On the 22nd of March 2005, M.I.A’s debut album came out with a bang and many recorded gunshots. And it still carries an energy that is more than needed 15 years later where the foreseeable political polarisation has spread and made a comfortable home for itself in more and more countries. It seems to fit even better to revisit Arular again in this moment in time since there is an air of revolution around which arose from the paradox of living in isolation. Companies are being exposed for their treatment of employees, state institutions have to show the actual resources available, work-life balance is being redefined – all the while, no one is allowed to physically but only digitally connect with each other.
I was ten when Arular came out and the first time I became aware of M.I.A was while watching Slumdog Millionaire which features her second album’s single Paper Planes. Suddenly, the mix of dancehall, hip hop, funk, and electro was omnipresent in my life and it started my obsession with all kinds of music featuring heavy drum ‘n’ bass beats. Naturally, I explored her previous work and it is exactly what I needed to validate my own teenage rebellion. Arular, a tribute to her father’s involvement in the Sri Lankan Tamil militant movement, does not give its listener a second to rest while cleverly taking apart social and institutional beliefs. The anti-anti-messages certainly helped my thirteen-year-old ‘Punk’s Not Dead’ – self to give this new and prejudiced subculture a chance.
The three singles Galang, Sunshowers, and Bucky Done Gun released with the first glimpses of the album’s visual artwork as well as the delayed release (originally planned for September 2004) frame the record’s intention and agenda in such a perfect way that it seemed destined to be included in almost all Best of Year and Decade-lists. It is further full of lyrics that have aged incredibly well and resist to be boxed in:
“Can I get control?
Do you like me vulnerable?
I’m armed, and I’m equal
More fun for the people
Physical, brute force
Steel lion, you’re the boss
Yeah, you’re so do-able
Grind me down, sugar, slow”
(‘Bucky Done Gun’)
With the implied need for branding overtly-produced music in a certain way to make it ‘accessible’ for as many people as possible, it seems harder to find new music that is feminist, anti-capitalist, sexy, angry, intelligent and dance-/twerkable all at the same time. One of my favourite lines (and important for anyone planning on hitting on me proficiently in the future) is still URAQT‘s: “Is your dad a dealer? Cause you’re dope to me”. Beside this display of lyrical brilliance, the track is now also a beautiful mockery of our a-dt-dt-dt-dt-iction to smartphones.
On the note of social media presence – two days ago, M.I.A tweeted a statement about the current state of the world and her message prevails after all these years:
“Earth is a living breathing organism If you fuck with it. It fucks with you. Everything is connected. If you walk into the future arrogant in your ignorance put all faith in modernization. Corona will be a tiny foot note in the grand scale of things. Reset the router. Good luck.” (Source)
Arular screams vigilance, taking responsibility, standing united, and gaining hope so right now with all this time on our hands to plan the revolution, let’s make it the soundtrack to this new chapter. Or at least, have a dance on one’s lonesome cause in the end,
“Whether you are,
Swinging out to swing beat
Laying low and jacking up to Lou Reed
Chasing out to Pixies and the Beasties
Doing accede with hair-colored geek freaks
F-F-W-D onto the ’04
Got my own flow get you to the dance floor”
Ultimately, there is no way to separate political activism from any of Mathangi Arulpragasam’s art. It is the fuel that has started her career, drives her recent work forward and makes her an artist almost everyone has a strong opinion on. After the success of the documentary Matangi/Maya/M.I.A in 2018, all the other material that did not make it into the film as well as the wish for creative freedom, she decided to open a Patreon in the beginning of this year and further announced a new record called Vision to be released 2020. After AIM’s release in 2016, she stated that this would be her last album but apparently M.I.A knows that her musical work is not done yet on this earth – and I’m quite relieved about that fact.