Thursday, Apr. 30, 2009


It's funny to think of M.I.A. as influential, because I don't think she ever set out to be influential. The great thing about her is that she doesn't have some global plan. She just has things she cares about and is interested in, from all over the world. She hears huge beats from Angola. She finds a DJ doing amazing stuff in Baltimore. She hears about Aboriginal kids rapping in Australia and thinks nothing of getting on a plane to convince them to do a verse on her song. She reacts to whatever's in front of her: "Those are booming Indian drums," "That is a dope producer," "Those kids are making sick beats."

And she has great taste. Anyone can hear all this stuff, but to be able to curate it, you have to have taste, and Maya Arulpragasam, 33, has it.

I met her right before she put out her first record, in 2005, and she insisted she wasn't a musician. To this day, she doesn't consider herself a musician. She has this wide range of talents and influences — she's a Sri Lankan refugee who didn't speak a word of English before she was 10, yet she's also a child of Chuck D and the Pixies and Fight Club and MySpace. There are no borders for her. She made me realize that you don't have to be from the West to have a favorite Biggie song. We are all listening to the same music.

Last summer she was performing in Philadelphia, and she showed up at the venue, and it was an armory building. She felt kind of weird about it and decided she wasn't going to perform there unless she acknowledged that, so she found a group of Army veterans against the Iraq war and had them come and speak as her opening act. That's her mission — it's personal and evolving, focused but totally spontaneous.

She's always for the underdog. And no matter how many times she's on the Grammys, she'll always see herself as the underdog.

Jonze is a director and producer of feature films, music videos, commercials and documentaries

Fast Fact: M.I.A.'s first show of paintings was in 2001. Jude Law was an early buyer of her art