M.I.A. (Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam) blazed a glaze to pull up the people and started a soul revolution with this completely unique trans-global mélange of political pop and serious swag. Born in London and raised in Sri Lanka during the civil war, during which time her father Arul Pragasam (AKA Arular) became an activist for the Tamil cause and her family went into hiding. After her school was destroyed in a government raid, her mother brought her and her younger brother back to London. Maya reveals: "When you come over you start from scratch: you’re nothing, you don’t have anything, you don’t have self-worth. You could have been a doctor, but, no you’re not going to come here and start doing your doctor thing — so you have to work with that. Maybe that’s harsh and I just have to deal with it, but by the time you get to the West as a refugee, you are an immigrant broken by war...I found understanding hip-hop a universal thing. Not just understanding the rhythm, how they danced, their style or their attitude; there was something else, beyond song structure and language. It works on a few basic human principles, in terms of what stimulation buttons to push. It had everything for me that other art forms did not: content and struggle behind it. And it’s not necessarily a consciousness thing – it’s a natural thing. And because I was able to adapt to it, hip-hop gave me a home, an identity. Before, people looked at me and thought ‘Oh, she’s a Paki refugee kid who doesn’t know how to speak English.’ Now they looked and said, ‘Her trousers are so baggy, she’s got bleach in her hair, her Walkman’s on too loud.’ These kinds of [bigotries] were easier to deal with. If you’re alienated because of the type of music you listen to, it’s okay because you have a tribe of people who understand it, and I knew that in little holes all over the world, there were kids picking up on that shit, joining the secret club. That’s how you feel as a teenager. It was an outsider culture, for those who didn’t have a sense of belonging in the mainstream. I was already used to that thinking, being a Tamil, a guerilla. Hip-hop was the most guerilla thing happening in England at the time. You had Public Enemy fronting it, and that felt like home, and I could dance while I was feeling shitty. It had a whole aesthetic to it – it was being really crass with pride."
Maya graduated from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design after studying fine art, film, and video. She was commissioned to do the album cover for Elastica's second album 'The Menace' and document their American tour. She began experimenting with lead singer Justine Frischmann's Roland MC-505 groovebox while they were vacationing at the Grenadine island of Bequia and adopted her stage name: "M.I.A. came to be because of my missing cousin. I wanted to make a film about where he was since he was M.I.A. (Missing in Action) in Sri Lanka. We were the same age, went to the same schools growing up. I was also living in Acton at the time. So I was living in Acton looking for my cousin missing in action."
Back in London, she recorded a demo of "Galang" which was released as a single on a limited pressing on independent Showbiz Records and proceeded to build an international following with her Myspace page. The attention led to a deal with XL Records and began work on her debut album 'Arular'. The album features features Maya Arulpragasam on vocals and artwork; engineering by Pete Hofmann; chorus vocals by Nesreen Shah; and a crew of producers that included Paul Byrne, Cavemen, Diplo, KW Griff, Richard X, Switch, Anthony Whiting, and Wizard. Maya says: “I’m always really up for collaborating, but when I was making my album, I felt there was some weird misunderstanding with me and what was going on in grime. They were like, 'What is she? What’s she doing?’ But I didn’t want to put it in anyone’s face. I just quietly got on with it. And I couldn’t afford anyone to come on my album. When I was making the album, I had no money. I basically hustled and borrowed studio time, and when I got signed, it was still on a budget... I found it too hard to convince people of what I was doing. I thought I’d just get on with it. I figured that in time, when they thought [it] was good enough, they’d come to me. But at the time, I didn’t wanna convince anyone it was good. I felt it was much better to prove that I could be an individual. Right now with urban music in England, it’s so much about that posse culture. If you watch every grime video, that’s all it is. But if you teach any of those kids to stand up on their own and do something that comes from nothing, that’s kinda cool. It’s an old school way of doing shit, but it’d be nice for the young kids to get back into that. I think you can find too much comfort in a posse ... It was like, a lot of things coming together really fast. Because I didn't really try to be a musician all my life. I was just putting one foot in front of the other; just meeting people and finding out things about myself. Half of it was learning about the music and the music industry, because I had no idea about the actual industry...[I was just starting out] like, turning demos into real songs. And then, between 2003 and 2005, I sort of met the industry, met Diplo, went to America because of the mixtape. By then I already made an art show, which then went into the music and then made all the artwork, and was making my own website. A lot of it was handmade and self-made...XL took notice and gave me a record deal, and that was like the most liberating thing on the planet — to have somebody care that your work is any good, that they would give you a check. And for the first time I was able to like, pay rent — move in to somewhere and pay rent, put a deposit down to buy a computer — because up to that point I used Justine's Roland MC 505. She took the 505 back and I had to buy my own one. That to me was like a massive life-changing thing to be able to afford your own equipment, and you don't owe anything or anything you do to anyone. And to have that independence and freedom was amazing."
'Arular' reached one hundred and ninety on the US Billboard 200, ninety-eight in the UK, ninety-seven in Belgium, seventy-eight in Japan, seventy-one in Germany, forty-seven in Sweden, twenty-seven on the Australian Urban albums chart, twenty in Norway, sixteen on the US top independent albums chart, fourteen on the US top heatseekers chart, and number three on the US top electronic albums chart. Her father asked her to change the name of the album; but she refused.
"Bucky Done Gun"
"Banana Skit" (Maya Arulpragasam)
"Pull Up The People" (M. Arulpragasam, A. Brucker, Paul Byrne)
"Bucky Done Gun" (M. Arulpragasam, Wesley Pentz, Bill Conti, Ayn Robbins, Carol Connors)
"Sunshowers" (M. Arulpragasam, Ross Orton, Steve Mackey, August Darnell, Stony Browder Jr.)
"Fire Fire" (M. Arulpragasam, Anthony Whiting)
"Dash The Curry Skit" (M. Arulpragasam)
"Amazon" (M. Arulpragasam, Richard X)
"Bingo" (M. Arulpragasam, Whiting)
"Hombre" (M. Arulpragasam, Dwain 'Willy' Wilson III)
"One For The Head Skit" (M. Arulpragasam)
"10 Dollar" (M. Arulpragasam, Richard X)
"U.R.A.Q.T." (M. Arulpragasam, Quincy Jones)
"Galang" (M. Arulpragasam, Justine Frischmann, Orton Mackey)
"M.I.A." (M. Arulpragasam, Frischmann, Sugu Arulpragasam)