Countries are sometimes divided so politically and religiously, that it causes the whole place to fall apart. With no real majority in these areas, but certainly many minorities, any government on the side of one group of people is bound to get major disagreement from the other groups. But with such radical opposites being at each other’s throats, it seemed to various people that these issues could no longer be resolved with just words. As bad as that may seem, it happened in Sri Lanka and caused the country to get into even bigger turmoil. And such begins the story of how Maya Arulpragasam (M.I.A.) and her debut Arular
begins. Maya’s father was a founder of the guerrilla revolutionary group the Tamil Tigers, a group set to fight against the Sinhalese government for methodically discriminating against the Tamil minority. After a while the Tigers were known for suicide bombings and getting children to fight as well, which has lead other countries to label them as terrorists. M.I.A. and her family fled to England as refugees while her father stayed behind amidst the chaos. What does all of this have to do with Arular
? Surprisingly, everything.
While it’s easy to dismiss an album beginning with the word “Banana" being chanted over and over again in a hypnotic manner (but unfortunately doesn‘t teach you how to spell it, unlike the considerate Gwen Stefani,) Arular
has made a huge splash in the hip hop scene. Getting critical acclaim that would make Kanye West jealous (West’s next TV appearance: “M.I.A. doesn‘t care about black people") and I’m guessing it won’t be long before it starts climbing up the charts. Of course this isn’t your ordinary hip hop record, it’s not everyday a Sri Lankan rapper around. In fact, it’s not any
day at all. Even from the light hearted opener Ba-na-na Skit
, one can hear the unconventional beats that are used throughout the album: Steady dancehall rhythms crossed with bhangra rhythms (Punjabi dance music) that sound like a pulse dipping in and out of grooves, made up of faux handclaps and buzzing drumbeats.
Thanks to the odd sounding rhythm, the song’s tempo and melody can be crafted to be equally quirky. And so the stop-start song structures in Arular
are created, whether it’d be the synth bleep ridden Pull up the People
, a bass driven song that marries the marimba and zooming, zipping Groovebox
sounds. M.I.A.’s melodic approach to the album is quite the same: robotic, rigid, it’s really not melodic at all. Yet somehow the songs are crazily infectious, somewhere in the heavy basslines, babbling synths and myriads of styles, M.I.A. has created the appeal mostly out of everything but the melody.
But M.I.A. herself seems to be what makes the music absolutely unique. Her accent gives a great spin on all her rapping, sometimes twisting the words to a yelp or rhyming contorted and stretched words, giving an organic, sensual feel to the music. She sounds like a bratty school girl mixed with an arrogant, bad-ass tone. She blurts out the chorus to Galang
in a smooth manner, but still maintain her eccentric attributes. Hombre
is a perfect example of her playful, tongue-in-cheek vocals. The chorus of “eeeeeeeeeehhhh" is presented in an eerie, mystical manner as it echoes and transcends through the Latin vibe of the song.
In the midst of these party songs, contains M.I.A.’s lyrics about war, her life as a refugee and the guerrilla soldiers the Tamil Tigers. Of course lyrics like these, from Fire Fire
"Growin up, Brewin Up
Guerilla gettin trained up
look out look out
From over the Rooftop"
"Competition coming up now
Would cause a bit of a stir. Indeed, the influence of the Tamil Tigers, her father and what’s happened in Sri Lanka is an undeniable influence on Arular
. Is she terrorist? Does she support terrorism? Most probably not, questions like those are most likely brought on because of America’s uneasy, paranoid state. She publicly speaks against violence, which is strange considering the stencil images of tanks, guns and grenades on her album, and those afore-mentioned lyrics. Maybe the lyrics are just supposed to be ironic. One thing is for sure, with the album’s eclectic style of dance music and fast-paced electronic ecstasy, one won’t be able to tell which lyrics are violent and which are ready for party time, bitches
! Actually that’s a scary thought, isn’t it? Despite the mildly annoying skits throughout the album, this is the one album to be looked out for if someone is looking for the freshest, most unique hip hop of the time.
Bucky Done Gun