You might know M.I.A. from her mega hits like “Paper Planes” and “Bad Girls”, or her giving a particular gesture to the millions of viewers of the Superbowl, but there’s a lot more to Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam, the West London-born, Sri-Lankan raised artist than you might expect.
1. Known for her catchy but political music, she is a product of her environment.
Her father was a founding member of the Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students, a political Tamil group and for 11 years. Maya was subject to displacement and risk in Jaffna, Sri Lanka due to an ongoing conflict between Tamils and the Sri Lankan Army.
2. Her albums are named after her family.
Even though her father did not like it, the first album was named Arular, after him. The second is Kala, after her mother, then Maya and Matangi, her names.
3. Her mixtape Vicki Leekx was released on New Years Eve, a response to the 2010 Wikileaks controversy.
She counts Wikileaks founder and political prisoner Julian Assange as a friend, he’s even appeared via Skype at her concerts.
4. She dated Diplo for 5 years.
She provided vocals for his first album and they lived together. Later she dated millionaire and occasional musician Ben Bronfman and had a child with him, named Ikhyd.
5. Speaking of Ikhyd, he was born only three days after M.A. performed at the Grammy awards.
6. M.I.A. is regarded as a refugee icon.
In addition to Sri Lanka and UK, she has lived in several parts of Africa, Beverly Hills, and New York City. She has been restricted from many countries, had visas denied, and citizenships revoked. None of 2007’s album Kala was recorded stateside because she was refused a long-term work visa.
7. M.I.A. has been interviewed by the likes of NPR, The New York Times, Al Jazeera, Pitchfork and more.
Her interviews are funny but ultimately, like her music, deeply referential and political.
8. Her Twitter is largely an extension of her music, a testing ground of ideas and thoughts with nearly 600,000 people following along.
9. “Paper Planes” repeatedly ranks highly on lists of the best songs of the 2000’s and in some cases, of all-time.
It was a song about her frustration with the immigration process in America.
10. M.I.A. says the middle finger at the Superbowl was a spiritual gesture, explaining that Matangi is a Hindu goddess whose symbol is the middle finger.
11. Her recent work “Borders” deals with the migrant crisis in Europe, and features real migrants making the journey.
12. M.I.A. pulls performers and artists from all over the world and features them on her albums and in her videos.
Guests include The Wilcannia Mob, Afrikan Boy, Diplo and more.
13. She’s also worked with A.R. Rahman, Madonna, Missy Elliot, Timbaland, Azealia Banks, Kanye West and more.
14. Kala was recorded in India, Jamaica, Australia, Liberia and Trinidad.
15. M.I.A. has her own label, called N.E.E.T, which stands for Not in Education, Employment, or Training, a subgroup of youth who are not in school, not working and not looking for work.
16. Arular, her highly anticipated debut album, was almost not released because there were so many problems with releasing it.
The album was a catalyst for political conversation as much as it was a dance album.