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M.I.A: Activism with a DIY Hip-Hop Beat

In Sri Lanka, tens of thousands were killed in the devastation of the recent Indian Ocean tsunami. The island nation of some 19 million people off the southern tip of India has already suffered from 20 years of civil war between the Tamil minority and the majority Buddhist Sinhalese.

Day to Day music critic Christian Bordal relates the inspirational story of M.I.A -- a young hip-hop artist who grew up in Sri Lanka and South London. Her music bridges the gap between her war-torn past and her urban present.

The first full-length CD from M.I.A -- born Maya Arulpragasam -- is called Arular after her father, a Tamil revolutionary. And beneath the CD's veneer of pop and dance beats are vivid, clashing images of war, cultural displacement and party life.

M.I.A says she had an idyllic childhood until the civil war intervened -- her father joined the Tamil fighters, and she and the rest of her family relocated to Britain, settling in a housing project in the south end of London. She blossomed in art school as a teen, and developed her own unique style of music -- a "do-it-yourself" aesthetic inspired by the British club scene, with stripped-down bass and drum rhythms driving catchy melodies.

M.I.A built her own tracks for the Arular CD at home on a simple sequencer, then enlisted the help of producers such as Steve Mackey, formerly of the British pop band Pulp, to help flesh out the final tunes.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Christian Bordal
Christian Bordal is a Norwegian-American (via Australia) musician, radio producer, and freelance music journalist who contributes regularly to Day to Day. He's very good at making faces and making a fool of himself, and he once impressed his NPR editors with a drunken recitation of the gibberish poem "Jabberwocky." He briefly considered launching a career performing at children's parties, but he finds his own children to be trouble enough. In addition to this list of remarkable professional accomplishments, he is a producer at member station KCRW in Los Angeles.