Back in 2007, the song Paper Planes was on loop on many of our playlists. While the three-minute song had catchy backing melodies, sampled sounds and a laid-back rapping style, M.I.A. had actually used the song to protest against people’s preconceived notions about immigrants. Skip to 16 years later, where we get to see her perform this song and more live on the stage of Bacardi NH7 Weekender in Pune, where the lineup includes artistes from around the globe – including Monuments, YG, Ezra Collective, Priya Ragu, Daler Mehndi and more.
M.I.A., born Mathangi ‘Maya’ Arulpragasam, is a London-born singer, who spent her childhood in northern Sri Lanka. She got her first exposure to the music industry as the graphic designer for the British pop punk group Elastica. From there, she went on to make many albums and singles and got to work with the talents of Diplo, Timbaland, Jay Z and more. Along the way, she’s picked up an Academy Award, a Grammy nomination and many more accolades. In a quick chat with My Kolkata, the artiste spoke about being in a lull during COVID, her comeback in 2022 with the release of her new studio album, Mata, along with other projects, and her mission to make music that will go “on and on”. Edited excerpts from the conversation…
My Kolkata: How are the preparations going for your performance at Bacardi NH7 Weekender?
M.I.A.: Believe it or not, I’m in the gym right now [preparing]!
Can you tell us a bit about the set you will be performing in Pune? Will you be DJing well?
How did you know this?! I’m going to try, it’s interesting.
While NH7 is being called your debut gig in India, you also did a show in 2012, in Kochi. And many of your videos feature India and Indian culture. So, why haven't you performed in the country earlier?
It’s interesting how my business circle and my management are more rooted in Europe or America. They felt that the impact of my message was culturally more significant in those territories than here. It’s not so much about connecting with people who are like me, but rather reaching those who have never heard a voice like mine before. I feel like a bit of a trailblazer, I guess.
Achieving this milestone as a musician must have been challenging…
It wasn't about being just another musician in a vast field; it was more like being a cultural representative for a whole culture that hadn’t really been seen in the Western musical landscape. And you know, even today in 2023-2024, it's still a pretty uphill battle to achieve that.
You previously said in an interview that you might want to move to India. What is it about India that you love?
Oh, this place is just mind-blowingly vast, you know? Intellectually, conceptually, spiritually – it's got it all. From snowy mountains to sprawling deserts, ancient languages and submerged temples. The stones in south India, untouched by water, preserve history like a time capsule. It’s fascinating, because the richness here is almost like a buffet for the mind. You’re never starved for intellectual or spiritual nourishment. And what's cool is you don't even need social media to access all this. You can just take a stroll and soak it all in.
On January 1, 2023, you wrote that 2022 was the year of ‘death and rebirth’. Some fans said you suffered an anaphylactic shock. Can you tell us anything about it?
It was like something out of Pulp Fiction. I actually ‘died’ – flatlined and everything. Had to go through that whole Pulp Fiction moment, where they injected adrenaline to bring me back to life. It was crazy.
You have expressed that you wanted to do other stuff and take some time out after the release of Aim in 2016. What was the “other stuff” And have you gotten around to doing them?
Here’s the rundown of what I’ve been up to. I wrote this book called On the Nine, which was initially released on an app. Now, I'm thinking of getting it printed and doing a fresh release.
Before COVID hit, I went through a transformative phase. It was like I hit pause on work, and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, when the lockdowns kicked in. I had already been through my own kind of lockdown, so I wasn’t too fazed. During that time, I realised I just wanted to be a storyteller, but in a long-format way. Social media was all about snappy attention spans, with five-second videos and TikTok ruling the scene. I craved something more substantial, something that went on and on.
In 2022, you also launched the OMNI website and app. Can you tell us about the conceptualisation and inception?
Let me quickly recap the whirlwind. So, before I kicked off the app, my goal was to weave this extensive narrative, a long-form story that delved into the cycles of mythology. It drew inspiration from the stories of various religions, a bit of everything from every faith, exploring how those narratives resonate in our modern world and guide us as we move forward. The hope is that it becomes a guiding principle of sorts.