July 01, 2010

M.I.A.'s Sri Lankan Graffiti

By Amy Vandivort


Award-winning electro artist M.I.A. graffiti's the world with a combustible new album

Like an almost illegible signature scrawled across an incendiary petition or in spraypaint slashed onto the side of an abandoned New York City warehouse, the title of M.I.A.’s newest album, /\/\/\Y/\, disguises her birth name in plain sight. Titling her third full-length release with an unusual series of backslashes is just a small example of the Sri Lankan rapper/singer’s habit of imbuing her music with mind-bending, genre-defying, often political messages and codes. M.I.A.’s enigmatic qualities make her music mesmerizing and exotic, and her rebellious nature makes her exciting. And with a 2009 Academy Award nomination for her Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack song “O… Saya” as well as Grammy nominations and a BET Award for Best Female Hip Hop Artist in the same year, it would seem M.I.A. has the world wrapped around her finger, and the perfect soapbox to shout from.

Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam doesn’t claim the political conviction of her father, a Tamil military supporter and Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students (EROS) member, but she has expressed her thoughts on the Sri Lankan government through her music, most notably on Kala track “Jimmy”, which confronted an offer she had received to join a genocide tour.

Her inflamatory song content combined with her brash confrontation of the media and their misinterpretations of her message angered enough people to receive death threats to her then unborn son. She considers her latest album a response to this, telling Spinner.com that she “had no choice” but to react.

/\/\/\Y/\’s first official single, “XXXO” returns to the punkish live instrumentation mixed with electro-dance vibe that M.I.A. fans know from earlier efforts Kala (2007) and Arular (2005). But that is not to say she isn’t continuing to push boundaries in what is becoming her signature style. In fact, the nine-minute-long video for album single “Born Free,” which depicts red-haired men being violently abused by the government, was banned by YouTube’s user community because of inappropriate content, causing widespread controversy.

/\/\/\Y/\ is set for release in July via M.I.A.’s own N.E.E.T. label, a platform she is also currently using to launch fellow electro troublemakers Sleigh Bells, Blaqq Starr, Jaime and Rye Rye.