Tuesday, June 02, 2009
M.I.A. & Diplo: Piracy Funds Terrorism
The Right Honorable Joe Muggs bought this link to my attention this morning and I thought it was only fair I shared it with you. For those that didn't get it first time round, way back when Maya released Aruler, then you need to go download the Piracy mixtape she did back in the day with Dipo. It's A LOT. What did happen to Lil Vicious by the way? And why haven't I played the Diplo remix of Sunshowers out yet?
Oh, and this pic I took about two years ago, at Interscope records office in LA. See what I did with the Paper Plane doh!?
Thinking about that mixtape reminds me of when I interviewed M.I.A. for Vibe magazine - my first ever piece for them and I was beside myself with having got the commission. It was so weird to write for an American mag though - and reading back on this, the edited version, it feels totally foreign to me, I can't beleive I wrote it. Well, to be honest, I didn't write a lot of it - it gets madly edited, re-written, fact-checked to death, so the piece you submit becomes almost unreconiseable. Sorry, unrecognizable...
Here it is, if anyone cares...
M.I.A No More Drama
At a small-scale venue in the UK university town of Cambridge, M.I.A, joined by DJ Diplo and a backing singer-cum-dancer, strolls onstage dressed simply in a plain shirt, jeans and pink and grey Nike high-tops. The opening act for headliner, rapper Roots Manuva, initially her curious sing-rap fusion confuses the smoked-out students and wannabe rude girls. However, within minutes hands and feet are aloft as 500-odd heads capitulate completely to the mishmash of insistent electro grooves, speaker-shaking bashment and conscious couplets. “When people see me I know they think ‘Ah, sweet Indian girl, she’ll give us a lovely Indian hook.’ But no,” says M.I.A, an acronym for Missing In Acton, a multi-racial melting-pot in West London she sometimes hangs out in. “I want to give people another point of view.”
Maya Arulpragasam, 27, certainly delivers a new sonic style. Travel to the Caribbean as an adult may inform her bass-heavy riddims, but it’s a turbulent childhood that influences her music the most. When she was eight months old, Arulpragasam’s (arul-pra-gas-am) parents left England for their homeland of Sri Lanka where her father joined the Tamil Tigers, militant revolutionaries who fought for independence from the ruling Sinhalese population. “I’m as much about survival as any rapper. But my thing isn’t the street, it goes beyond that to the jungle and a mud hut,” she says of seeing years of conflict and poverty. “To me having bullets fly past my head was no big deal. By the time I was 10 I had seen people get killed and my school had been burnt down.”
As the war in Sri Lanka worsened, the family fled first to India then, in 1989, they returned to England, leaving Maya’s father behind on the frontline. It was in the UK that the 11 year old first became hooked on hip hop. “Hearing Public Enemy gave me a sense of self, I was lost without it,” she remembers. “Listening to other peoples oppression stopped me from thinking about what I had been through.”
In 2001 M.I.A poured her experiences into a college art project. Her graffiti-based pictures illustrating Sri Lankan life attracted celebrity fans including actor Jude Law. It also impressed cult indie band Elastica, who commissioned M.I.A to film their US tour. While in America, electro act Peaches encouraged M.I.A to turn her striking images into music. “I had no formula but when you feel it, that’s a universal thing. [Using a simple 4-track and a mic] I recorded in toilets, worked with a bloke I met at a bus stop,” she says of her eclectically diverse music making. “Literally, anything goes.”
XL, home of the White Stripes and Dizzee Rascal, picked up first single Galang, made on a Roland MC-505. Enlisting various beatmakers, M.I.A shaped her expressive tales of teenage prostitution, kidnap and rebellion into the powerfully politicised album Aruler, an alias her father uses. A New York show created such industry buzz that M.I.A found herself meeting with Island CEO LA Reid. She eventually inked with hit-house Interscope, who will distribute all further recordings alongside XL.
However, having major label support doesn’t always ensure US success for a UK artist. For every Sade there are a thousand So Solids. “There’s no point giving America what it can already do,” M.I.A says. “The fact I’m not trying is maybe alright. All I am is an opinion that people haven’t heard before.”
With Nas a fan and Dip Set’s Jim Jones begging for bars, it seems M.I.A maybe that rare breed of Brit to break through. This evening she’s the support act, but it won’t be long until M.I.A finds herself on the frontline - of fame rather than fire.