12 August 2022

British Rap Artist M.I.A. Riffs on her Tamil Roots

Mia

Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam, also known as M.I.A., is a British rap artist who creates sounds that cross hip hop with dance hall, jungle and world music. The daughter of a Sri Lankan Tamil resistance leader, her family was displaced multiple times and went into hiding before immigrating to London as refugees. 

Arulpragasam grew up listening to rap in south London in an environment of racism, and later attended London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design where she was one of few students of colour. 

In Steve Loveridge’s documentary, Matangi/Maya/M.I.A., we learn of Arulpragasam’s experiences as a woman who fights media misperceptions about her music and about the continuing turmoil in Sri Lanka. Over time, M.I.A.’s songs of resistance won her nominations for an Academy Award and three Grammys. 

Throughout Arulpragasam’s 16-year music career, her success has intersected with the political situation in Sri Lanka. She has accused the Sri Lankan army of genocide against the Tamils, while the music industry encourages her to write about fluff. In 2011, the NFL sued her for millions for extending the middle finger to the camera while performing “Give Me All Your Luvin’” with Madonna and Nicki Minaj at the Super Bowl Halftime Show.  

Arulpragasam, who has a 10-year-old son, continues to create on her terms. “I need to keep the immigrant story in all my work because that’s what I’m trying to make sense of,” she says. Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. won the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.