The Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter M.I.A. is slated to perform at the State Theatre in Portland on Tuesday, May 6th. The show, a stop on her fifth global headlining tour, is the artist’s first performance in the state and will also feature rapper A$AP Ferg of the A$AP Mob collective as its opening act.
Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam, better know by her stage name M.I.A., made her foray into the music scene in 2005, when her first album Arular was released to universal critical acclaim. Her following two albums, Kala (2007) and Maya (2010), brought her further into the spotlight after charting across Europe and the U.S., and her hit single “Paper Planes” earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Record of the Year in 2009. Additionally, after contributing to the score of 2008 Best Picture Slumdog Millionaire, her track “O… Saya” was nominated for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards.
After numerous delays by record label Interscope and threats from the artist to leak the album herself, Matangi was released on November 5th, 2013. Though the album is M.I.A.’s lowest charting to date, it has received generally positive reviews from music critics. Its first track “Bad Girls” (released back in 2012 on a mixtape) is one of her most successful singles, having afforded her another nomination at the 55th Grammy Awards. “Matangi,” another version of the artist’s real first name, is also the name of a Hindu goddess of music who “lived on the outskirts of mainstream society” and acted as a voice for the voiceless, according to M.I.A. in a 2013 NPR interview.
M.I.A.’s artistic identity is largely informed by her childhood experiences in Sri Lanka, during a time when the country was torn apart by civil war. Her father, Arular, whom her first album is named after, was a political activist and revolutionary for the Tamils, the separatist ethnic minority group at war with the Sri Lankan government. After years of violence and displacement, Maya and her family landed in London as refugees living in public housing. While there, she taught herself English, literally argued her way into a prestigious art school, and began her ascent to the global music platform she now stands upon.
Known for incorporating a range of political, social, and cultural references into her music, M.I.A. has been lauded for shattering conventions and using popular music as a channel for modern political discourse. Her lyrics have explored such topics as identity, geopolitics, poverty, immigration, exile, war, terrorism, the Third World, revolution, and globalization. A song on her latest album, “AtTENTion,” uses only words containing “tent” in them – in reference the millions of refugees around the world who live in tents – and was written with the help of WikiLeaks founder and political asylee Julian Assange. There is even a summer course taught at Brown University titled “Music & Politics: From Mozart to M.I.A.,” with the objective of academically exploring “the way music has consistently participated in and reflected the political debates of its time.” Citing her unstable, voiceless formative years as the driving force behind her successful career, Maya sees it as her duty to be an advocate for today’s refugees and civilians in war.
Doors open to the concert at 7:00 pm, with the show beginning at 8:00. Tickets are currently available online at www.statetheatreportland.com for $25.