M.I.A. was born in Hounslow, London on 17 July 1977. She is the daughter of Kala and Arul Pragasam. Her family belongs to Sri Lankan Tamil. When she was just six, her family moved back to their native Sri Lanka. Her father wished to support the Tamil militancy on the island and became a political activist. He adopted the name Arular. He was a founding member of The Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students (EROS), a political Tamil group that worked to establish an independent Tamil Eelam.
The first few years of her life were marked by displacement. As the civil war escalated, it became unsafe for the family to stay in Sri Lanka. So they moved to Chennai, India. Contact with her father was strictly limited. She claims that her school was destroyed in a government raid. Then she, her two siblings, and mother (Kala) moved back to London where they were housed as refugees.
M.I.A. graduated from London's Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, with a degree in fine art, film, and video. She currently lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York, in the United States and is engaged to Benjamin Brewer, singer and guitarist for the band The Exit and a member of the Bronfman family.
She became an accomplished visual artist by 2002. She came to prominence in early 2004 through file-sharing of her singles "Galang" and "Sunshowers" on the Internet. She released her Mercury Prize-nominated debut album Arular in 2005. Her second album, "Kala", was released in 2007 and gained her mainstream chart success. M.I.A. has been nominated for two Grammy Awards and an Academy Award.
Her compositions have been noted to encompass various genres, often with political lyricism and artwork. M.I.A. has described her music style as being "other". In addition to her work as a graphic designer, providing artwork and photography for releases and as a director of music videos, she has also experimented with documentary film and in 2008 released a collection of her fashion designs. M.I.A. is the founder of the record label N.E.E.T.
A mix of dancehall, electro, jungle, and world music, Showbiz Records pressed 500 copies of the independent vinyl single "Galang" in 2003, which became popular and made an immediate impact. In 2004, file sharing and airplay on college radio of songs such as "Galang" and "Sunshowers", with the rise in popularity of them in clubs and around the Internet by word of mouth, made her a household name to international music listeners before she had graced a stage, leading commentators to herald her as one of the first successful examples of doing so-someone who could be used to study and reexamine the impact of the internet on the way that listeners listened to and were exposed to new music. Major record labels caught onto the popularity of "Galang", and M.I.A. eventually signed to XL Recordings.
"Galang" was re-released in 2004. The accompanying music video for the song, featuring multiple M.I.A.s amid a backdrop of her militaristic graffiti artwork animated and brought to life, was art-directed by M.I.A., depicting scenes of urban Britain and war. Her next single, "Sunshowers", released on 5 July 2004, and its B-side ("Fire Fire") described guerrilla warfare and asylum seeking, with one reviewer characterizing the former as "a portrait of religious persecution" and the latter as a "tug-of-war battle between pop culture and guerrilla culture". For this track, M.I.A. filmed a video in the jungles of South India. A successful mashup mixtape of Arular tracks, Piracy Funds Terrorism, was released in December 2004 via the blogosphere and her live shows.
Arulpragasam's debut album Arular was eventually released worldwide in March 2005 to universal critical acclaim. Composing and titling the album Arular in acknowledgment of her and her father's past, much of its focus lay in experimentation. Consisting of bold, jarring and ambient sounds, complimentary lyrics on Arular were both observational and reflective of her experiences of identity politics, indie culture, popular culture, poverty, revolution, war and with the working class, exemplified by songs such as "Amazon", "Fire Fire" and "M.I.A.". Referencing the PLO and the Tamil independence movements, its themes, use of culture-jamming, multi-lingual slang, and its mix of strident and elusive imagery, social commentary and storytelling incited debate.
Arulpragasam was first exposed to Western radio in London, hearing broadcasts emanating from her neighbours' flats in the late '80s. Her liking for hip-hop and dancehall developed from there, finding a common identity with "the starkness of the sound" of Public Enemy, records by MC Shan, Ultramagnetic MCs and the "weird, distinct style" of acts such as Silver Bullet and London Posse. Her time at college shaped her affinity for punk, the emerging sound of Britpop alt-rock and electroclash, after which she began writing songs. She has spoken of the large influence musicians The Slits, Malcolm Mclaren and The Clash had on her living in West London.
On 19 July 2005, M.I.A. was shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize for Arular. In December, Arular was the second most featured album in music critics Year-End Top 10 lists for 2005, and named best of 2005 by publications such as Blender, Stylus and Musikbyran. M.I.A. ended 2005 briefly touring with Gwen Stefani and the Big Day Out festival.
In 2006 M.I.A. wrote and recorded her second studio album, Kala, named after her mother. Following censorship controversies and documented U.S. visa problems in 2006, Kala was worked on while M.I.A. travelled through several locations including India, Trinidad, Liberia, Jamaica, Australia, Japan, the UK and US, using more diverse live instrumentation and brash colours for heavier textures, and layering, whilst exploring traditional dance and folk styles such as soca and urumee melam (in songs such as "Boyz") and rave culture and music (in "XR2") among others. The unconventional recording sessions brought out, as did her artwork and photography for the album, both the celebratory and the "rawer, darker, outsider" themes that were felt to have run through Kala. The album also saw her re-embrace bootleg soundtracks of the film music of India from her childhood. Arulpragasam wrote songs about immigration politics, her personal relationships and war. She made songs and videos such as "Hit That" and "Bird Flu" available on her internet accounts, official website and for digital download. M.I.A. featured in the song "Come Around", a bonus track on Timbaland's 2007 album Shock Value and a track on Kala. Before her second album's release, Arulpragasam confronted the public media on what she felt of some journalists' motives behind misinformation regarding her work. Released on 11 June 2007, "Boyz," music video was co-directed by Jay Will and M.I.A. and the album's second single "Jimmy," followed (about a genocide tour date invite Arulpragasam received whilst in Liberia).
General acclaim met Kala's release in August 2007. Arulpragasam's 2007 tour in support of Kala, including at Rock en Seine, Get Loaded in the Park - a festival gig that drew a crowd sing-along pitch described in a review as "near hysterical", the Electric Picnic, Connect, the Virgin Festivals, the Osheaga Festival and Parklife. M.I.A. ended 2007 with a mini-tour of venues in the UK. She provides guest vocals on supporting act Buraka Som Sistema's kuduro song "Sound of Kuduro".
In the documentary Spike Jonze Spends Saturday with M.I.A, M.I.A. and director Spike Jonze visit Afrikan Boy in his immigrant neighborhood of Woolwich, South London. In the documentary, M.I.A spoke of the possibility of launching her own record label entitled Zig-Zag, with Afrikan Boy's track "Lidl" being the first release.
In December 2007, Kala was named the best album of 2007 by publications including Rolling Stone and Blender. M.I.A. released Paper Planes - Homeland Security Remixes EP digitally on 11 February 2008. In early 2008, M.I.A. DJed at the Marc Jacobs fashion show after party, and modelled for "Marc by Marc Jacobs" in Spring/Summer 2008.
M.I.A. is referenced in a song of the same name by anti-folk artist Emmy the Great.
M.I.A. toured during the first half of 2008, with opening tourmates including Holy Fuck, before stating she would end touring in support of Kala, cancelling her European tour dates through June and July, opting to work on her next album. Stating "This is my last show, and I'm glad I'm spending it with all my hippies", M.I.A performed a set at the Bonnaroo Music Festival.
In 2008, M.I.A. started her music label, N.E.E.T. signing Rye Rye. She is currently working on Rye Rye's and her own new album, using instruments such as the Korg Kaossilator. During her tour she said "I went to Mexico to the pyramids... I sat on top of the pyramid making a beat and it just sounded so huge, like the biggest reverby beat". M.I.A. has discussed possible themes on her next record and tour mate Egyptian Lover has said that he will be collaborating with M.I.A. on her third album.
In a September 2008 interview M.I.A. stated "All my teenage-angst kind of songs go to [Rye Rye]." On her next album, she stated "I'd love to write songs like The Last Shadow Puppets or something, or like old Blur songs" and revealed that she is currently working on a "really pretty song" with the working title "Live In Love In Pain".
M.I.A. recorded a cover of Tom Waits' "Way Down in the Hole" with Blaqstarr, (The Wire's main theme). The How Many Votes Fix Mix EP featuring a remix of "Boyz" with Jay-Z was released.
M.I.A. contributed songs for A. R. Rahman's score of Slumdog Millionaire, which included the collaboration "O Saya", releasing the soundtrack in late 2008 via N.E.E.T. In 2009, "O Saya" was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Politics and global ideas are prominent in M.I.A.'s art. On the political nature of her work she has said, "I have to be true to that - I can't take certain things away. I do have a political background. I'm only in England, learning this language and building a life in this society, because of political reasons. Why would I deny that?" M.I.A. has talked about the fusion of politics into her music. "Nobody wants to be dancing to political songs. Every bit of music out there that's making it into the mainstream is really about nothing. I wanted to see if I could write songs about something important and make it sound like nothing. And it kind of worked".
Asked in 2005 if she was always political, M.I.A. referenced her political development. "I think I was always slightly political but my issues change with what's going on in my life. Politics is something that I've never been able to discuss with anyone and everyone, my life in England for the first ten years wasn't really political. It was more about getting an equal shot as the next person. I wanted a shot at an education, politics came back to me after I went back to Sri Lanka. Once I studied and wanted to be a filmmaker, I tried to make a documentary on what it was like to be a young person in Sri Lanka. I wanted to make a film that could compare the 19 year olds in Sri Lanka. That's when I came across so much politics.
M.I.A. has expressed discontent with the formula for the War on Terror and its global impact. "You can't separate the world into two parts like that, good and evil. Terrorism is a method, but America has successfully tied all these pockets of independence struggles, revolutions, and extremists into one big notion of terrorism". She has spoken of her experiences before and during the Sri Lankan civil war, the human rights abuses Sri Lanka is accused of perpetrating, informing on the current situation on the island on her MySpace. M.I.A. has visited Liberia several times, releasing details via MySpace on the progress of her school-building projects in the country. She revisited Liberia in 2006 to meet the President of Liberia Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and war-affected people there including ex-child soldiers and featured in a "4Real" TV-Series documentary on the post war situation in the country with activist Kimmie Weeks.
In an August 2007 interview, Arulpragasam said "It's O.K. to add new elements to your ideas, to your existence...There will be more bridges built between the developed and developing world". M.I.A. has included numerous artists from developed and developing countries in her music. She says the attention entertainment figures bring to the developing world is beneficial, but has noted that while Western music has permeated into developing societies such as in Africa, many people in the West do not "hear the starving African kids say something or do something or sing something or express something. We show them but they don't have a voice." In a documentary, she stated "We have all these preconceived ideas of a kid in Africa...dudes in their African cloths singing under a tree with a stick, you know, and it's not like that. It's way more progressive. It's way more progressive than music in the West."
M.I.A proved popular at the annual Experience Music Project's Pop Conference held in Seattle, USA in April 2008, with paper submissions and discussions on her and her work presented on the theme of "Shake, Rattle: Music, Conflict, and Change".
M.I.A has called the actions of the Sri Lankan government in the current Sri Lankan Civil War as genocide against Tamils. The video for her song "Bird Flu", shows children dancing in front of "what looks like [the LTTE's] logo - a roaring tiger". << Less Bio