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M.I.A is blatant about defending our rights

This article is over 17 years, 2 months old
Rising star M.I.A, aka Maya Arulpragasam, blends politics and music to devastating effect. Kelly Hilditch spoke to her about her life and work
Issue 1948
M.I.A: straight out of the melting pot (Pic: David Titlow)

M.I.A: straight out of the melting pot (Pic: David Titlow)

I just want to make music that makes people feel good, that makes people want to dance. But when people ask me questions, I want to talk about stuff, about people’s everyday life.

I am quite an opinionated artist, and in England talking about stuff is seen as quite a naff thing to do. So we’ve got a thousand people making music who don’t really say anything at all.

So it was just automatic to end up talking about what it means to be working class — because this is something that also needs looking at. I came to England and ended up in a council flat, so I grew up with a working class mentality. That’s where I ended up, and that’s the language I learned.

When I first moved to England I lived in Mitcham and it was all white, so that was my world for about two years.

Then when I was 14 or whatever I started hanging out with boys, hanging around loads of council flats, and meeting different communities of kids. I learnt about different cultures — but they were different working class cultures.

I love to have lots of cultures to access — it should just make life a bit more interesting, our multicultural melting pot here in London. There’s no point fighting that, even if “go home” does make front page on the newspapers these days. I mean, what do they want us to do?

I’m already integrated into British society. They couldn’t have got away with this five years ago. You couldn’t have said, “Go back to your own country.” But now we’re back to being really harsh about it again.

Talking about “immigrants” in Britain is like talking about a bunch of potatoes — they’re really faceless. It’s really one-sided at the moment, and that’s really dangerous.

I lived for ten years in Sri Lanka, but I feel British. I’ve even started talking for the British when I’m in America. And to have Britain turn around and question your stand in Britain — it’s a bit shit to deal with when you come back home. So let’s be blatant about it, don’t hide, don’t be hush hush. Let’s define what people’s rights are based on — their culture and where they come from.

I lived in Sri Lanka as a child and I’ve never really let it go. When I first came to England, I was kind of in denial about what I was going through — I thought the only way to get over the stuff I’d experienced in my childhood was to block it out.

But then I realised that dealing with it is much better — dealing with whatever you’ve experienced. That’s why I put my experience into my work. In terms of how things have shaped up, a lot of people are focusing on the political aspects of my work — what’s going on in Sri Lanka now. I wanted to shed some light on this, but what really concerns me is how we live in England.

Sri Lanka is a place that needs a lot of attention, because of the war, the tsunami and everything.

So it’s only right that I should talk about it, point people to that part of the world. But how people get by in England is for me something I feel just as passionate about.

It was 1985 when the war in Sri Lanka really started, when people were seeing it on the news for the first time. I think Sri Lankans came here and lived really passively. Ever since they branded the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist organisation, they were banned — the Tamil tigers and the Tamil people — from talking to the press. So for the past 16 years they haven’t been allowed to come on British television and talk about what’s going on.

There’s war crimes and unjustifiable acts of violence, stuff that’s going on in Sri Lanka and no one can really say. Even the rights of the Tamil people to live have been taken out of the constitution.

They’ve just branded this whole group of people as “tigers”, and now it’s easy to get rid of them. It’s a real dodgy thing that’s going on in Sri Lanka.

Arular, the debut album from M.I.A is out now on XL Recordings. Go to

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