Oh M.I.A. I remember when I would play your debut Arular at a party just to see what would happen, thinking, I wonder if people will dance? Or bludgen me to death. I recall the joy I got from picking out your Bollywood riffs and knowing your political references. Remember those days?
We are living in an Imagineery moment.
I am really happy for M.I.A., if for no other reason than the thrill of seeing Imagineering mashups get their due. If there is one thing that sets Ms. Arulpragasam apart it is her ear for the world around her (and specifically the 3rd World), and her sticky fingers. By which i mean, she hears everything worth hearing and then samples the shit out of it, throwing the 3rd world’s moral heft in her lyrics (check out Galang and Pop for starters) and accessozing it with hooks and vocals nicked from the same locals. Unlike disaster tourist lyrasists like Rage Against the Machine, who steal all the moral righteousness and none of the righteous beats, she brings the whole package. And unlike artists who throw a dart at tragedy on the globe and stick there, M.I.A makes the Global South her palate. Spin’s Lorraine Ali does a better than average job describing how this all goes down.
And yet, I can’t help feeling a little blue about it.
For hipsters and indie types and (et. all) -core kids this is old hat, but for me, the feeling is a little new and a little strange, and truthfully kind of lame. It’s rare that I pick a band or an artist to love only to have them go really huge. Sure, Gogol Bordello is gaining a wider following, but they are by no stretch of the imagination Maya Arulpragasam and her new nation of grimesters. (also, if people start emulating her inconoclasm-as-daywear, I am going to have to kill myself. Stick with the Day-Glo Nikes, fortheloveofG-d)
Even when I started liking M.I.A. (sometime after I gave up blasting Gogol Bordello on repeat and well before I gave up hard drugs…so probably summer 2006) I really didn’t know why I liked her. Even when, for the briefest of seconds, I dated her cousin, I couldn’t articulate exactly what it was that made me sure this person was going to make an album I couldn’t resist. And then Kala dropped, and, well, I would say that album has had more creative impact on me than anything since the Deftones released Around the Fur. More than Gypsy Punks, you may ask? Yes. More than Gypsy Punks.
Not to diss on the GB, but M.I.A. is just a cut above. Even with the accordion and the electric fiddle. Because she can duet with A.R. Rahman (see previous post), and because she sings about my pet conflicts (yes, I have favorite ethnic conflicts, go fuck yourself). Because the first time I heard Bamboo Banger (on the plane from Mumbai to Hyderabad in December 2007) I had a true epiphany. Because I too like fish, and mango pickle.
It’s a little sad to loose all that to the “mainstream.”