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Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam (Tamil: மாதங்கி 'மாயா' அருள்பிரகாசம்) (born 18 July 1975), better known by her stage name M.I.A., is an English songwriter, record producer, singer, rapper, fashion designer, and artist of Tamil Sri Lankan origin.

An accomplished visual artist by 2002, M.I.A. came to prominence in early 2004 through file-sharing of her singles "Galang" and "Sunshowers" on the Internet. She released her Mercury Prize-nominated debut album Arular in 2005. Her second album, Kala, was released in 2007 and gained her mainstream chart success. She has been nominated for two Grammy Awards and an Academy Award.

Her compositions have been noted to encompass various genres, often with political lyricism and artwork. M.I.A. has described her music style as being "other." In addition to her work as a graphic designer, providing artwork and photography for releases and as a director of music videos, she has also experimented with documentary film and in 2008 released a collection of her fashion designs. She is the founder of the record label N.E.E.T.

In 2009, Time magazine placed M.I.A. in the Time 100 list of "World's Most Influential people" for having "global influence across many genres".

Personal background

Mathangi Arulpragasam was born in Hounslowmarker, Londonmarker, Englandmarker to Kala and Arul Pragasam. Her family is of Sri Lankan Tamil descent. When she was six months of age, her family moved back to their native Sri Lankamarker. Motivated by his wish to support the Tamil militancy on the island, her father became a political activist, adopting the name Arular, and was a founding member of The Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students (EROS), a political Tamil group that worked to establish an independent Tamil Eelam. Her stage name, M.I.A., stands for Missing in Actonmarker.

Because of the Sri Lankan Civil War, the first eight years of her life were marked by displacement. Contact with her father was strictly limited, because he was in hiding from the Sri Lanka Army. As the civil war escalated, it became unsafe for the family to stay in Sri Lanka, so they relocated to Chennaimarker, Tamil Nadumarker, Indiamarker, moving into a derelict house, with sporadic visits from her father. During a period when her family temporarily resettled in Sri Lanka, the war escalated further and her school was destroyed in a government raid. In 1986 she, her older sister Kali, younger brother Sugu, and mother moved back to Londonmarker where they were housed as refugees. She learned English in the late 1980s, on a council estate in Mitchammarker (South London).

Arulpragasam graduated from London's Central Saint Martins College of Art and Designmarker, with a degree in fine art, film, and video. She currently lives in Bedford-Stuyvesantmarker, Brooklyn, New Yorkmarker, in the United States and is engaged to Benjamin Zachary Bronfman (aka Benjamin Brewer), environmentalist, ex-singer and guitarist for the band The Exit, and a member of the Bronfman liquor dynasty. M.I.A. gave birth to a boy on 11 February 2009, naming him Ikhyd Edgar Arular Bronfman, just days after performing at the Grammy Awards.

Art and film

Arulpragasam's Pocko Editions Art book cover.

Arulpragasam's first public exhibition of paintings in 2001 at the Euphoria Shop in Portobello Roadmarker, Londonmarker, featured graffiti art and spray-paint canvasses mixing Tamil political street art with images of London life and consumerist culture. The show was nominated for the Alternative Turner Prize; (Jude Law was among early buyers of her art); and a monograph book of the collection was published by Pocko, simply titled M.I.A..

During her time in film school, she cites "radical cinema—Harmony Korine and Dogme 95" as some of her cinematic inspirations. Having written a script, Arulpragasam was approached by John Singleton to work on a film in Los Angeles. Also, Arulpragasam expressed an early interest in fashion and textiles (her mother is a seamstress)—designing confections of "bright fluorescent fishnet fabrics"—and was a roommate of fashion designer Luella Bartley. In July 2008, she showcased some designs in a short video she made called Real Pirates of the Caribbean starring Okley Leslie, which she posted on her official website. Clothes from her limited-edition "Okley Run" line—Mexicanmarker and Afrika jackets and leggings, Islamic hoodies, and tour-inspired designs including "People Vs. Money Tour Tees" and "KALA Tour Tees" (T-shirts)—were sold in September 2008 at fashion-week Opening Ceremony shops in Los Angeles and New York in the United States and through her web store.

Music career

Early career

A commission from Elastica's Justine Frischmann to provide the artwork and cover image for the band's second album, The Menace, led to Arulpragasam following the band on tour in forty Americanmarker states, video-documenting the event, and eventually directing the music video for Elastica's single "Mad Dog God Dam." The support act on the tour, electroclash artist Peaches, introduced Arulpragasam to the Roland MC-505 sequencing drum machine and encouraged her to experiment in the artform that she felt least confident in—music. Working with a simple set-up (a second-hand 4-track tape machine, a 505, and a radio microphone), back in London, Arulpragasam worked up a series of six songs onto a demo tape—included were the songs "Lady Killa," "M.I.A.," and "Galang," which aroused interest.

A mix of dancehall, electro, jungle, and world music, Showbiz Records pressed 500 copies of the independent vinyl single "Galang" in 2003, which became popular and made an immediate impact. In 2004, file sharing and airplay on college radio of songs such as "Galang" and "Sunshowers", with the rise in popularity of them in clubs and around the Internet by word of mouth, made her a household name to international music listeners before she had graced a stage, leading commentators to herald her as one of the first successful examples of doing so—someone who could be used to study and reexamine the impact of the internet on the way that listeners listened to and were exposed to new music. Major record labels caught onto the popularity of "Galang," and M.I.A. eventually signed to XL Recordings.

"Galang" was re-released in 2004. The accompanying music video for the song, featuring multiple M.I.A.s amid a backdrop of her militaristic graffiti artwork animated and brought to life, was art-directed by M.I.A., depicting scenes of urban Britain and war.Her next single, "Sunshowers," released on 5 July 2004, and its B-side ("Fire Fire") described guerrilla warfare and asylum seeking, with one reviewer characterizing the former as "a portrait of religious persecution" and the latter as a "tug-of-war battle between pop culture and guerrilla culture." For this track, M.I.A. filmed a video in the jungles of South India.A successful mashup mixtape of Arular tracks, Piracy Funds Terrorism was released in December 2004 via the blogosphere and her live shows.

Arular (2005)

Originally completed and ready for release in September 2004, Arular's release was delayed over several months, with pushed back dates of release between December 2004 and February 2005 mentioned. Prior to the LP's release, Arulpragasam made her North American debut at the Drake Hotelmarker in Torontomarker in February 2005, pulling in a diverse crowd. Receiving a response described as "phenomenal", attendees already knew many of her songs.

Arulpragasam's debut album Arular was eventually released worldwide in March 2005 to universal critical acclaim. Composing and titling the album Arular in acknowledgment of her and her father's past, much of its focus lay in experimentation. Consisting of bold, jarring and ambient sounds, complementary lyrics on Arular were both observational and reflective of her experiences of identity politics, indie culture, popular culture, poverty, revolution, war and with the working class, exemplified by songs such as "Amazon", "Fire Fire" and "M.I.A.". Referencing the PLO and the Tamil independence movements, its themes, use of culture-jamming, multi-lingual slang, and its mix of strident and elusive imagery, social commentary and storytelling incited debate.

Arulpragasam was first exposed to Western radio in London, hearing broadcasts emanating from her neighbours' flats in the late '80s. Her liking for hip-hop and dancehall developed from there, finding a common identity with "the starkness of the sound" of Public Enemy, records by MC Shan, Ultramagnetic MCs and the "weird, distinct style" of acts such as Silver Bullet and London Posse. Her time at college shaped her affinity for punk, the emerging sound of Britpop alt-rock and electroclash, after which she began writing songs. She has spoken of the large influence musicians The Slits, Malcolm Mclaren and The Clash had on her living in West London.

Making Arular in her bedroom in West London, she built tracks off her demos with programmed beats she wrote on the 505. Her work attracted artists such as the rapper Nas, who by early 2005 stated, "Her sound is the future." Following "Galang" and "Sunshowers," she later released her third single from Arular, the funk carioca-inspired co-composition "Bucky Done Gun" in July 2005.Arulpragasam performed through 2005 supporting her album at Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festivalmarker, which drew a strongly favourable response and an unusually large crowd for the billing she played, the Bue Festival, a free headlining show at Central Parkmarker Summerstagemarker and the Summer Sonic Fest as well as at other venues. She also toured with Roots Manuva and LCD Soundsystem. She appeared on the track "Bad Man" on Missy Elliott’s 2005 album The Cookbook.

On 19 July 2005, M.I.A. was shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize for Arular. In December, Arular was the second most featured album in music critics’ Year-End Top 10 lists for 2005, and named best of 2005 by publications such as Blender, Stylus and Musikbyrån. M.I.A. ended 2005 briefly touring with Gwen Stefani and the Big Day Out festival.

Kala (2007)

In 2006 M.I.A. wrote and recorded her second studio album, Kala, named after her mother. Following censorship controversies and documented U.S. visa problems in 2006, Kala was worked on while M.I.A. travelled through several locations including Indiamarker, Trinidadmarker, Liberiamarker, Jamaicamarker, Australia, Japanmarker, the UKmarker and USmarker, using more diverse live instrumentation and brash colours for heavier textures, and layering, whilst exploring traditional dance and folk styles such as soca and urumee melam (in songs such as "Boyz") and rave culture and music (in "XR2") among others. The unconventional recording sessions brought out, as did her artwork and photography for the album, both the celebratory and the "rawer, darker, outsider" themes that were felt to have run through Kala. The album also saw her re-embrace bootleg soundtracks of the film music of India from her childhood. Arulpragasam wrote songs about immigration politics, her personal relationships and war. She made songs and videos such as "Hit That" and "Bird Flu" available on her internet accounts, official website and for digital download. M.I.A. featured in the song "Come Around", a bonus track on Timbaland's 2007 album Shock Value and a track on Kala. Before her second album's release, Arulpragasam confronted the public media about what she felt was some journalists' motives behind misinformation regarding her work. Released on 11 June 2007, "Boyz’," music video was co-directed by Jay Will and M.I.A. and the album's second single "Jimmy," followed (about a genocide tour date invite Arulpragasam received whilst in Liberia).

General acclaim met Kala's release in August 2007. Arulpragasam’s 2007 tour in support of Kala, including at Rock en Seine, Get Loaded in the Park — a festival gig that drew a crowd sing-along pitch described in a review as "near hysterical," the Electric Picnic, Connect, the Virgin Festivals, the Osheaga Festival and Parklife. M.I.A. ended 2007 with a mini-tour of venues in the UK. She provides guest vocals on supporting act Buraka Som Sistema's kuduro song "Sound of Kuduro."

In the documentary Spike Jonze Spends Saturday with M.I.A, M.I.A. and director Spike Jonze visit Afrikan Boy in his immigrant neighborhood of Woolwichmarker, South London. In the documentary, M.I.A spoke of the possibility of launching her own record label entitled Zig-Zag, with Afrikan Boy’s track "Lidl" being the first release.

In December 2007, Kala was named the best album of 2007 by publications including Rolling Stone and Blender. M.I.A. released Paper Planes - Homeland Security Remixes EP digitally on 11 February 2008. In early 2008, M.I.A. DJed at the Marc Jacobs fashion show after party, and modelled for "Marc by Marc Jacobs" in Spring/Summer 2008.

M.I.A. is referenced in a song of the same name by anti-folk artist Emmy the Great.

N.E.E.T. & Third Album

M.I.A. toured during the first half of 2008, with opening tourmates including Holy Fuck, before stating she would end touring in support of Kala, cancelling her European tour dates through June and July, opting to work on her next album. Stating "This is my last show, and I'm glad I'm spending it with all my hippies," M.I.A. performed a set at the Bonnaroo Music Festival.

M.I.A told NME.COM during an interview that she might not release a third album and admitted she would like to have a break for making music."I have no idea about the third one. I’m not even sure if I’m making a third one at this moment. I’m not really sure if I’m ready. I got into making music on an important note and I feel like I have to reproduce it. At the moment I just have to figure out if I can achieve being somewhere for six months straight,I dream of that. I have not stopped since 2004, 2005. I gave up my apartment and started travelling, and I haven’t been in one location on the planet for more than two weeks maximum. Well, when I went to India. I was there for, like, four weeks. That’s the longest time I ever spent in one location. So I just wanna go and see if I can still be human again, you know? Wash dishes and stuff."

In 2008, M.I.A. started her music label, N.E.E.T. The first artist signed to the label was Baltimore rapper Rye Rye. M.I.A. is currently recording using instruments such as the Korg Kaossilator. During her tour, she said, "I went to Mexicomarker to the pyramids... I sat on top of the pyramid making a beat and it just sounded so huge, like the biggest reverby beat." M.I.A. has discussed possible themes on her next record and tour mate Egyptian Lover has said that he will be collaborating with M.I.A. on her third album.


Politics and global ideas are prominent in M.I.A.'s art. On the political nature of her work she has said, "I have to be true to that--I can't take certain things away. I do have a political background. I’m only in Englandmarker, learning this language and building a life in this society, because of political reasons. Why would I deny that?" M.I.A. has talked about the fusion of politics into her music. "Nobody wants to be dancing to political songs. Every bit of music out there that’s making it into the mainstream is really about nothing. I wanted to see if I could write songs about something important and make it sound like nothing. And it kind of worked."

Asked in 2005 if she was always political, M.I.A. referenced her political development. "I think I was always slightly political but my issues change with what’s going on in my life. Politics is something that I’ve never been able to discuss with anyone and everyone…my life in England for the first ten years wasn’t really political. It was more about getting an equal shot as the next person. I wanted a shot at an education…politics came back to me after I went back to Sri Lanka. Once I studied and wanted to be a filmmaker, I tried to make a documentary on what it was like to be a young person in Sri Lankamarker. I wanted to make a film that could compare the 19-year-olds in Sri Lanka. That’s when I came across so much politics.

M.I.A. has expressed discontent with the formula for the War on Terror and its global impact. "You can't separate the world into two parts like that, good and evil. Terrorism is a method, but America has successfully tied all these pockets of independence struggles, revolutions, and extremists into one big notion of terrorism."

She has spoken of her experiences before and during the Sri Lankan civil war, the human rights abuses Sri Lanka is accused of perpetrating, informing on the current situation on the island on her MySpace. M.I.A. has visited Liberiamarker several times, releasing details via MySpace on the progress of her school-building projects in the country. She revisited Liberia in 2006 to meet the President of Liberia Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and war-affected people there including ex-child soldiers and featured in a "4Real" TV-Series documentary on the post war situation in the country with activist Kimmie Weeks.

In an August 2007 interview, Arulpragasam said "It's O.K. to add new elements to your ideas, to your existence...There will be more bridges built between the developed and developing world." M.I.A. has included numerous artists from developed and developing countries in her music. She says the attention entertainment figures bring to the developing world is beneficial, but has noted that while Western music has permeated into developing societies such as in Africa, many people in the West do not "hear the starving African kids say something or do something or sing something or express something. We show them but they don't have a voice." In a documentary, she stated "We have all these preconceived ideas of a kid in Africa...dudes in their African cloths singing under a tree with a stick, you know, and it's not like that. It's way more progressive. It's way more progressive than music in the West."

M.I.A proved popular at the annual Experience Music Projectmarker's Pop Conference held in Seattlemarker, USA in April 2008, with paper submissions and discussions on her and her work presented on the theme of "Shake, Rattle: Music, Conflict, and Change."

M.I.A. described the actions of the Sri Lankan government during the Sri Lankan Civil War as systematic genocide against Tamils. A February 2009 article in The New York Times stated the video for her song “Bird Flu” shows children dancing in front of "what looks like [the LTTE's] logo — a roaring tiger". On 28 January 2009, in an interview with Tavis Smiley, she reiterated her opposition to violence committed by the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tiger rebels and the distinction between combatants and civilians.In early 2009, M.I.A. lent support to the "Mercy Mission to Vanni", a ship carrying food and aid to Tamils in the Vanni region, which the government subsequently blocked from entering. The Village Voice responded, stating "one hopes the New York Times, say, might actually write a story about this, clearing up the counter-allegations and perhaps using some of its vaunted access to inquire as to why the government won't let aid through...instead of taking another set of chintzy, ad-hominem allegations."

M.I.A. has been active on Twitter throughout 2009, a social-networking and micro-blogging service, posting frequently about the post-war situation in Sri Lanka and the plight of civilians affected by the war. She has been critical of the Sri Lankan government's treatment of civilians as well as some of the United Nations' and other international relief efforts.

In a 2009 Coachellamarker interview M.I.A. said, "The Third World deserves freedom of speech just like everyone else. We want to fight the battle to say what we want, whether to be serious or just make fun of ourselves. Thats what 'Worldtown' is about, that's what 'Paper Planes' is about. It's what people in the third world live through."




Some awards and nominations M.I.A. has received are listed below.


  1. M.I.A. in The 2009 Time 100, Time, 30 April 2009.
  2. Harrington, Richard. (16 September 2005). M.I.A., No Loss For Words Washington Post. Accessed 9 November 2008.
  5. Drowned in Sound: M.I.A. - "Boyz". Drowned in Sound. Retrieved 9 September 2007.
  6. "In my country you get killed if you report anything the government does to you!". (2008-11-02). Retrieved on 2008-11-06.
  7. "Liberia school! new development". (2008-11-02). Retrieved on 2008-11-06.
  8. Arulpragasam, Maya: Crack Guns in Africa, Crack in America. M.I.A. Myspace. 2 December 2006. Retrieved 24 February 2007.
  9. Moscowitz, Gary. "Music Dispatch: Even Disco is political", Mother 21 April 2008. Retrieved 24 May 2008
  10. Clover, Joshua, Abstract: "Terrorflu, or Where in The World is M.I.A.", Pop Conference, Experience Music Project 2008. Retrieved 24 May 2008
  11. Fuller, Thomas. "The Dissonant Undertones of M.I.A.", The New York Times, 10 February 2009.
  12. Shows > January 2009 > M.I.A., Tavis Smiley,, 28 January 2009.
  13. The Sri Lankan Government's War with M.I.A. continues]. Village Voice. April 7, 2009.
  14. M.I.A. on Twitter. September 17, 2009.

Books and further reading

External links

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