M.I.A.'s fourth album, Matangi, is out...

Posted on November 6, 2013

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It's been three years since M.I.A.'s last album, but the singer-rapper has kept the pop world talking about her. Since appearing in Madonna's Super Bowl halftime, she has continued to wrap her words and actions in the language of protest, taking after her father, a one-time revolutionary in her home country of Sri Lanka, where Tamils, the ethnic minority to which her family belongs, clashed with the government for decades.

Matangi, the title of M.I.A's Album derives from her birth name, Mathangi Arulpragasam. But just three years ago, she didn't know what her name meant or who Matangi the goddess was or what the concept was about. 

"When I came to England, people had a hard time pronouncing it at school. So my auntie told me to call myself Maya, after her Yugoslavian skiing instructor."

What M.I.A. didn't know about her real name until recently is that she shares it with a Hindu goddess of Music and it's one with whom she's grown to feel a particular kinship. "She was really interesting because she lived in the slums; she lived with the untouchables and represented them. So it was really cool to find a goddess that was not on a pedestal. The untouchables were basically the lowest caste in India and weren't even weren't allowed to go inside the temples to pray. The Brahmans were the highest class and they controlled knowledge, spirituality, the temples. They were sort of considered the sacred, clean people. And the untouchables were the people that cleaned the streets, hunted, did things that were considered unclean.

Matangi's dad was called Matanga, and he was the first person to gain enlightenment as an untouchable, without being reincarnated as a Brahman. So he was given the gift of the goddess of music who then had this part-time job of representing the untouchables, because her father was one. M.I.A's father, whom she named her first album after, was a Tamil revolutionary in Sri Lanka, a separatist in a very violent place. M.I.A. was raised by her mom, but she has stories about soldiers shooting at her school. 

M.I.A. and her mom eventually got out of Sri Lanka and landed as refugees in England, living in the British equivalent of what we would call a public housing project in this country. She then made her way to St. Martin's, a very prestigious art school in London. 

Getting back to M.I.A.'s new Album, her music is known for being eclectic and there is one song that feels like it has a real mix of influences: "AtTENTion." The song is written with all the words that have word 'tent' in them to describe the refugee philosophy — people who live in tents, the modern-day untouchables.


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