Did Maya speak Tamil

The evolution of the M.I.A.

Do you remember when “Paper Planes” provided music to the trailers of stoner comedies and sports summaries? Everyone has M.I.A. treated as if she were the new thing that suddenly popped up out of nowhere, rather than a totemic, cultural figure who had spent more than a decade working his way through war zones, middle-class music circles, tabloid battles, and political exile. We don't want to neglect your personal history, so let's follow in the footsteps of M.I.A.'s evolution — from its beginnings in the small town to its status as an unreal global icon: a pop star responsible for radio hits; an anti-style icon with awareness; a terrorism relativist; a driving, transglobal force of creativity. M.I.A. showed Central America the middle finger, supported WikiLeaks, wore pants that could have triggered epileptic seizures, and worked with some of the most innovative artists in the international underground. Before all that, she was just Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam.

Grew up all over the world

It is no secret that Maya's father supported the Tamils ​​in Sri Lanka and was the founder of the EROS group, which campaigned for a Tamil state of its own in the 1970s and 1980s. Maya was born in the UK, but the father took the whole family back to Sri Lanka when she was only six months old to fight for Tamil independence. Collecting the scraps of cloth under her mother's sewing table - "everything that fell on the floor was mine" - and surrounded by the stray bullets of civil war, the most prominent parts of M.I.A.'s future output began to take shape.

In the course of her career she has repeatedly protested against the Sri Lankan government, repeatedly pointing out its wrongdoing and accusing it of genocide against the Tamils. During her performance at Glastonbury 2014, she wore T-shirts that were used to protest the deportation of Tamils. Although they share the same concern, she has not spoken to her father much since she was a child - since his involvement with the separatist organization Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) forced the family to flee from Sri Lanka to London in 1986, where they then lived in transitional apartments, youth hostels and social housing. The Arulpragasams had returned to Great Britain with only one parent and soon found themselves in the middle of an Irish-Jamaican council estate.

She said to Time Out:

“I was ten years old and I didn't know anything about punk or hip hop. The only English words I knew were "Dance" and "Michael Jackson". We were put in an apartment in Mitchum and the district gave us secondhand furniture, secondhand clothes, and a secondhand radio that I took to bed with me every night. There was a black family on one side and an Irish family on the other. It was through her and the radio that I got to know London Posse. They were the best British hip hop crew and they had a really original flow and cool beats that put me in a good mood. And then of course there was The Clash, which was also very important to me and to London. But then the Irish family stole my radio when I was in school. "

The Clash's "Straight To Hell" was later sampled in "Paper Planes"

Maya really wanted to attend the prestigious Central St. Martins design college, but she didn't have the right qualifications. She threatened that she would “become another whore in King’s Cross and make a movie about it. Then come back three years later and say: 'That happened to me when I was turned away by the Saint Martins.' "Amazingly, that seemed to help, and she financed her studies by working in a call center.

Saint Martins and the cultural influence of its party kids has changed their lives. Maya was soon frequenting the then flourishing warehouse party scene. In her interview with Time Out, she remembers a very special night:

“When we arrived, we found this wallet. It was like in the movie: no ID, just tons of money and tons of drugs - really every brightly colored pill you can imagine. And I like colors! It was like finding a bag full of pearls. So we took a few but thought they weren't working and then just tried all the colors. Then suddenly everything happened at once. The next day I couldn't remember anything. All I remember is how I woke up in a house on Caledonian Road and my shoes were no longer heels. It was so dissolute. "

M.I.A.'s artistic streak was recognized early on, especially her bright pink graffiti stencils that depicted the uprisings in Sri Lanka. This caught Justine Frischmann's eye, who was looking for someone to accompany Elastica in their transformation from Britpop babes to punks of the new millennium. In 2001 M.I.A. then almost completely responsible for the visual appearance of Elastica and proudly showed early forms of her characteristic style in the music video for "Mad Dog God Dam". Her efforts were aptly described by Stuart Berman in a Pitchfork article as "mediating between rock star pomp and street-level crowd" and are an early mood board of the copy-and-paste DIY approach that will soon become her trademark should. When Elastica were on tour in Canada, they all ended up on a Peaches show one evening. Peaches already ended her gigs with the future hit "Fuck The Pain Away" and let the microphone go around in the crowd during the chorus. That evening Maya grabbed the thing and started shouting swear words into it. That was her first public appearance.

Elastica - "Mad Dog God Dam"

When Elastica broke up, the band's singer, Justine Frischmann, encouraged M.I.A to make her own beats on a Roland MC 505 Groovebox that Frischmann bought on vacation in the Caribbean. "People always said, 'You look like you can make music, you dance like you can, but it's obvious that you are totally unmusical," "Maya told Spin magazine in 2008. So she took Justine's advice to heart, ignored that of the others and started to experiment a little in her own home. The result? A six track demo, one of which was “Galang,” the track considered by many to be M.I.A's surprising entry into the music industry that helped her land a contract with the legendary XL Recordings label.

The relationship with Diplo, mixtapes and the debut album

The M.I.A. sound was a fusion of typical London slang with the political statements of the street sounds of thousands of different developing countries. M.I.A. just didn't really fit into a music scene that was still busy curing its millennial hangover, so she looked for a like-minded person and found him in Diplo. Physically he was the opposite, but creatively they were exactly on the same wavelength. Thomas Wesley Pentz was the worldly person Maya had been looking for.

“Aside from being a white Florida guy and she's a Sri Lankan girl in England, everything else was the same: [We were both] film graduates, [listened] to the same music when we were little, and moved us now musically in the same direction. It was just great, ”he told Pitchfork in 2005.

The couple had met at the London nightclub Fabric, where Diplo happened to be playing "Galang" in front of a bunch of sweaty teenagers. An employee of i-D magazine had introduced him to another track, "Fire Fire," which he was playing when Maya came to the club. The two quickly tied up with each other and this resulted in more than a few shared moments in the seclusion of the night. Together they recorded a mixtape called Piracy Funds Terrorism which was available for purchase at live shows and on the Internet — and which served as a foretaste of the early Internet hypes. Piracy Funds Terrorism took advantage of an online community that Diplo had long courted with his involvement in the Hollerboard, a forerunner of Facebook for music snobs. On the tape Maya put her vocals over samples from Madonna, Kraftwerk and the Eurythmics; this should be the foreplay too Arular his, her long-awaited debut album, and represented an interesting, if slightly unsatisfactory, first attempt.

While the music bloggers were still enjoying their carefree sampling and sociopolitical undertones, M.I.A. in March 2005 Arular about XL Recordings. She had named the album after her father's Tamil alias in the hope that one day he would google himself and discover his daughter's creative opus (he did too, and Maya later told the Guardian: "I think it's funny, that I pay him so much attention even though he had so little to do with my life ”). The album put a lifetime of inspiration together. Its DIY ethos was reminiscent of punk, but its bhangra samples and dancehall-infused beats anchored it firmly in the 21st century. Even today the album has even more impact than the beats of all the “Bedroom Producers” who have constant access to the Internet and SoundCloud.

The transatlantic success and the labors of international fame

With the worldwide success of Arular not keep up, which also hurt their relationship. Just recently, M.I.A. in an interview with Rolling Stone: “Missy Elliott first called me in 2005 to work on her album and I'm pretty sure we argued about it ... I wish I had enjoyed that more back then . Because the whole time I had this person on my shoulder who kept saying, 'This sucks, this sucks, this sucks. You shouldn't be in the charts. ’" So it seemed like one of those cases where the supportive boyfriend becomes protective, jealous and unsettled as soon as the girlfriend is suddenly the center of attention. As we all know, Diplo has always stayed away from the mainstream in his career, has remained totally underground and has not even flirted with chart-friendly productions.

After spending the summer playing festivals - where she was granted a rare encore at the Coachella festival - and touring with acts like Gwen Stefani and LCD Soundsystem, M.I.A quickly caught on Kala made her second record. She was now under contract with Interscope in the United States Kala, named for Maya's mother, was going to be a fairly international endeavor. Since she was not allowed to travel to the United States due to visa complications, she recorded the album in India, Liberia and Trinidad instead.

“When I started recording a song, let's say 'Boyz', in India, we would record the drums there; then I had the files in Trinidad. We put everything together and then I recorded the vocals in Trinidad, then we did a few extra stories in Brooklyn and went back to India, where we did some extra extra work, ”she told The Village Voice in 2007 . "Boyz", a trinity of influences, immediately became a dance classic. The brightly colored video was designed personally by the godmother of New Rave Fashion, Cassette Playa. It was filmed in Jamaica after the track had already gained some popularity as a club track in Kingston.


The combination of British fashion, Jamaican dancers and a vibe that just didn't seem to come from this world made “Boyz” an audiovisual frontal assault that would attract thousands of imitators. Even Diplo later accused Rihanna of copying the song "Rude Boy" - he even made a teasing mashup to back up his arguments. M.I.A. was groundbreaking.

At the end of their work Kala returned M.I.A. back to the USA. In an interview with The Village Voice, she painted a glamorous picture of the meetings Interscope had organized for her. “Will.i.am, Pharrell and Timbaland were all sitting in the same room and I had just returned from India, where I had been working in a tiny studio full of cockroaches while the kids were playing Frisbee with my blank CDs and stuff. Then suddenly I was sitting in this multi-million dollar studio with T.I. and Britney next door. "

Fortunately, neither Pharrell nor will.i.am made it onto the album. Timbaland, however, laid hands on "Come Around", a bonus track that couldn't withstand the weight of the high expectations. Maya later explained why the one-day collaboration, clearly directed by Timb, only made it to a footnote. “By the time our paths crossed, Timbaland had been Timbaland for a long time and had already done all this cool, wacky shit. He'd sampled babies, cows, and other stuff, and I was doing tracks sampling chickens. He just said, 'I'm done being cool - I want to work with Celine Dion.' "

"Come Around"

"Boyz" and "Come Around" are the sound of an evolution: an artist who is evolving and seizing various opportunities to make another highly acclaimed and commercially successful album without losing the DNA that came from Maya Arulpragasam M.I.A. made. In an early film by VBS Creative Director Spike Jonze, this goes with M.I.A. on a tour of London, meeting friends and collaborators shortly after the release of Kala. She analyzes her own tracks, including “Paper Planes”, while dancing through the social flat of her protégé Afrikan Boy. She tells Jonze that it's all about "getting visas" while she and Afrikan Boy hop around the small apartment. Back then, nobody knew what was going to happen.

The international superstar

After the release of Kala “Paper Planes” was picked up by the greatest authorities: Hollywood and Kanye West. Through its use in James Franco's stoner epic, Pineapple Express, and then on the Kanye-produced blockbuster track "Swagga Like Us" with Jay Z, Lil Wayne and T.I. there was simply no way around "Paper Planes".

The song was nominated for a Grammy in 2009 and the heavily pregnant M.I.A. performed it live with Kanye and friends at the awards ceremony. She performed in a Henry Holland dress that left nothing to the imagination, and 2008 became the year Maya officially took over the world. She became the first person ever to be nominated for a Mercury Prize, a Brit Award, a Grammy, and an Oscar. However, the performance at the Oscars came to nothing due to the birth of her son with her then fiancé, Ben Bronfman.

With all of these nominations and millions of records sold worldwide, Maya's lifestyle had changed significantly. Gone were the days when she flew to different countries to record in studios where the kids were playing in the dirt. She recorded her third album in her L.A. home, which she shared with Bronfman, a musician whose family holds the keys to the Warner Music Group.

It was inevitable that her creative process would change despite refusing to swim on a wave that could easily have washed her into the realm of emotionless hits. Instead, she invested time in her record label N.E.E.T Music and signed visual artist Jaime Martinez, with whom she created an early version of the GIF - with apt artwork instead of the current arrangement of Netflix-era television programs with quotable text.

M.I.A.'s early GIF

After giving birth to her son, she spent most of her time in L.A. Discovering countries has been replaced by reading about them on the Internet. A tool that was once of great help became detrimental to her — her political connections were visible to the public. The rise of Twitter became a curse as Maya and her son received death threats from Sri Lankan sympathizers who branded them a terrorist. She has fought back and posted videos of the wrongful killings of Tamil separatists on her profile. She fought fire with fire online and in April 2010 the situation exploded with glamor with the release of “Born Free”.

Redhead genocide, tweeting phone numbers and showing the middle finger

M.I.A.became an officially controversial figure after deciding to work with French director Romain Gavras on Born Free. It was her most visible attempt to make the unspeakable clear. The video, which is nine minutes long and shot in the desert, shows the extrajudicial murder of Tamil men, which she had spread via her Twitter feed three months earlier, by the rounding up and murder of a group of red-haired children by an armed militia will be shown. The video was released without her label's knowledge, was immediately banned from YouTube and TV networks, and made her an icon of controversy.

"Born Free" represents a variety of things - the unspoken genocide in Sri Lanka, immigration in Arizona, the mistreatment of prisoners abroad - and is symbolic of an MIA that has turned away from the colorful lightheartedness and turned to talking points behind the glittering facade look. She responded to the criticism of “Born Free” by saying that she wanted to refer to broader facts and said how “fascinated” she was by the reaction. “I think it's interesting how we react to fiction and how we react to realism on the internet… that's mainstream media, I wish I was more likely to talk about undeground theories, but I don't, I just process what I see in the mainstream, ”she told MTV News. The new Justin Bieber video is "a lot more of an attack on my eyes and senses than what I did," she later told NME.


Although Romain Gavras addressed the theme of the redhead genocide in his film Our Day Will Come continued, the digital world no longer seemed to work in M.I.A.'s favor. Their suspicions became the subject of / \ / \ / \ Y / \, their third album. The record has been stylized into a non-Googleable concept (try looking for it) and sounds trapped while its predecessors are free. It's claustrophobic and intense, with tracks imposing through CAPS LOCK. The industrial and captivating sound even makes /\ / \ / \ Y / \s attempt at a pop satire with "XXXO" covered with cynicism.

The record was well received, the subject of suspicion was as fascinating as one would expect from such a determined artist, even if it didn't get as good reviews as its predecessors. Alleged fans were likely put off by a now infamous interview with the New York Times denouncing Maya's fickle policies and tastes that did not seem to fit the author's pre-conceived notion of a "freedom fighter." Maya's response to the article was to tweet the journalist's phone number. The magazine withdrew quotes and admitted that some of them were taken out of context, but the damage was already done. M.I.A. was a controversial celebrity first and then an artist and she would have to do a lot to change that. And since the interview with the New York Times was mentioned in every other breath, M.I.A. she dug her own grave with only her middle finger.

For showing her middle finger instead of saying the word "shit" during her appearance at the 2010 Super Bowl, she had a million dollar lawsuit on her neck. She had pissed off Madonna, the Super Bowl, and the family-loving people of the United States, whose yearly support was replaced by overpriced self-expression with a cleverly placed middle finger. The music took a back seat, because in the next three years there was to be a mixtape called Vicki Leekx, which appeared on New Year's Eve 2010, remain the only publication. It was the last sigh of 2010, a middle finger in the face of a year that demoted her to nothing more than a troublemaker.

The rebirth of Matangi and the future

M.I.A.'s newest record, Matangi, recalls inspiration. It was included after M.I.A. freed herself from her swamp of inspiration in India and turned to loyal old companions like Switch to help her with the recordings. She went back to India to do research and reinvent herself. Named after the Hindu goddess of music and learning and her own name, brings Matangi a lightness with it in the claustrophobic disguise of / \ / \ / \ Y / \ was lost. It offered some calm after the storm, her face was emblazoned on the cover: M.I.A. was back.

The album's lead single "Bad Girls" is making a strong comeback. You could already hear the song Vicki Leekx Hear, Maya waited two years to get it properly released and when it came out in 2012 it came up with a video that put her back in the public eye as one of the most original visual artists of the 21st century. I mean right. In the video you can see M.I.A. rapping lying on a car that drives through the Middle East on only two wheels. What more can you ask for?

Maya has Matangi described as the culmination of their first three albums. In an arduous interview with Hot 97, she talks about how it "unites many concepts", putting together a puzzle of self-discovery that has made her a woman able to cope with the bloated questions that to be met by people like Peter Rosenberg. She is incredibly conscious but still does what she wants and emerged from the 2000s as a grown woman.

It's been two quiet years since she Matangi published. Last month she released her first solo material since 2013. “Can See Can Do” is without a doubt the harbinger of new material — we might see the fifth wave of M.I.A. Let's hope so. Until then, I'll play “Galang” up and down until my ears bleed in rainbow colors.

Tamara Roper is on Twitter: @TamaraRoper


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