Published Dec 01, 2004The passing of another year offers us a chance to cherish those superb acts that debuted on the scene over the past 12 months, including the Junior Boys, Franz Ferdinand and Big & Rich. Known only in the smallest of musical circles at this time last year, those artists landed in 2004 with startlingly good first albums, garnering critical acclaim and a slew of new fans.
Sitting on the cusp of '05, it's impossible to know for sure who's going to break out, but here's betting that the letters M-I-A will figure prominently in next year's wrap-up issue. If not because we'll be praising another raft of superb twelve-inches by German techno producer MIA (aka Michaela Grobelny), it'll be due to the work of another female artist, this one a British MC called M.I.A.
It's the stage name of one Maya Arulpragasam, a Londoner who's set to become the next queen of British street-pop. An MC/singer in the tradition of Neneh Cherry, the 28-year-old Sri Lanka native burst on the scene earlier this year with "Galang," a neck-snapping amalgam of ruffneck ragga, loose-limbed electro and riot-grrrl punk. Voiced with youthful verve by M.I.A., the song's nursery rhyme lyrics imbue the proceedings with a nifty schoolyard exuberance, making "Galang" the sort of song that's just as fascinating to teenage girls as it is to hardcore music nerds.
Originally released on London's Showbiz Records (the label behind Punjabi MC's 2002 desi smash "Mundian To Bach Ke"), "Galang" piqued the ears of XL Recordings, which quickly signed M.I.A. and re-released that song and a follow-up single, "Sunshowers." (Both tracks can be heard at www.miauk.com.) Like its predecessor, "Sunshowers" emits a kind of joyful stridency, the track's rugged bashment riddim balanced out by M.I.A.'s infectious gibberish and a gloriously multi-tracked vocal refrain.
A fine arts graduate of Central Saint Martin's College in London, Arulpragasam is no stranger to that city's arts scene, having publicly exhibited and subsequently published a collection of her early paintings in 2002, earning an "Alternative Turner Prize" nomination for her lively spray can tableaux. While she was producing those canvasses, the young artist also started designing album covers, including Elastica's The Menace, a suggestive split-frame close-up of a woman's lips.
Given those accomplishments, the Londoner was travelling in trendy circles, and after meeting ex-Pulp bassist Steve Mackey at a nightclub, she set to work on "Galang." Barely a year after the completion of that track, her debut album, Arular, is slated for release in January; it features beats by Mackey and Richard X, the man who's churned out sparkling productions for two other young divas: Kelis and Rachel Stevens.
No matter who's producing her tracks, M.I.A. comes off like a more pop-minded version of Dizzee Rascal, making distinctly London-centric music that draws from such chic postmillennial styles as disco-punk and dancehall. Strange as such a merger might sound on paper, M.I.A. makes it work, fusing the former's screamadelic vocals and the latter's rhythmic complexity. As someone who practically grew up on Napster, Arulpragasam figures such an approach is merely emblematic of the times.
"I know so many people who know hip-hop as well as electro and punk," she recently told the BBC. "That's due to the internet; we can access everything from all over the world."
The MC's hip to the power of the mix-tape, too, having just released Piracy Funds Terrorism, a superb bootleg compiled by Ninja Tune's Diplo. Featuring great new mixes of the singer's two singles, PFT is a remarkable document of M.I.A.'s mic skills, demonstrating her ability to ride hip-hop beats, dancehall riddims and Brazilian booty tracks. By the time she rips into Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin'," the demure Londoner brings the house down, coming as close to matching Hova as any mortal MC could ever hope to.
"That's the first piece of work that expresses what I'm about," M.I.A. has said of the tape, which is available at www.turntablelab.com. "We brought together the freshest sounds from all across the world and that is what I'm good at being a good spotter of new sounds."
With the imminent release of Arular, M.I.A. looks set to create a movement all her own. Just don't say we didn't warn you.