The M.I.A factor

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PERSONALITY Sri Lankan-British singing sensation M.I.A talks about her music rooted in dissent, politics, art, spirituality and India

She came rapping into the hearts of the young. Rapping about issues that the world would conveniently like to forget. Her original style of electronic, hip hop and world music caught the imagination of a generation wired together in cyberspace. Her strikingly fresh style in art engaged onlookers. Through the two, art and music, her stage acquired a new lingo, a cool dimension.

With Madonna

M.I.A. has shared stage space with musical greats like Madonna and Rihanna, standing there in her own right. She has sung and been a part of the A.R. Rahman’s team for the music of Slumdog Millionaire .

Known for her avant-garde music, she has been nominated twice for the Grammy awards, an Academy award, the Mercury Prize and the Alternative Turner Prize award. And yet M.I.A. is nervous about her concert here. “It is more nerve-wracking than singing along with Madonna,” she says.

M.I.A.’s story is one of displacement of a young girl who fled from war-torn Jaffna to Chennai and moved on to London. There she created a space for her and her countrymen. The Tamil cause features strongly in her music and yet the singer has moved above to encompass a global approach to issues of discrimination, genocide, migration, displacement and acceptance.

Maya’s father Arul Pragasam was a Tamil activist and later became a mediator between the Tamil and the Sri Lankan government. But M.I.A. and her brother saw little of their father. What they saw and experienced were hardships of a life of a refugee, the struggle to merge with a new culture, adopt and adapt and be accepted. She says with the maturity of a person much ahead of her 37 years, “It is important to not let politics become contagious,” and talks of a tumultuous journey that need not end in hate and revenge but in a reincarnated form where peace rules.


Her name M.I.A. evokes curiosity. “It is a coincidence that Mathangi is the Goddess of Music and the spoken word, which can be rap,” she says elucidating that she found this information on research. “The Goddess is an untouchable and can be a refugee; she carries a sword for a cause, and in the chant- Aum Aim Hrim …. the word AIM is an anagram for M.I.A. M.I.A.also stands for ‘Missing In Action’, which often happens to people in war-torn zones.” Her art is not conceptual but direct like her music. Her first album, Arular , 2005, named after her father, was about finding something new. “I was angry but optimistic,” she says. With Kala , her next album, named after her mother, she moved on to discovering herself. “I discovered that everybody was the same- Ram, Sam or Cham, be it Indian, American or Chinese.” Maya , her third album, came at a time when China banned Google, M.I.A. feels very close to India, having studied in Chennai in her early years. “I came to India because it was open to me again. I was involved with Slumdog Millionaire . That happens all the time in India. There is an ‘Indian Dream’ and I want to find out about that.” Her visit has brought her closer to Indian spirituality. She discovered the Goddess who stands for her name and represents freedom of speech, somewhere simulating the Goddess through her music and art.

Kerala connect

Kerala is not new to M.I.A. either. She was here in 2005 “in the jungles” to make a music video with Rajesh Touchriver, whom she tracked via the Internet.


  • ‘Sunshowers’ and Galang’ (Singles 2004)

  • Arular (Debut album, 2005)

  • Kala ( 2007)

  • Maya (2010)

  • Matangi (2011)

  • Autobiographical book titled M.I.A. (2012)

  • She co wrote Give Me All Your Luvin with Madonna for the album MDNA

  • (Source: Internet)




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