M.I.A. – Arular

19 05 2010

Listened: Wednesday May 19

Unlike many Americans, I have been to Sri Lanka (during my 2 week trip I encountered many Brits, mainland Europeans, and Australians, but not one American). Consequently, back in 2005 when I heard there was some hotshot indie-darling musician from Sri Lanka-by-way-of-London on the scene, I had to check it out.

I didn’t get it, at all.

I remember listening to Arular in Mountain View Tower Records and thinking it was a little dissonant for my taste. I’m not a big fan of hip-hop in general because I dislike so much of the production and while some of the lyrics are probably good, they tend to be too mumbled (exceptions include Kanye West). However, the problem in this case was that listening to snippets of Arular in Tower Records was just the wrong setting for absorbing MIA’s music.

I had to hear her second record, Kala, which is a bit more approachable, before I could go back and appreciate Arular. And despite my first impression, the sound of Arular is actually really funky, not dissonant. The crazy rhythms, sounds, and world music beats (steel drums, etc) become an amazing knitted fabric on songs like Bucky Done Gun, Bingo, Sunshowers, etc. And the lyrics are just fun to sing to yourself both while you’re toiling at work or when you’re off on some mischief (“You are a cuteeee, is your dad a dealer cuz you’re dope to me!”, “London calling, speak the slang nowwww” “Slang tang, that’s that MIA thang, I got the beats to make you bang bang bang”).

I’m honestly really surprised she has gotten as big as she has. America clearly loves hip-hop, but who would have thought an artsy, rapping, British/Sri Lankan chick with real war-zone life experience would have done so well in the sea of Lil’ Johns, Lil’ Waynes, and Kanye Wests?