photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
rapper M.I.A. is a revolutionary figure. i should just get that out of the way from the get-go.
she's revolutionary because of her background as a first-generation immigrant daughter of a founder of the TAMIL TIGERS (an ethnic SRI LANKAN separatist group in open conflict with the corrupt national government). she's revolutionary because she is outspoken about her experience as an immigrant, a status that is universally derided, discarded and intentionally misunderstood by first-world inhabitants. she's revolutionary because she is unafraid to speak her truth. and i wont lie, her flipping off the camera at the SUPER BOWL was probably the greatest thing ever on such a telecast (right up there with PRINCE's rainy performance).
what made her documentary MANTANGI MAYA M.I.A. (CINEREACH, 2018) so compelling is how you see this cultural behemoth finding her identity through 22 years of archival footage shot by MATHANGI ARULPRASAM herself. most interesting is her initial trek to SRI LANKA as an adult, seeking to learn about a struggle she was separated from and the disconnection she felt. as a THIRD CULTURE KID myself growing up in NIGERIA and KUWAIT, i can relate to being stuck between cultures and continents. my whole life i felt disconnected from AMERICAN life which has only been exacerbated during the TRUMP era. i can relate to the experience of being tied to an identity of which you have little control, as an AMERICAN who lived abroad for years in NIGERIA, ALBANIA, KUWAIT, VENEZUELA and MYANMAR. that dilemma definitely hits home. and i believe part of my reason for having so much respect for M.I.A. is her fearlessness in speaking her truth in spite of intellectual charlatans like LYNN HIRSCHBERG and BILL MAHER and the tired conservative media and corrupt political interests they facilitate in effectively silencing and putting down BLACK and BROWN people. its that idea of speaking up for a forgotten population and not shutting up when the WHITE adults in the room tell you to shut up. honestly fuck them.
i dont know how one doesnt respect her fearlessness and moral clarity.
this documentary is also the type of film that makes me uncomfortable in that it showcases the triviality and shallowness with which of our national discussion regarding war and human suffering. i was lucky enough to have had the opportunity to teach secondary english at an international school in MYANMAR a few years back and was taken aback by the dismissive tone by western journalists when discussing the suffering of the ROHINGYA population. apparently AMERICAN blood is more precious. the pain and suffering of BLACK and BROWN people was less newsworthy. same here with regards to SRI LANKA.
again, i am glad for her voice and look forward to her new album. cant wait to see what she chooses to address this go around given the state of the world. i think deep down she knows she has the respect and admiration of her people, so being deliberately smeared by western media conglomerates isnt her worry. it comes with the territory.
it proves that she is dangerous. that she is a revolutionary.
cover by nacrowe
check out HERE this recent secret, unannounced episode of DEER GOD RADIO that celebrated recording artists i've written about in the CHECK OUT THIS BAND section of the DEERBLOG over the past year. writing about music and exposing artists i admire is a passion of mine so this is a special episode for me. more to come!
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW and CLASSICAL-ISH WITH NUTMEG are available here at the DEER GOD website.
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photo manipulation by nacrowe
when SRI LANKAN-born, BRITISH mc M.I.A. came on the scene in the 2000s she was a revelation partly due to the unique production of her first two records and partly due to the unique global scope of her lyrics.
given the dearth of powerful female mcs at the time (and since), it is quite remarkable that this daughter of emigre political refugees from SRI LANKA (her father was involved with the TAMIL TIGERS) would assume such an outspoken role in such a hostile genre. it is not lost on anyone that women involved in the genre usually have to debase themselves with overly sexualized videos in order to gain traction in the industry (exemplified by likes of NICKI MINAJ, CARDI B, RIHANNA, MEGAN THEE STALLION, LIL' KIM and FOXY BROWN). in a sense M.I.A. is a bit of a throwback to a previous era where women where considered equals in terms of their lyrical content (artists like SALT-N-PEPA, QUEEN LATIFAH, MC LYTE, LAUREN HILL and MISSY ELLIOT). it is almost comical that she was side-by-side with NICKI MINAJ in a now overlooked MADONNA video, since in my mind they are opposite ends of the spectrum, almost like comparing PJ HARVEY or PATTI SMITH to CHRISTINA AGUILERA. but maybe i am off-base for making comparisons between female artists. let them have the freedom to portray themselves as they wish to represented. amen.
for me what separates M.I.A. from her competition (of both genders) is her use of sound collages and lyrical refrains that represent the hidden communities of underdeveloped countries around the world. hearing a song that deconstructs the power of money ("$20" off of KALA) within a third-world context is something that i have seen firsthand abroad living in NIGERIA and ALBANIA but have rarely come across in pop culture. it is just not part of the idiom of mass entertainment. same goes for her visuals which can showcase everything from amorous GIFS from the ARAB world (think about how much subterfuge is involved in that) to BOLLYWOOD dance production to Indian subcontinent visual culture of hand-painted shop signs.
when i hear her records i intuit that i am riding along an artist in full control of her artistic vision. not to get back to my point about female representation in HIP HOP, but i get the feeling M.I.A. would never allow herself to get drawn into that game. in her i see another singular artist in the vein of past luminaries like BJÖRK, EMMYLOU HARRIS, PJ HARVEY, CARLY SIMON, JANIS JOPLIN, PATTI SMITH and MARIANNE FAITHFUL who follow their own distinct lead.
could not recommend her music any stronger. check her out.