There years have passed, and M.I.A.’s fourth album, Matangi, is finally here. But those years between Maya and Mantangi were not spent quietly; between flipping the bird at the Super Bowl and dropping a mixtape out of nowhere, Maya made sure that we felt her presence. Recently, the eclectic singer/rapper sat down with NPR and discussed the influences on new record, her difficult childhood, her philosophies on love and war, and more. Read some of the highlights from her chat with NPR below, and read the rest of the thought-provoking interview here.
On WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange’s influence on “AtTENTion” (from Matangi)
I was writing this song around the same time he asked me to work on a TV series he was doing. He came by the studio, and I explained to him that I was making this conceptual song, which is written with all the words that have word ‘tent’ in them. It’s sort of to describe the refugee philosophy — people who live in tents — because I feel like they are the modern-day untouchables. We generate millions of refugees every year, and they are the true untouchables of our society because they’re faceless and placeless. So he took my computer and sort of typed a few things, and right in front of me he downloaded, like, 4,000 words from the pool of the internet [...] and it was all the words that have ‘T-E-N-T’ in them. And then I finished the song.
On her Kony 2012 shout-out in “Boom Skit”
When that whole Kony 2012 thing happened, millions of people got behind it, every artist. Oprah got behind it. This whole story about Jacob happened — he was a child soldier — and how everyone needed to go and catch Kony and bring him to justice, right? [...] I had left Sri Lanka, which is still a very unsafe place. For me to get here, I had to learn to speak English, I had to go to art school, become a rapper — because it’s what America understood the most, in terms of communication — get to America, stand in front of respected TV channels like CNN and Fox. And I was like, “Hi, my name is M.I.A. I’m a Tamil and I come from Sri Lanka. Oh, by the way: There’s a war coming to an end, but it’s not as easy as the government killing terrorists. It’s a lot of civilians getting killed, and they’re using chemical weapons. Footage is being uploaded to YouTube, which is disgusting.”
On flipping the bird at the Super Bowl
[In] America you have gang signs, and people throw up initials and stuff like that. Well, 5,000 years ago, there was thing called a mudra, which is your sitting position when you do yoga or you’re meditating or praying or whatever. And you have different ones based on what you’re meditating over. There’s not a lot of them that are named after gods and goddesses, but the middle finger is specifically named Matangi — the Matangi mudra.
On being described as “provcative”
[...] The thing is, is that a thing about them or is it a thing about me? I don’t intentionally go, “What is provocative?” and try to do that. I just do stuff and people go, “That’s provocative.” Maybe because sometimes I’m super-ignorant — and sometimes they’re super-ignorant.