Matangi, the outcaste Hindu goddess of music, speech, knowledge and the arts; an appropriate name for the controversial, innovative, Sri Lankan, South London songstress, M.I.A and her most recent eponymous studio album. Continuing along the theme of naming her albums after family members, Matangi is a work that begs to be listened to. Atypically of the artist’s work, it draws on a diverse range of genres, styles and cultures; creating an intense cacophony of sounds at the very fringes of musical culture. Combined with the artist’s unstoppable political musings, Matangi is an album that makes for a lyrically direct and creative work.
This socio-political tour de force is immediately apparent within the summer release, “Bring the Noize”. A sitar intro swiftly makes way to raw political aggression. “The truth is like a rotten tooth, gotta spit it out” she snarls, in a flow not too dissimilar from Die Antwoord’s, over a pounding drum beat. Similarly within “Boom Skit”, M.I.A delivers a clear middle finger to recent critics, following a spat with a New York Times journalist and THAT Superbowl performance; “Brown girl, brown girl, turn your shit down, you know America don’t want to hear your sound”. The track then launches into a questioning of Western perceptions of the “Third World”. There’s Kony 2012 references next to Eat Pray Love quips all seamlessly sliding together to paint a picture of cultural misconception, Western misunderstanding, naivety and oversimplification. It’s complex, it’s in your face and it’s M.I.A at her lyrical best. Despite this, there’s no denying that at times the political message is seemingly lost in the experimental nature of the album. Title track “Matangi” is an interesting yet altogether confusing rhyming of random countries, “Bali, Malawi, Chile, Malawi”. Opening track “Karmageddon” is similarly abstract yet perhaps delivers with more force as M.I.A raps in that distinctive tone on the subject of authoritarianism, world peace and the marketing of sex – before launching the album with a stark yet simplistic message of warning, “My words are my armour and you’re about to meet your karma”. It’s a hypnotic song, half trance, half hard hitting rap, an appropriate introduction to this album so wrought with criticisms of our modern times.
However this political musing is nothing new for Maya Arulpragasam. From the moment she burst into the mainstream with “Paper Planes” exclaiming, “M.I.A Third World democracy. Yeah got more records than the KGB” over a Diplo edited Clash beat, to the now infamous video to “Born Free”, to having Wikileaks’ diplomatically – trapped founder Julian Assange opening one of her recent shows. It is clear that political awareness and a quest for justice run rampant through the artist’s work. So what exactly is it about Matangi that differentiates it? The answer to that is most likely within the album’s experimentalism. Throughout M.I.A is collaborating with long time production partner Switch, and handpicking genres and styles, clashing them and creating fascinating results. “Double Bubble Trouble” is a sped up trap beat with a hint of reggae and Indian drums, quasi Drake diss “Y.A.L.A” is hypnotic, glitchy dystopian synth pop, with build ups and drops that wouldn’t be amiss from an EDM set, before descending into the artists comical yet biting thoughts over Y.O.L.O and its surrounding culture, “Y.O.L.O? I don’t even know anymore… if you only live once why we keep doing the same shit. Back home where I come from we keep being born again and again and again. That’s why they invented karma.” Amongst other songs, “Bad Girls” still sounds as refreshingly unique as when it was released last year, “Sexodus” is a The Weeknd-sampling surreal, end to the album, partly seductive, partly filled with succinct, almost uncomfortable politics, “Do you wanna ride like a crusader?”. Some would say that this diversity within M.I.A’s work has been a long defining aspect of her music, indeed older tracks from the dancehall infused sounds of “Bucky Done Gun” and the Soca tinged “Boyz” is testament to this. However on Matangi, Maya has surpassed herself, whereas previous albums were a fun filled mashup of styles, Matangi is thematically and stylistically far more mature, with each genre and style seemingly fulfilling a distinct purpose.