An Interview M.I.A. Maya Arulpragasam from Sri Lanka - Printable Version
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An Interview M.I.A. Maya Arulpragasam from Sri Lanka - Plume - 01-11-2008 01:15 PM
what a perspective:
Pitchfork: A friend has a theory that, no matter where it comes from or how underground it is, all music is made with the intent to be heard by as many people as possible.
M.I.A.: When Lauryn Hill got really big with the Fugees, apparently she turned around and said, "I don't make music for white people." I feel the opposite, 'cause it is about communicating. I want to talk about where I fit it on this planet.
My problem is that politics is the first thing that defines who I am. It's like, "You're just The Other, you're this thing. You have evil thoughts about the world." When I watch President Bush on the telly going, we need to fight the axis of evil and kill these terrorists by all means necessary, I just go, "Shit, poor Dad." In the 70s all he wanted to do was be a revolutionary like Bob Dylan. He had idealistic views about changing the world for the better and fighting for people who don't have a voice-- the same thing that Bob Dylan wanted to do. Now, he's like this straight-up, evil terrorist; a gunned masked man with a semi-automatic ready to take down and behead people.
It's not like that; it's really not. It's so much more complex. They've made a cartoon character out of a terrorist. It's so ironic that I'm here because the front of this week's Newsweek is exactly what I was singing about on "Sunshowers". It's like, "Who are these people and can we stop them?" And the people on the cover just look so ghetto. Back in the day it used to be N.W.A. with gheri curls, shades, and guns-- now it's the terrorists.
Pitchfork: Isn't that all strategic? If you want to rally a bunch of people to take someone down, the first thing you have to do is de-personalize your enemy.
M.I.A.: Yeah, of course, but the average person doesn't know that. That's really what it's about, to get to the average person and to go, "Look, this is how complicated it is." I come from a part of the world where most of the people are caught up in all that shit. They live in an area surrounded by conflict. They don't even need to take sides or have anything to do with the Tigers-- because they're Tamils, others can just [dismiss them] as not cool. It's the same as saying all Muslims are not cool, it's really dangerous to do that.
Pitchfork: What does your father do now?
M.I.A.: He's a writer. He writes books. He's trying to invent ways to create energy and rebuild Sri Lanka without money; ways for people to produce and maintain a certain standard of living that doesn't take a lot. He [still] has some political interest-- he's trying to stay ahead of what's going on, but it's really difficult.
Pitchfork: Is he based in London?
M.I.A.: No, he's in Sri Lanka. My Dad [stayed] in Sri Lanka.
Pitchfork: When you're in Sri Lanka, do you feel like people identify you as a Londoner and vice versa?
M.I.A.: When I go to Sri Lanka-- I mean, I haven't been that many times-- but when I went, it was really difficult, just because of how I dress and what I look like. They go, "Oh my God, she's so Westernized." I have brown bits in my hair, and my Mom was practically on her knees screaming, "Nooo! You have to dye your hair before you leave the house or I'll kill myself!" I'd be like, "What are you freaking out about?" and she'd explain the Tamil Tiger girls have been in the jungle for so long that their hair goes brown, and if you walk out like this, you're going to get shot because people will think you're a Tamil Tiger girl. And I'd be like, [posh accent] "Mom, this is fashion! From England! L'Oreal hair color, like, get with it-- because I'm worth it!"
That's how they knew I was Westernized, because I'd be brave and I'd walk to the shops. And they'd be like, "No no no-- you just don't do shit like that around here. Get off the bicycle and quit it, 'cause you will get killed."
Pitchfork: But when you're in London-- or anywhere in America for that matter-- do people identify you as Sri Lankan first and foremost?
M.I.A.: I'm stuck in the middle with nowhere to go. Nobody wants me! So I have to throw myself out there and let anything happen, because I have no sense of home. Part of me wants to go through a mad journey because it's like I have nothing to lose. I have no one to disappoint if I get it wrong. And it's brilliant, because instead of being depressed about not having a home, you can embrace it and turn it into freedom. It frees me from having any cultural connections.
I didn't feel good growing up back in the day in London with Sri Lankans, 'cause they'd look down on us. They'd be like, "Oh, you haven't got a Dad. My Daddy's a doctor, and we're going to private school, and then I'm going to Cambridge to be a doctor." And I knew when I was a kid that was never going to happen to me. I had no parents helping me with my homework. My parents never came to a parents' meeting in school, I went to my own-- "How'm I doing this year?" [laughs] Then when I started doing art, and everyone was like, "Oh my God, your children are so thick that they have to take art!"
Pitchfork: I didn't think it was that conservative.
M.I.A.: Sri Lankans come over to England and aspire to be the Queen. They want to adapt and act like that. Or they want to preserve middle-class Sri Lankan values. And that's not even what's good about Sri Lankan culture! Put the sitar down-- we already know that it's something we can access.
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