in “XR2″) among others. The unconventional recording sessions brought out, as did her artwork and photography for the album, both the celebratory and the “rawer, darker, outsider” themes that were felt to have run through Kala. The album also saw her re-embrace bootleg soundtracks of the film music of India from her childhood. Arulpragasam wrote songs about immigration politics, her personal relationships and war. She made songs and videos such as “Hit That” and “Bird Flu” available on her internet accounts, official website and for digital download. M.I.A. featured in the song “Come Around”, a bonus track on Timbaland’s 2007 album Shock Value and a track on Kala. Before her second album’s release, Arulpragasam confronted the public media about what she felt was some journalists’ motives behind misinformation regarding her work. Released on 11 June 2007, “Boyz’,” music video was co-directed by Jay Will and M.I.A. and the album’s second single “Jimmy,” followed (about a genocide tour date invite Arulpragasam received whilst in Liberia).
General acclaim met Kala’s release in August 2007. Arulpragasam’s 2007 tour in support of Kala, including at Rock en Seine, Get Loaded in the Park — a festival gig that drew a crowd sing-along pitch described in a review as “near hysterical,” the Electric Picnic, Connect, the Virgin Festivals, the Osheaga Festival and Parklife. M.I.A. ended 2007 with a mini-tour of venues in the UK. She provides guest vocals on supporting act Buraka Som Sistema’s kuduro song “Sound of Kuduro.”
In the documentary Spike Jonze Spends Saturday with M.I.A, M.I.A. and director Spike Jonze visit Afrikan Boy in his immigrant neighborhood of Woolwich, South London. In the documentary, M.I.A spoke of the possibility of launching her own record label entitled Zig-Zag, with Afrikan Boy’s track “Lidl” being the first release.
In December 2007, Kala was named the best album of 2007 by publications including Rolling Stone and Blender. M.I.A. released Paper Planes – Homeland Security Remixes EP digitally on 11 February 2008. In early 2008, M.I.A. DJed at the Marc Jacobs fashion show after party, and modelled for “Marc by Marc Jacobs” in Spring/Summer 2008.
M.I.A. is referenced in a song of the same name by anti-folk artist Emmy the Great.
M.I.A. toured during the first half of 2008, with opening tourmates including Holy Fuck, before stating she would end touring in support of Kala, cancelling her European tour dates through June and July, opting to work on her next album. Stating “This is my last show, and I’m glad I’m spending it with all my hippies,” M.I.A performed a set at the Bonnaroo Music Festival.
In 2008, M.I.A. started her music label, N.E.E.T. signing Rye Rye. She is currently working on Rye Rye’s and her own new album, using instruments such as the Korg Kaossilator. During her tour she said “I went to Mexico to the pyramids… I sat on top of the pyramid making a beat and it just sounded so huge, like the biggest reverby beat.” M.I.A. has discussed possible themes on her next record and tour mate Egyptian Lover has said that he will be collaborating with M.I.A. on her third album.
In a September 2008 interview M.I.A. stated “All my teenage-angst kind of songs go to [Rye Rye].” On her next album, she stated “I’d love to write songs like The Last Shadow Puppets or something, or like old Blur songs” and revealed that she is currently working on a “really pretty song” with the working title “Live In Love In Pain.”
M.I.A. recorded a cover of Tom Waits’ “Way Down in the Hole” with Blaqstarr, (The Wire’s main theme). The How Many Votes Fix Mix EP featuring a remix of “Boyz” with Jay-Z was released.
M.I.A. contributed songs for A. R. Rahman’s score of Slumdog Millionaire, which included the collaboration “O… Saya”, releasing the soundtrack in late 2008 via N.E.E.T. In 2009, “O… Saya” was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Politics and global ideas are prominent in M.I.A.’s art. On the political nature of her work she has said, “I have to be true to that–I can’t take certain things away. I do have a political background. I’m only in England, learning this language and building a life in this society, because of political reasons. Why would I deny that?” M.I.A. has talked about the fusion of politics into her music. “Nobody wants to be dancing to political songs. Every bit of music out there that’s making it into the mainstream is really about nothing. I wanted to see if I could write songs about something important and make it sound like nothing. And it kind of worked.”
Asked in 2005 if she was always political, M.I.A. referenced her political development. “I think I was always slightly political but my issues change with what’s going on in my life. Politics is something that I’ve never been able to discuss with anyone and everyone…my life in England for the first ten years wasn’t really political. It was more about getting an equal shot as the next person. I wanted a shot at an education…politics came back to me after I went back to Sri Lanka. Once I studied and wanted to be a filmmaker, I tried to make a documentary on what it was like to be a young person in Sri Lanka. I wanted to make a film that could compare the 19-year-olds in Sri Lanka. That’s when I came across so much politics.
M.I.A. has expressed discontent with the formula for the War on Terror and its global impact. “You can’t separate the world into two parts like that, good and evil. Terrorism is a method, but America has successfully tied all these pockets of independence struggles, revolutions, and extremists into one big notion of terrorism.” She has spoken of her experiences before and during the Sri Lankan civil war, the human rights abuses Sri Lanka is accused of perpetrating, informing on the current situation on the island on her MySpace. M.I.A. has visited Liberia several times, releasing details via MySpace on the progress of her school-building projects in the country. She revisited Liberia in 2006 to meet the President of Liberia Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and war-affected people there including ex-child soldiers and featured in a “4Real” TV-Series documentary on the post war situation in the country with activist Kimmie Weeks.
In an August 2007 interview, Arulpragasam said “It’s O.K. to add new elements to your ideas, to your existence…There will be more bridges built between the developed and developing world.” M.I.A. has included numerous artists from developed and developing countries in her music. She says the attention entertainment figures bring to the developing world is beneficial, but has noted that while Western music has permeated into developing societies such as in Africa, many people in the West do not “hear the starving African kids say something or do something or sing something or express something. We show them but they don’t have a voice.” In a documentary, she stated “We have all these preconceived ideas of a kid in Africa…dudes in their African cloths singing under a tree with a stick, you know, and it’s not like that. It’s way more progressive. It’s way more progressive than music in the West.”
M.I.A proved popular at the annual Experience Music Project’s Pop Conference held in Seattle, USA in April 2008, with paper submissions and discussions on her and her work presented on the theme of “Shake, Rattle: Music, Conflict, and Change.”
M.I.A has called the actions of the Sri Lankan government in the current Sri Lankan Civil War as genocide against Tamils. Sri Lanka’s Foreign Secretary, Dr. Palitha Kohona responded by stating “I think she is misinformed, and it’s best that she stay with what she’s good at, which is music, not politics.” The video for her song “Bird Flu,” shows children dancing in front of “what looks like [the LTTE's] logo – a roaring tiger”.
On January 28, 2009, M.I.A. sat down for an interview with PBS television host Tavis Smiley, in which she clarified previous confusions about her alleged association and support of the violent activities of the Tamil Tigers. She blames propaganda for the misconception that “when you think Tamil, you automatically think Tiger” and that we need to be taught that “Tamil equals Tamil civilians,” since the Tamil Tigers are a completely separate entity. She is opposed to the violence committed by the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers.
Text from http://www.wikipedia.com