Interview with M.I.A. from ARTHUR No. 16 (May 2005)

Originally published in Arthur No. 16

BOMP POP
Born in war-torn Sri Lanka and bred in London, rising star M.I.A.’s pop instincts, radical consciousness and proudly pan-ghetto sound have no easy origin. As the defiant singer/MC explains to Piotr Orlov, it’s both where she’s from and where she’s at. Cover photo by W.T. Nelson.

“The mask is the face.” – Susan Sontag, “On Style”

“I don’t have a side, I’m spread out but I’m a mile wide/I got brown skin but I’m a west Londoner, educated but a refugee” – M.I.A., “MIA”

What, if anything, do we look for in a “pop” star worth supporting? Or more to the point, what are we willing to put up with, besides some gratuitous chart-topping populism and the 15-minutes of media-saturated intrigue, of course? Do we have any right expecting pop stars—not to be confused with musical artists whom luck, trends, circumstance or one great tune propels towards the mainstream—to influence a greater cultural conversation? Pop is, after all, the most powerful global transmitter of ideas in the information age, receiving over the past fifty years equal credit for the democratic tilt of history (Ted Turner’s comment that Western cultural export helped bring down the Berlin Wall) and civilization’s moral decline (Elvis, Madonna, Gangsta Rap, et al.). So, what effect can be brought about by a beautiful young woman whose looks and dance moves, globally minded outlook, state-of-the-art sonics, and spirited attitude recall any number of recent kiddie-pop models—yet whose life experience is based not on driving-towards-stardom dreams and Mickey Mouse Club auditions, but a mix of Third World civil war fatigue and immigrant struggles, Western art-school opportunity and hip-hop generation rebellion, independent experience and mod cons?

Meet Maya Arulpragasam, a 28-year-old Sri Lanka-reared, London-educated singer/MC with the stage-name M.I.A., who is approaching her pregnant pop moment, that inexplicable period when a confluence of fates—real and manufactured, critical and social, art and market—align to create sensations, and, at times, freak cultural anomalies and paradigm shifts. Since late 2003, she’s released a steady stream of dancehall-meets-hip-hop-meets-pop singles (“Galang” and “Sunshowers” being the most prominent) and one mix-tape (“Piracy Funds Terrorism, Vol. 1,” co-produced by Philly DJ wunderkind Diplo), blowing up via underground and Internet delivery systems (MP3 bloggers adore her), setting record companies frothing trying to pick up the rights to her debut album, Arular. (One succeeded: The album has just been released by the indie XL, but will soon be worked by Interscope.)

The odd thing is that M.I.A.’s music is hardly the easily-marketable, hot-new commodity. Arular flashes a cool rhythmic style that, while it touches upon global hip-hop and electronic forms (East London grime, Rio’s baile funk, Kingston dancehall riddims), is actually a mutt with no natural bloodline. And her Third World background and political outspokenness – Maya’s father was a high-ranking member of the Tamil Tigers, a Sri Lankan rebel army at the center of that island’s 25-plus-year civil war, labeled by many a terrorist organization—do not make for easy copy at a point in time increasingly defined by fundamentalist poles, “you’re either with us or against us” attitudes, and general mistrust of anyone appearing even slightly Middle Eastern. And yet, Maya’s music is all about miscegenation of worlds, of cultures, and making pop jams to get her point across.

It may be a bit of simplistic sloganeering to say M.I.A. is a straight-up product of the American century’s underbelly (global distribution of Cold War guerilla funding and pop culture). But when you see her stencils of Coke-bottle Molotov cocktails featuring her self-designed logo “M.I.A.” logo (remnants of a 2001 graffiti project which garnered her a nomination for the Alternative Turner art Prize in England) as the rolled-up rag on fire, it’s hard to believe how that isn’t part of the point.

There are lots of stories in Maya Arulpragasam’s past and over the course of two conversations—one on the eve of the 2004 election in New York, another on the eve of her album release in late February 2005, edited together here–she shared many of them. Tall tales some? Maybe. But they’re also strange mirror images of Arular songs about self-empowerment through hip-hop (“Fire Fire”), self-empowerment through sexual assertion (“10 Dollar,” “Hombre”), Swedish syndrome daydreams directly out of Ann Patchett’s “Bel Canto” (“Amazon”), and Maya’s constant reappraisal of refugee status.

Personally, I can think no thing more I want out of a pop star.

KIDDIE-POP IN SRI LANKA

Arthur: Were you creative growing up?
M.I. A.: As a kid in Sri Lanka, I’d sit in a corner and draw away. In school, while the other kids were learning alphabet, I’d draw images for them, like ‘a for apple.’ So by the time I was 4-5 years old art was part of my personality. My family would say ‘She’s going to be an artist,’ even though in Sri Lanka nobody wants to be an artist. It’s not considered a profession, but something you do when you’re a little bit stupid, and dumber than the rest. It’s a hobby.

Did you have music to listen to there?
Yeah, pop music, but all I had was Boney M and Michael Jackson cassettes. I was really good at dancing. People hired me to dance at their kids’ birthday parties. Sometimes, when my uncles would get really drunk and come home at 2 in the morning and had no entertainment, they would wake me up and make me dance. I was like 6, but if I wanted to stop, they’d throw things at my feet, and threaten to hit me. My mother would cry, ‘Please let her go.’ [laughs] Her brothers were quite rowdy. They’d wave her away laughing and I’d have to dance for four hours straight. This happened all the time. Everybody just knew that I was good at it. I was like a singing dancing monkey, much smaller and darker than everybody, and when I danced, there was a really serious expression on my face.

Did other people you knew take music as seriously?
No. But our village only had one telly—small, black and white—and we would hire the video once a month. Everyone would get around in one house and spend all day and all night screening films. People would get ice water—this was a big thing too, cause there was just one fridge in the village—so that when the films screened, people would put ice water on their faces to stay up, cause it was such an important opportunity to see [the outside world/pop culture], you couldn’t miss it.

Was there other Western music you heard in Sri Lanka?
We lived in a house in Colombo [the capitol of Sri Lanka] before we came to England, and that was the first time that I saw music videos on telly: Wham and Madonna and Paula Abdul and stuff. That was like, Oh my god there’s so much out there.

HIP-HOP & RACE IN ENGLAND

How old were you when you first heard hip-hop?
I was about 10 when I came back from Sri Lanka to England, and we were living in a council flat, and that’s where I first got into rap. When I would go to bed, I’d listen to the radio and dream about dancing and Paula Abdul and Whitney Houston, and that’s how I fell asleep. Well, we got burgled and somebody took my radio while I was in bed. And that’s [after that] I first heard hip-hop. There was a black boy lived next door. He was 19, really cool. I heard the bass lines coming through [the wall]. The first couple of days, I was like ‘Shit, I really can’t sleep.’ One day, he was up blasting this music and his mates drove up, having a fag and chatting through the window. I had a look and they were just wicked, and I wanted to be a part of that. So I went round and started borrowing tapes, made friends with black girls who gave me more of an education into it. I started meeting Sri Lankans in England whose families lived in England all their lives, cousins that were into hip-hop. Me and my sister thought they were so cool, living in a black neighborhood, wearing silk tracksuits, acting black, while I was wearing my polka-dot leggings. Within a year and a half of returning to England, me and my sister were both as black as you can get. My mom was like, ‘Oh my god, what’s happening?’

Why did you take to it so quickly?
It was the first thing that didn’t make me feel like I had to know Shakespeare back-to-front to fit in. Plus, it was something new, which I knew about but other people at school didn’t, something that gave me a sense of belonging, which I didn’t have before. I didn’t want to belong with the majority of people at school. I didn’t want to strive to be like them because, being a refugee, I could never be that. But with hip-hop, I could wear these amazing [sneakers], dance like this and listen to music that had the best beat I ever heard.

Was it weird being Sri Lankan, and hanging out with black kids and acting black? I would figure there would be weird cultural repercussions regarding where you belonged and where you didn’t…
I learned about the racial hierarchy from having to go to a special school to learn English, where you’re lumped in class with other kids from around the world, and you figure out where you stand. But I never really had to pay attention [to black people]. Cause I didn’t know English, and it was white people who were dominating my brain – “they don’t like me cause they think I’m a Paki, what’s that about?” So dealing with what black people thought about you was a whole other arena that I never even thought about. When I walked around the council estate back then, I would feel like we were scum of the earth. And compared to me, black people definitely had a sense of belonging in Britain. But it seemed that they didn’t have a sense of belonging before the Asians got there. When we came over in the ‘80s, we were part of the first batch of Sri Lankan refugees, so the community was small and new, and it was low on the hierarchy. The Sri Lankans who had come before the war were people who came to study at Cambridge and Oxford, educated doctors and professionals. They were acclimated and sort of…white. They did not mix with refugees; even today they sort of look down on the refugee Sri Lankans. So even within that community, there’s a hierarchy. I’m sure now, with the Eastern Europeans coming over, [South Asians] have more of a sense of belonging. That said, 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.

So how did hip-hop let you rise above that?
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.

Overcompensating something you didn’t have enough of?
Yeah. But if you watched it, and you walked away with five percent of that, it was plenty. And it was total rebellion to all the Sri Lankans. Whether they were refugee or not, they couldn’t handle it. I cut my hair really short hair, shaved in the back and stuff, and every time I did something like that it was considered taboo in the community. People at [St. Martin’s Art] college didn’t like me talking about that kind of music either, or dressing it. They thought if I was going to be a serious filmmaker, I should wear Doc Martins, whereas I walked in with stilettos. I wasn’t dressing like a b-girl all the time, but it was in my flavor. But they were too ignorant. Because if you were really noticing about how it was going on, you knew in five years, it would be everywhere. Instead people were really quick to shut things down. And now, in the past decade, hip-hop as an art form has achieved more than art as an art form has.

THE (MIS-) EDUCATION OF MAYA ARULPRAGASAM

On some level, you must have been an over-achiever to wind up at St. Martin’s…
I didn’t have grades to get into St. Martin’s; I just totally emotionally blackmailed the head of the Art department, told him that I’d be a hooker if they said no, and they let me in.

Wait, what?
I was in America with my cousins so I missed all my university [applications] and didn’t get into any universities. But I really wanted to study art and the only place I wanted to go is St. Martin’s cause it’s the best one [in England], and I didn’t have any qualifications. So I got the name of the head of the art department and just rang him up every single day at, like, 1:37pm, just as he was biting into his sandwich: ‘Hi, this is Maya, I really have to go there!!!’ He laughed at me and put the phone down, telling me how 16000 people apply for 20 places, go through six interviews to get in, that you can’t just waltz in. I told him, I’m not going to go study anywhere else, so I’m just better off becoming a hooker, [laughing] that I’d rather do anything than compromise my education. Nothing he told me could turn me away. So eventually he let me in. it was just too funny. He said I’ve got chutzpah, and may be the person to change something about their institution was someone who had chutzpah, because everyone else conformed and filled out the application form six times to get into an institution that was supposed to teach people about becoming unconventional. He thought that compared to how everyone else got in there, I was what the institution needed.

So you were successful in that?
No. By the time I left St. Martin’s, I could not justify myself being an artist at all, because I did not meet anyone there who was doing interesting art that was also getting through to everyday people. [Students there were] exploring apathy, dressing up in some pigeon outfit, or running around conceptualizing. My life did not allow it: My mom was getting evicted, my brother was going to jail, I’d get my first phone call from my dad in twelve years confirming he’s still alive. So making ripples in the water, to aesthetically represent beauty, just didn’t make sense [to me].

So was your art experience a total bust?
No, no. I was really interested in a lot of things at the college. I just wasn’t so stuck in the film and fine art thing. I had friends in the fashion department, friends in graphics and friends in advertising, and it was interesting to see what other people were doing. The fashion courses at St. Martin’s were exciting because the whole fashion thing was really disposable and moving really fast. Whereas in film, we were still working with [texts from] the 1970s, lecturers coming in to talk about being black, gay, or feminist in Britain and how that felt. I could not take it anymore. I thought: ‘Why don’t you go out and do something exciting and break all those stereotypes? Don’t teach us to whine about our problems, tell us to be excited about trying to solve our problems.’ At least then you can energize the audience. I thought it was a simple idea, that’s why I’d always take the piss out of things in my films, which they thought too light. Instead, they had students who were all so serious about what they were doing, not mixing with others because no one was clever enough, making films for the intelligentsia that only 30 people would get to see at the [Institute of Contemporary Art], dealing with old theories that no one was updating to make relevant for our lives. It missed the whole point of art representing society. Social reality didn’t really exist there; it just stopped at theory.

Which is the exact opposite of an immigrant’s life.
The week I graduated, I got a phone call that my cousin had just died in Sri Lanka. He was kind of my twin: we were the same age, same month, we’d always have our birthday party together, he’s the one who made me how tomboy-ish I am. He joined the Tigers and he died. That day I was like, ‘Oh my gawd, I’ve just come out of college with a fine art degree.’ It made no sense. Then I got another word that he was still alive, but was brain-dead at some hospital. So I went to find him. It was my first trip back to Sri Lanka since I left, and being that I’d got a film degree, I wanted to make a film about it—called ‘MIA.’ It was hardcore, because pretty much everybody I met never had access to the press before, and they had so many raw stories and stuff. Yet I couldn’t do anything with it cause it was Tamil. It was loads of Tamil people talking about what had happened to them for fifteen years, and how fucked up shit was there, because of the PTA [Prevention of Terrorist Act, a 1979 Sri Lankan law passed at the onset of Civil War in that country], which allows shoot to kill of anyone suspected of being a terrorist. And since terrorists don’t have uniforms, everyday people who want to stand up are cast as a terrorist and they’re getting killed. So a whole youth culture there had gone missing. I went there and filmed it. I wanted to make a young beautiful thing about what had happened to my cousin and to all my other cousins who were still alive, cause that’s what I had a connection to. Rather than make a youth culture film in England, it was going to be what a market-stall kid in Africa or India or Sri Lanka experiences today. But when I brought 60 hours of footage back to England, 9/11 just happened and it was considered propaganda material for the Tamils, who are just considered blanket terrorists these days. I could nothing to with it. So I took single frames from them and made them into disposable fashion-y wallpaper and stencils, working off a need to be instant and immediate, to get this out right now. It was bored and ugly. But it was done in pretty colors, so people didn’t know what I was talking about. That was done as M.I.A. as well, which kind of stood for my name. And I got nominated for the Alternative Turner prize as a graffiti artist, and the only girl doing it in England. It was about a month or two after my show that I sat down at the four-track and the first song I wrote was called ‘M.I.A.’

REFUGEE MIND-STATE

Do you identify with all the grime coming out of East London, or The Streets?
Dizzee [Rascal] and those guys are really good, and I think Mike [Skinner a.k.a. The Streets] does very well, cause he’s a storyteller. But I feel like I have too much in my head to be good at that. I’m always pulled in a thousand different directions. Eventually, when someone gives me a microphone, I go ‘Blahhhh…Ommm.’ [laughs] I get Zen off this, totally lost. I don’t have a place.

How do you deal with that placelessness?
What you can do is have fun while you’re traveling and make traveling as comfortable as possible, cause that’s all you got for the rest of your days. And if I’m going to just hop from place to place, from thing to thing, looking for somewhere to belong, then I might as well have fun with it, rather than bitching, moaning, striving to stay put and having that 9-5 life which I never signed up for.

I’m trying to find a new way to be. And the more communication I have with people, the more I find out it’s quite common nowadays, no matter who you are and where you come from. Maybe that’s the way we’re all like these days: placeless. And that makes me feel better—makes me feel I’m actually more commercial, more pop [laughs]—than I thought. That it’s not some freak notion, but a real common idea.

Look, I’m 100% Sri Lankan, I’m pissed off, I didn’t have a stable life, and I’m a refugee, like a lot of people on the planet today are. ‘You’ve never had one of them before, so deal.’ I’m the antithesis to whatever someone like Norah Jones is doing. There were no rules how I got here. Yet I’m not out there doing fucked up things to people, and none of my songs is depressed. I’m just trying to make them dance and clap their hands [laughs].

Free your ass and your mind will follow…
I was thinking that if I was working at some market store selling fish – in Africa, or Sri Lanka or Papua New Guinea, or wherever—then I would still want to have [my music] on the radio, not really scrutinize the lyrics and still get something out of it. Most of those people don’t understand English anyway.

Is there a single point you’re trying to get over?
Honestly, I don’t know a lot of my lyrics —often I make ‘em up on the spot.

So they’re coming out of your gut as opposed to being thought-out declarations…
Yeah, people think that I have to have one point of view, but I don’t. I have a sentence in every song that is what I’m trying to say, and the rest is just…whatever. But if there is [a main point], I think it should be about eccentric human beings, the kind I don’t see enough anymore. Watch the ads on the telly, they tell you that buying clothes or a mobile phone is supposed to change your life, make you a happier person. But all these things are just making everyone the same. I want to see the spirit of people, and I don’t know where to find it. I think when I did the yelling bit on ‘Galang,’ that was what I was thinking at the time, ‘I’m just gonna do this, and see if I’m brave enough to just let it run for a minute and a half of this song, even though I can’t really sing.’ I couldn’t sing that part, it was just me yelling, and the producers are like ‘you’re not singing it in key,’ and I was like ‘I don’t know what a key is—please explain to me what a key is?’ It is what it is. Most people would just put it down to me being lazy. But at the same time, I don’t want [that perfection]. I started doing it because I wanted to know what would happen if you just get a random person to just show their spirit. Because, if when I was 16 someone said I would be a pop singer, I would have thought that I’d be getting my nails done, wearing Gucci. Now that I’m here, I’m thinking it’s counterproductive. Being comfortable with yourself is far more important.

That sounds like a learned lesson.
Look, when I was taking photographs and making films, the people that I found really amazing were those people who were sitting on the bus, people who had something but couldn’t really do anything with it in the world, because they strove for the stereotype that was sold them, even if it took away from them being happy. A lot of poor people – a lot of refugees — get taught the wrong lessons by the modern world, and they have to live with those lessons forever. They don’t come across things that question or show them different views of some parts of this world, cause their sight is limited. I think I’m really lucky to have hustled my way through it, and met people along the way who have opened my eyes to certain things. It was down to me to take it in, or not take it in. Now I feel like I can turn around and tell other refugees they’re actually great, and how there are [Westerners] who’ll pay a lot of money to have the kind of shit that they got, so they should be proud of it. Because refugees are good at making stuff cause it’s all made at home, and we’re poor. We can’t afford art.

So, right now: do you feel like you are Sri Lankan, British, or other?
Oh my God, that’s hard. All of the above, because then I can have a more fulfilled life by trying them all.

But that also means never defining who you are.
It’s true, but that is exactly what I want to be comfortable with. If I knew that I could be any of these—British, Sri Lankan, or Papua New Guinean in the next 10 years—I’d just accept it and I’d deal with it. But it won’t happen. So I’m going to have to learn how to make the most of that. Which is my whole point: making the most out of whatever happens to you.

SELF-ACTUALIZATION IN THE NEW WORLD

So you must have met people whose examples put you on this road…
When I was 16, I saw this guy who to this day is the only Sri Lankan to become an artist in England. He came on this BBC program called Tomorrow’s World which was all about new technology. Condi basically invented a way to recreate the Sistine Chapel, using graphic design and printers, a breakthrough kind of project. And I was like, ‘Wow he’s Sri Lankan, I wanna be like him.’ Now I had someone to point at and say he’s done it. It was only at that point my mom understood that my being an artist was a possibility, and that I may not become a doctor.

[Elastica singer] Justine Frischmann was another. When I met Justine for the first time, I’d gone through life completely confident with what I knew. I had friends that took me to really expensive restaurants and amazing parties. If I went to LA [to visit my cousins], I could hang out with rappers, cause at that time I was really girlie, dressed nice, did whatever it took to get into places and I learned lots of things. Justine was the first person I met who I wanted to grow up and become like, someone with a lot of personal issues and crises, but also really generous and focused. She has spent her life meeting established people and artists who she tries to learn from. I’m the same, but I had been looking for knowledge in really random places. I would go hang out in a prison one weekend and ask them where they went wrong, then spend a night with some crackhead and whatever, figuring shit out. Justine would never push the boat out that far. So when we met, it was total opposites. I was really fucking poor, and she’s really rich. I was really creative in lots of things — making work everyday, painting, film, photographs — but I couldn’t stand still in one spot to focus. She had loads of focus but didn’t have the drive. She had private education and I had none. But she’s also very punk, because she makes all the wrong choices, not because she has to, and because she chooses to. So we just sat down and learned from each other, exchanged information. Her making me stay in one spot helped me. At times I hated her for it, cause I was so bored. In the end I just gave in, gave up the fight, stayed put for a year in West London and hung with the same people, which I wouldn’t even do up to that point. That’s when I started borrowing the four-track and having a go. I got really obsessed with it, more than art, film or anything. I became an information junkie. I’d go for days without brushing teeth, feeling like I’m learning so much, getting up at 8 in the morning and on the four-track all day. Lost all my friends, wouldn’t comb my hair for days, just stick on my sweatshirt and have a go.

THE DIASPORA STRIKES BACK

If you’re truly trying to make a social statement, why not devote an entire song to the struggles you only touch upon?
I think I come from the post-MTV generation. Personally I couldn’t really sit through a whole song about one particular thing. My train of thought doesn’t work like that. I’m not that thorough, and that’s not what I want to do. Have you heard I-Wayne, the Jamaican reggae singer? I think he’s going to be huge as a Bob Dylan/Bob Marley character. His cultural commentary is amazing, how he’s part of the world, what he thinks about it. When I listen to him, I think ‘I can’t really be like that, cause it’s not my thing.’ He talks about things I believe, but I can’t really say those things, because I tend to understand where many different people’s points of view are coming from. I’d rather try to understand people no matter what they’re into and what they do, than to have an opinion and devoting a whole song to it. I want it both ways. I’m political and I’m pop and I’m this and I’m that, because my entire Western cultural identity is totally made up from what I’ve come across. So when I go into a particular direction, come across things and internalize things, they all make up who I am. They all go into my work. I can’t really be streamline my thought. The only thing I could do is be whoever I’ve become, have the strength to stick to it and portray it. And if who I am is confused and the portrayals are all about having or not having an identity because of where I come from, that’s kind of an all right state to reflect in my work.

Talk a little about cribbing your beats and influences from a lot of global subcultures on “Arular.”
The way I see it is that none of my mates has one thing they listen to. You wake up to the radio, you hear this music; you get in a cab, you listen to that music; you go to the Chinese takeaway, you hear something else; go to the dentist and you listen to a different type of thing. You get exposed to lots of different cultures of music, which is what I was responding to. The beats I caught on the record are about what’s going on here, there and everywhere, at this point in time. It’s criss-crossing information to different sets of people around the world, cause I knew that I was somebody who was going to travel around, that I didn’t have a drummer [or] a culture that I belonged to. If that meant anybody was going to listen to it, it was a good opportunity to [introduce] anyone to all the things that are going on [around the world], the things not on mainstream radio or on MTV.

But since they’re mostly derived from localized scenes of shantytowns and ghettoes from around the globe, you’re conscious of how it adds up to a projection of you as, like, a Third World Madonna, a champion or a user of those scenes, right?
I guess – as I said, no one’s come up yet. What [the industry] usually does is not let you be yourself. And that’s really going to be my fight, my struggle, to stay me. I was that kid on the telly when people were watching Sri Lanka on the news. For 10 years I lived like that, and I’m totally proud of it. I’m not about taking sides. I’m simply representing the refugee, a faceless thing, and I will always speak to that. They’ll never be able to take that away from me. ‘Arular’ is about that, and my mentality is like that. I’m not going to change my mentality now. Those are the roots, and I don’t think they’ll ever beat that out of me. My point is: people are investing millions of [dollars] in ammunition to bomb other people around the world, [and as long as they are] there will always be someone coming up from those places talking about it, because we’ve got the right. If they don’t fill my head up with those images, then I won’t be talking about it, and if they don’t like it, they should stop first. But I’m also proud of what I learned in England too, the vast amount of information and opportunity and education. I use those things to apply what I want to say. The rest is figuring out which stories I can and want to tell — and not turning into Britney. But we’ll see. You are gonna have to watch this space to see how it evolves.

One thought on “Interview with M.I.A. from ARTHUR No. 16 (May 2005)

  1. Pingback: Does art for art’s sake further society, or is it merely emotional porn? And, why Tupac and M.I.A. are more important musicians than Mahler. | Frank Nawrot

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