Published on November 18, 2013 | by Danil Boparai

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MIA’s Matangi fails to turn activism into art

M.I.A.

M.I.A performing in Iveraray [flickr: Izabela Nowak]

★★★

Matangi “Maya” Arulpragasam, or M.I.A. as we know her, definitely splits opinion.

It’s hard not to wonder whether she revels in it. It’s been an eventful eight years since the politically charged UK hip-hop/dance artist released her critically acclaimed debut Arular.

Since then, we have seen her use her media presence to highlight the genocide of Tamils and support the Tamil Tigers, a freedom fighting group her father was a member of, which led to accusations of being a terrorist sympathiser.

She publicly attacked Pitchfork and The New York Times on Twitter, accusing them of racism, shared a stage with Jay-Z and Kanye West at the 2008 Grammy’s whilst heavily pregnant, stuck her middle fingers up during her 2012 Superbowl performance with Madonna – which led to a lawsuit from the NFL – and notably backed Wikileaks founder Julian Assange during his rape accusation.

Panned

M.I.A. the activist seemingly has a lot to say, but there had been a lingering feeling that M.I.A. the artist has lost the ability to translate her message musically.

Whilst her second album Kala was equally as brilliant as her first, generating international crossover success with the single Paper Planes, her third album Maya was panned by critics, passed off as a “vanity project” that seemed to highlight style over substance.

There were glimmers of hope for M.I.A. fans with her Vicki Leekx mixtape, which included the brilliantly catchy Bad Girls, which is carried over to this album.

While many complained that her last effort was tuneless and a hard listen, Matangi is a pleasant return to her earlier songwriting, with catchy lyrics scored by thumping beats and exotic pop melodies.

Power

“M.I.A. coming back with power, power” she announces at the end of lead single Come Walk With Me – a track with mellow beginnings that soon becomes a trademark dance effort from the 38-year-old.

She’s still her confrontational self on this record, attacking America on Boom Skit: “Brown girl, brown girl/Turn your shit down/You know America don’t wanna hear your sound/Boom boom jungle music/Go back to India/With your crazy shit, you’re bombing up the area”.

But while most of the album works well – she delivers one of the rap performances of her career on Bring The Noize – there are some disjointed moments, which disappoint.

Second track Matangi opens with Yeezus wannabe screams and M.I.A. bizarrely reeling off the names of random countries; “Somalia! Bosnia! Cuba! Colombia!” followed by some obvious creative block; “I’m so tangy/ they call me Matangi”. This lazy lyricism so early on undersells the rest of the album’s clever wordplay.

Project

The fact that the album has some shelved material due to her well-publicised album delay also lets down the overall project.

Art and fashion has recognisably played a big part in M.I.A.’s career after threatening her way into CSM – “I told them I’d go and be a hooker in King’s Cross and make a film about it and come back in three years’ time and be like, ‘this is what happened to me when I got rejected by Saint Martins'” – and the forward thinking artist attempts keeps it on trend with Exodus and Sexodus, two very similar but beautifully orchestrated R&B tracks.

The album also features YALA, a two-years-too-late retort to Drake’s YOLO anthem The Motto, which oddly finds her chanting “YOLO” on the chorus.

Despite some of its frustrating misgivings, Matangi is overall an enjoyable return to form from Arulpragasam. If it had been released on time perhaps it could have been as effective as intended, but as we know by now, M.I.A. doesn’t like to make things easy for herself.

 

 

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