M.I.A., or Maya, is a British musician of Tamil descent that has incorporated many African and other regional sounds into her songs. Having been affected by the civil war in Sri Lanka (her father fought on the side of the Tamil Tigers), her family relocated her to India and then to London where she began making her music. While producing songs for her album Kala, she travelled around the world to places such as Trinidad, Liberia, Jamaica, and Angola, in order to gain inspiration for her music. Many of the African influences can be witnessed in her works.
One of her lesser known songs, Sound of Kuduro, on the Kala Reissue Bonus CD, she fuses many aspects of the music from Angola with her more modern electronic style. In Angola, this style of music is called kuduro which is defined as being very uptempo, energetic, and danceable. As it can be seen in the video, Sound of Kuduro is meant to be a social song, where everyone can interact and dance to the music, which is common in many African musical cultures such as in the Ghana Post Office Recording, the Ewe Agbekor, and the BaAka “Makala”. This can be seen in the video where everyone gathers around in a social setting to dance to the music. There is also a heavy emphasis on the drums which is shared with African music. While the song does not encompass traditional improvisation, the rapping of Buraka Som Sistema merges a Western form of improvisation to the music.
One aspect of M.I.A.’s music that seems to attract her listeners to her is the social activism and politically charged lyrics that she incorporates in her songs. Many of her songs from “Bamboo Banga” to “Sunshowers” talk about acts of terrorism by freedom fighters of the Palestinian Liberation Organization or the Tamil Tigers that she considers to be fighting for a just cause. Having grown up on the losing side of a civil war, M.I.A. has constantly used her songs to express her opinions subjects such as human rights abuses, war crimes and materialism. Her activism is reminiscent of the music performed by Thomas Mapfumo, who used his performances to embrace the Bantu language and Shona culture, and to fight back against the Western culture that was oppressing his people. M.I.A. uses her global influences to give western listeners a non-ethnocentric view of other places in the world.
One of her more well-known songs, which strands all of these elements together is Boyz, off of the album Kala. In the song, she takes a very feminist stance by saying that boys are naturally rowdy and prone to beginning conflicts when she sings: “How many, no money boys are rowdy? How many start a war?” followed by “it’s the new warlord”. In her remix of the song, she takes clear shots at President Bush for sending troops into the Middle East during his administration. Another aspect of African culture that appears in Boyz is her chants that she sings at the very beginning of the song. These vocables can be seen in other African songs that we discussed that involved typical war chants. Also, she seems to be using a form of antiphony, a commonality in many African musical cultures, that has her responding to herself through the use of digital media and to Jay-Z towards the end of the song. Finally, like her other songs, the heavy emphasis on the beat and the drums allows her listeners to get up and dance.