2005 Rerun: Arular – M.I.A.

arularFor Valentines Day this year, my household is planning on having a dance party as part of the One Billion Rising movement (http://www.onebillionrising.org/), which is basically attempting to get a lot of people dancing while raising awareness that violence against women is still a gigantic planet-wide concern.  Naturally, I’ll be DJing, so rather than playing some really obvious female-empowerment theme-songs, I’ve given myself two main rules: 1. No Chris Brown, whatsoever, and 2. A larger-than-usual amount of boss female-made dance tracks.  M.I.A. was literally my first thought.

I’m sure this is at least partially due to the fact that I recently found a second-hand, but quality-condition copy of her debut L.P., Arular.  I have to admit, I was a little late to the M.I.A. party, so much that I didn’t even include this album in my initial list of best 2000’s albums.  What was wrong with me?  Well, I think I was pridefully reacting to a negative experience which I too closely connected with M.I.A.’s music.  I was aware of Arular in 2006 because of a good friend who fell in love with the line in “Sunshowers”, “I salt and pepper my mango”, which I have forever since had lodged in my head.  I thought that the music was certainly original, but at the time, I didn’t have the patience for the loud and often violent rhythms of the record.  (It was also during a phase in my life when I was listening to a lot of Sufjan, Coldplay and Stars).  What really turned me off however, was a bad DJ at a house dance party.  This was actually a fairly important turning point in my life, for it was during this experience that I learned how anal I can be about music selection in social events and settings.  Basically, I went to this party that was pretty great at first.  Then they dropped M.I.A., and I got pretty excited because  it was  “Pull Up the People” , and that song is an excellent blend of revolutionary lyrics over some of the most fun and contagious beats ever produced.  Then what happened was curious indeed.  The selector followed it up with one song after another… from Arular.  They played an entire album at a dance party.  I get that this record is fun to dance to – you should see me do dishes with it on – but dance parties should never have only one artist played.  From that day forward, I was so angry with that particular person for clearing the dance floor by playing an L.P., that I stopped listening to the record.  It brought too many painful memories to mind, I guess.

I couldn’t tell you when I finally got over it and made her a go-to dance/world/hip-hop artist, but I did.  Although it took some time, I was soon able to appreciate it not only for what it had done to me personally, but also for what it stood for musically.  Arular is the sound of our shrinking planet, and only someone as multi-cultured as Maya Arulpragasam could have supplied.  M.I.A.’s music is a fusion of every rhythm-based musical culture, and has made it’s way into the center of American pop music. Having been thematically inspired by the controversial revolutionary group, the Tamil Tigers, of which M.I.A.’s father is a part, Arular holds the conflicts of various politics, faiths, and worldviews colliding. M.I.A. calls into question the labeling of any use of violence as terrorist activity, while calling a large population that hold this notion to get up and dance to her music.

Listening to Arular on vinyl at high volumes has only continued the process of redemption.   On record, Arular is divided up by sides, the first three all beginning with a “skit”. This is probably primarily because the shorter tracks are easier to fit on a side that has already been filled up with full length songs, but I feel as though they end up creating a marker, or a buffer zone between each record flip, giving me a chance to ease back into the intense experience of M.I.A.’s music.  The one exception is the final side (d), which begins with” U.R.A.Q.T”., which has a similar feel to the other skits in its video-game music quality.  I have to admit that one of my other favourite parts of owning this album on vinyl is the larger cover art.  Before rocking the world of pop music, Arulpragasam was a visual artist, and she includes her repetitive and colourful patterns along with lyric samples and militaristic images on the record sleeves.  This woman is so cool. She also makes use of her visual art in the music video for “Galang”.  Oh look, here it is!

This is one of the few records that I get equally excited for each individual side as well.  On side A, “Pull Up The People” and “Bucky Done Gun” are great tracks to start with (other than the “Banana Skit”), because either of them are a fantastic example of what M.I.A. does best: a great club track with words of revolution, such as “You no like the people they no like you, then they go and set it off with a big boom”, or “I’ll fight you just to get peace”.  Side B has the catchy and childlike chorus of “Sunshowers”, a song about gun culture and racism, and that single’s b-side, “Fire, Fire”, which I find super motivating around the house.  Also “Amazon”, which I didn’t love until recently, but which is able to set up the ideal imagery of a tropical paradise in tension with the danger of M.I.A’s character being held hostage.  Oh yeah, and here’s the “Sunshowers” video:

Side C boasts of Bingo (a track that uses a bunch of Cricket imagery over steel-drums and weird laser sounds), Hombre, which I mostly love for its instrumentation (made up of Indian toys and cell phone noises), and 10 Dollar, which dives into the theme of prostitution in developing nations, telling a vivid and too-common story of a girl, referencing Lolita, and still making us dance.  What WHAT?

After the final flip of a record, there isn’t a lot I have to say.  U.R.A.Q.T. carries a sample from the Stanford & Sons theme, of all things, giving it a very light and playful sense that goes well with the use of text lingo.  The line that I usually sing in my head when I think of this song is, “U.R.A.Q.T.  Is your dad dealer, cause you’re dope to me”.  Then the album comes to a close with the first big single that made this album possible, “Galang”, which has become a standard party track wherever I go, because we all love to sing “slam galang galang galang”.  Meanwhile, this guy has also turned it into an actual jazz standard:

The album ends with a hidden, untitled track with some great lines as well, like, “You can be a follower but who’s your leader, Break that cycle or it ill kill ya”.  More of the same, but in a good way.  In hindsight, after listening to this record three times through, if any album should be played in its entirety, Arular should be it.  So, random music selector at that party near the Drive approximately six years ago, I forgive you.  You had great taste in the midst of your poor taste.

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