Colombo, Media and Communications, Peace and Conflict

Missing in Action – the sound girl …

Exhausted after reading too many verbose analysisez of Sri Lanka’s conflict?

Ashamed of having to recite “Namo tassa, bhagavato arahato, samma sambuddhasa” over and over again?

Bored with the mediocrity of your surroundings?

Then, open your ears and eyes to some tunes and video clips from Maya Arulpragasam aka MIA.

I am no reviewer or critic – so this is not a review or critique.

I stumbled across MIA’s music at the start of 2005 when a friend was interviewing her for an article. Back then, she was about to launch her first album Arular – the alias name of her PLOTE activist father.

There was something very exciting about discovering music that sounds completely different to what I had been listening to. It stands out – completely. Kind of like Radiohead’s OK Computer. Not similiar in the music necessarily – but in the way it stands out.

Kala is her latest album. This time it’s named after MIA’s mother. I just listened to ‘Paper Planes’. You should lie flat – squash yourself against the ground – when you listen to this one. It’s one for the bunker – a sountrack for crawling under barbed wire entwined with fairy lights.

Kala went to number 3 in the iTunes ratings and appeared on the US Billboard at number 18. Not bad.

Rolling Stones Magazine gives her latest album 4.5 stars and compares her two productions:

Arular was about M.I.A. — her ambition, her education, her contradictions, her history of violence. Kala is about the brown-skinned Other now obsessing Euro-America — described from the outside by a brown-skinned sympathizer who’s an insider for as long as her visa holds up.

Rolling Stones gets it wrong when MIA’s father is described as a member of the Tamil Tigers. Sri Lanka’s fuzzy politics is obviously too much for the old rock mag. But then again – there’s an image of a elephant photoshopped with a tigers head on her blog, which can be found off her website – a reminder of the berserk designs that were coming out at the dawn of the web. Visit her site – but make sure you aren’t prone to epileptic fits.

Getting back to her blog. The entry before the one showing the elephant with a tiger head is a post that says:

i went to see family this weekend and they told me that people of SRILANKA originate from a mix of dravidian indians and aborigini people.

Next to the post is a link to an image of a Koala bear (cute Australian animal). Following that are some links to MP3s of music by Australian Indigenous artists, and what appears to a group from Africa. It’s all fantastic.

The very lovely All Things Considered (US National Public Radio) has also reviewed MIA’s work:

At a time when globalization is both dissolving and reinforcing national identities, M.I.A.’s music speaks from a blurry borderland through a lingua franca of agitated, propulsive pop. The energy should be familiar to restless youth almost anywhere. Aptly enough, one of the recurring sounds that shout out from the album are the voices of children.

Most of Kala was recorded in different cities in India, Trinidad, Angola — more than half a dozen locations around the world. On her first album, M.I.A. imported the sounds of Sao Paolo favelas and Kingston shantytowns into her studios; with Kala, she went mobile, making it a point to record on location as much as possible. The noisy clash of voices and rhythms makes Kala sound like it’s from everywhere and nowhere at once.

Now those are the words of someone who knows how to reivew!

Luckily for us who are on this small far-away island that gave Maya MIA some of her code, much of her work can be found on the net. There’s a selection of video clips on her site, and if you google or bittorrent or limewire or whatever-wire, you’ll know doubt be able to access all her creations.

One of my favourite video clips is Sunflowers – from her first album. Check it out below.

  • niran

    Her music is quite refreshing. She’s fast becoming Sri Lanka’s most famous person if she isn’t already – at least among the younger generation of outsiders who don’t follow cricket.

    Also, Rolling Stones is closer to the truth than you are. Mathangi’s father was with EROS – the only militant movement that cast their lot with the LTTE. He’s not PLOTE. The guy who writes P’s speeches is EROS Balakumar. Arular is Balakumar’s right hand man.

  • sam

    Hi Niran, I did some brief research and worked out he was with PLOTE. But thanks for the new information. It’s appreciated.

    It would be great to get a write up on EROS if you had the time.

    Ta, S.

  • niran

    just google it up mate. there must be tons of material online on eros, eros arular and mathangi’s father- the eros guy.

  • des

    I read an interview where she said she blames the govt and LTTE equally for suffering the civilians go through and is trying to be a voice for the civilians if at all. I thought that was a really interesting point of view, if the interviewer transcribed verbatim.

    Here it is:

    Q There is definitely a consistent continuity between your art, your music and of course your music videos. One item that I’ve noticed in your art and your videos is the tiger. I’m sure you’ve been asked about this before…..

    A. Yeah!!! People are all like Whoohahahaha! If I wear a Bangles Tigers jersey or an American football team shirt with a tiger on it people think that I’m a Tamil Tiger supporter. That is really interesting because people just think that Tamil equals Tiger, even though I do not have Tamil Tiger logos. Its like I’m sitting here in this Ukrainian club and the two people who came to photograph me are wearing tops with a tiger on the hood and a tiger print t shirt. They do it and no one is photographing them and putting them on the internet saying they support the Tamil Tigers. I’m not some manufactured propaganda machine by the Tamil Tigers, but I think people assume that I am. I’m like, hell no! Tamil Tigers fucked my life up and so did the Sinhelse government. They both fucked my life up. I was just a kid skipping around the street in Sri Lanka totally oblivious to politics and anything that was going on. Everyday at school we had to sing the Sri Lankan national anthem, and it just changed one day to drill lessons every morning, like how to duck bullets. I don’t have any affiliation to either of those entities. The statement I try to make through my music is that it’s the civilians and refugees that get caught up in the cross fire of politics. It is the civilians and refugees that get affected by two middle aged men sitting somewhere fighting over some ego addiction to war bullshit, money, and oil, or whatever the thing is.