POW!POW!POW! The woman you can see Polarized above is none other than Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam aka M.I.A.
I really doubt that I have to introduce this woman to anyone in this day of age, but in the spirit of “You never know”, here’s a quickie.
According to Wikipedia M.I.A. (which stands for Missing In Action) is a British songwriter, record producer, singer, rapper, fashion designer, visual artist and political activist. She recently started her own record label called N.E.E.T/XL Recordings, so I guess label-head should be added on that list aswell. Before making music, M.I.A. was working as a visual artist with a degree in fine art, film and video (check out this video Maya once directed early in her career) until one day she found herself in front of a Roland MC-505 which is – very simply put – a device you make music with (what can I say, I’m not a Techie) and her first album ARULAR (named after her father) was born in her bedroom in London.
GALANG was the very first release from that album. However, the first song I ever heard from M.I.A. was SUNSHOWERS. I was like: “Whò is that awesome looking chick lying on a tree branch looking like a tiger?!” From that video on, I was completely hooked on M.I.A. from A to Z. I loved every minute of her eclectic sound, found her approach refreshing, daring and innovating to say the least. I went completely crazy over BUCKY DONE GONE.
Her second album KALA (named after her mother) came out banging like AK-47 deeply rooted with musical influences from all the countries (Liberia, India, Trinidad to name a few) she visited while recording the album with the following favorites: BOYZ, XR2, and JIMMY.
But it was PAPER PLANE that made M.I.A. a global household name which resulted in M.I.A. hanging out with the big boys at the Grammys.
So after a short break where she made the time to focus on her own record label N.E.E.T Recordings and gave birth to a son, M.I.A. recently came back with a third album and boy oh boy, did she come back HARD! The first single of ///Y/ , called BORN FREE, came along with the controversial video you can watch here and although the video for her next single XXXO looks very… lickable -uhm- likable.
I secretly wonder how a M.I.A. x NICKY MINAJ collab video would look like for this TEQKILLA remix…
Now you probably all know by now that when you say “M.I.A”, words like provocative and controversial are never really far away. She has always shared her visions on the political situation that is occurring in her native Sri Lanka and the rest of the world, opinions slipping through her music with beats that might be easy on the ear but with lyrics that certainly are not. YouTube and MTV have a love/hate affair with her, and yes, she has had her share of differences with The New York Times, and apparently she is not very fond of Gaga.
This is the nutshell version. There are tons of other blogs, forums and music sites debating and communicating about this matter, and they’ll probably do a better job aswell, so I’ll leave that to them. Lots of stories are told about Maya. I’m going to stick to mine.
This is how the story goes.
On aug 7th, M.I.A. was scheduled to perform at De Lokerse Feesten in Belgium. three summers ago, it was there where I took my first Polaroid picture of Pharrell Williams, and the idea for this blog slowly crept in my head. The 7th of Aug is also my birthday, which means that for the last three summers I celebrated my birthday while hunting for a picture. I wasn’t really sure about this challenge, although I know the ins and outs of that festival very well. It’s a very laid back organisation, it doesn’t have Alcatraz security measures, but I figured with M.I.A. visiting the festival, this year could be a different story. One day before the festival I received an email from EMEKA ALAMS, friend and designer from GOLD COAST TRADING CO, who asked me If I got a hook-up for M.I.A. Uhm. Hook-up…? I told him there was no hook-up whatsoever, that I would go and do what I always do, check out the perimeter, be assertive and hope for the best. He then told me he that he might be able to help me out with some information, since apparently he knew one of M.I.A’s dancers a bit and gave me his email, and encouraged me to contact him and tell him about my blog. Which of course I did. The more what-ifs you can erase from your to-do list, the better.
I didn’t receive any email back until right before I arrived at the Festival. Praise the lord for smartphones! I received a very nice email with the lovely message from Maya’s dancer CISKO that he listed me with a +1 to the festival! I couldnt’ believe it! Sending out emails to complete strangers and asking for something at the same time, is not something I like to do, and most of the time I don’t get a response. So, I was very curious to see how big this hook-up would turn out to be in this story. First thing we checked out at the festival was RYE RYE. If you are a loyal reader of my stories, you all know that I met Rye Rye in Miami a couple of months ago and that I totally adored her performance. I was very curious to see how the Belgian audience would receive her, since she is practically unknown here, but little miss Rye Rye killed it yet again. The girl has got so much energy and again I noticed how much FUN she was having on stage and it showed!
After her show, me and my partner in crime Jules managed to bump into one of Rye Rye’s dancers and asked him if he could find Cisko for us. Only a couple of minutes later I met a crazy fella called CISKO GONZALEZ, who by the time we met, already checked out my blog and came popping up with two bracelets that would give us access to the artist village. He told me, that getting a Polaroid was definitely a possibility, but that I had to pick my moment right, and that Maya was hanging out – in private – in her backstage container and that it was better to ask her àfter her performance. We totally agreed, we knew that we were already one step closer by receiving the right bracelets very early in the evening and simply glad we didn’t have to worry about that part of the story. We had our share of bracelet-drama this summer season. So, we agreed on hanging around a bit in the containers with Cisko. When we arrived at the container a huge bodyguard looked at us and told Cisko: “Make sure they now the rules!” Cisko smiled and said: “Yeah, sorry girls, there are a lot of rules”. I didn’t expect anything else, to be honest. M.I.A. grew from indie artist to a world star and then certain things change I guess. I didn’t really knew what ‘The Rules’ were, but I guessed walking in and out the container and snapping pictures like a paparazzi certainly was a big no-no, so Jules and I immediately knew we had to be very low-key and like the sofas in the containers; one with the interior.
The container consisted of different little containers all linked to each other, like a big condo. Which makes sense since Maya was travelling with 2 tourmanagers, 1 assistant, 2 dancers, a tour photographer, a tour camera man, a roadie, a DJ, a back-up singer and of course a big bodyguard. The first person I met after Cisko was JAIME MARTINEZ. Jaime is Maya’s photographer and he is also responsible for these AMAZING pictures used to promote Maya’s new album.
He is also one of the three artists that are signed to her N.E.E.T. label, along with Rye Rye and Sleigh Bells. Definitely check out his work here. (I’m in love with 2009). Second person to peep out his head through the door and give us some company was a boy who introduced himself as WHITE BOY. He said: “Shit, that might seem weird to yall I guess, since everybody clearly is white around here….But where I come from, I’m the only white person around, so that’s why they call me White Boy.” “So, where are you from?” I asked him. He replied: “I’m from Baltimore mam.” I then carefully told him that I only knew Baltimore from HBO’s The Wire series and he smiled and said: “Yeah. But that’s the Hollywood version though”. while looking at me with a ‘You better know it missy!’ serious kinda look in his eyes. Important thing you need to know about White Boy: He got INSANE dancing skills and his energy on stage is LETHAL.
Yeah. WHITE BOY is awesome. The third person in line who came to introduce herself was a sweet girl named JEN. I think she was one of the tour managers or Maya’s assistant, I’m not sure. Cisko encouraged me to explain my blog to her aswell and although none of them gave me any promises, they told me that they would at least do their best to make it happen, which for me, is already more than enough. So we hung out a bit, had a drink, had a smoke, talked and waited. thirty minutes before M.I.A. was ready to go on stage we were kindly asked by her bodyguard to leave the container. Jules and I didn’t ask any questions, we kind of expected this could happen and just went with the flow. We went straight to the festival and found a good spot to check out her performance. DJ Asma (yes. Asma.) had the honor to prepare an insane crowd with pounding beats and the visuals that exploded from the screen behind her were simply INSANE. I loved it. And then finally, M.I.A. walked up the stage followed by her two dancers and her lady back-up. It felt so awesome to hear the beats bursting out loud out of the massive speakers and I really loved her performance and the energy she gave to the crowd.
However, I would love to have the chance to see her show in a smaller indoor venue, but I have to admit that seeing Maya jump in the crowd without any fear and doing the entire Born Free song while crowd surfing was pretty bold and awesome at the same time. So after her performance we went back to the artist village and waited for someone from her entourage to -hopefully- invite us back in. These things you just never know. But when JEN came back outside, she immediately noticed me and Jules and invited us back in the container.
And then? We waited. We had absolutely no idea if we would still get our picture or not. Nobody gave us really any useful information about that, and M.I.A. was giving some extra interviews, so she was still busy. What do you do in a container full of people you don’t know, with one half of the crew who is clearly still working, preparing the next stop on the tour, packing all the stuff, and another half of the crew who is just chilling around, waiting for the official call to go back to the hotel. You drink. You smoke. You drink some more. You smoke some more. And. You wait. I’m the WORST in small talk but I did my very best and that ended up in a very interesting dialogue:
“I know something about Belgium!! You guys own the fries!! I know that is a big deal around here. But, honestely, what’s up with that? Are you jealous of France?”
“They already have all the good stuff. They have Chanel. They have the Eiffel Tower. I mean. Let us have the fries.”
“I have a rabbit who is famous and poses for magazines like LOVE Magazine and got paparazzi now and stuff.”
“I’m not joking”
I did a little shoot with CISKO to kill time.
But after a while, you don’t know what you can talk about anymore and things get quiet, and the crew starts to do their own thing and left us there. Waiting. With no guaranty that we would have our picture and that was starting to weigh. It was around that time that Maya suddenly entered the room to come say hi to us and landed in the sofa right in front of us. I didn’t want to ask her immediately for a picture, because that might appear too pushy or freaky so I just said hi, when suddenly Murielle Scherre from La Fille d’O came into the room. Murielle Scherre is a lingerie designer from Belgium who makes really cool (and sexy) stuff and is not afraid of causing some of her own controversies from time to time.
Check Murielle ànd her Hard To Heart collection:
Not bad right…? So, she and M.I.A. met a few years back when M.I.A. was in Belgium for the first time. I didn’t get the chance to introduce myself, because the minute Murielle caught M.I.A’s attention, they both left for another more private container. And we knew. We were fucked. It only made sense that they would talk lingerie, I mean, I would do the exact same thing, and Murielle probably came with some sexy goodies for her to try on or whatever, which of course, I understand, but by the time they finished thàt up, the chance of little ol’ me getting a Polaroid late at night was getting smaller and smaller. Jaime looked at our devastated and shocked faces and asked very seriously: “Is this the part of the story where you ask yourselves if all this is worth the effort…?” Jaime got it right from the start!
It was 2AM, and me and Jules were waiting in an empty container with Jen, Cisko and Jaime looking at us, and I’m not really sure if they thought we were completely stupid or very brave to keep waiting for a simple Polaroid picture. They told us that we just had to be patient and that M.I.A. is briefed about my blog and that she was down for the idea, but in these situations, you just never know. We’ve been there before, and the only thing that doesn’t make you quit is the fact that you have already come so far, so giving up is simply not an option. At 2h30 AM M.I.A.’s bodyguard came into the container and said: “I’m sorry girls, but I have to ask you to leave the container and wait outside again, we are clearing the container for departure”. We were so tired, and already calculated that this was something likely to happen, we didn’t make a sound, just got up and went outside where we waited some more.
If there is one thing I learned to do while doing this blog, it definitely must be waiting. Me and Jules are PRO in waiting. We have the BLACK BELT in waiting. We KILL in waiting. Waiting is a martial ART for us. I wondered what the hell they were doing behind those closed doors that took so long, word in the container was that there might be a XXXO collaboration with Murielle and her lingerie but that my dear friends I leave up to you to research if that is just a buzz or the truth. Finally Murielle left the container, saw us and was slightly shocked to see that we were still there. Waiting. Yeah. We even surprised ourselves. And then finally, M.I.A. peeped her head through the container and said with a big smile: “I’m SO SORRY that this took SO long, let’s DO this!”. When I saw myself walking up to her and going back into the container, there is only one soundtrack that would describe that moment with perfection. Click here and imagine with slow-motion please.
And then, around 3PM me and Jules switched immediately to blog focus. I introduced myself, explained the blog and showed her the other artists that are captured on Polaroid so far. Right before we started I asked her if it would be ok for Jules to take my usual exhibits, and she agreed.Maya is not afraid of the camera, she is a much desired subject for many photographers throughout the world, so to perfectly explain what happened next, and the vibe that went with that moment I suggest this video, but then with slightly simpler tools and in container in 5 minutes.
At 3AM in the morning Maya gave her ALL in front of my camera and she gave me several poses and I ignored my ‘Two Polaroid per artist’-rule and snapped away, grateful to have her in front of my camera.
That’s DEDICATION alright! After the mini-container-shoot we waited for the pictures to come out and we both agreed with the results nicely Polarized on top of this story. She apologized again for the long wait, asked me to send the pictures and the story, gave me and Jules a big hug and by 3h15 me and Jules finally ended this story.
Now. All the ‘controversy’ aside, at the end of the day, Maya is a girl that once left her home country Sri Lanka to move to London, who fearlessly raced through life while creating music, visuals, art and fashion, living and speaking out her uncompromised ideas as she worked herself all the way up to eventually land on everyone’s radio station, fashion magazine, newspaper, music channel and a gazillion blogs. She is a recording artist who released 3 albums and with an oscar nomination written to her name. All that, in a period of only five years. That’s pretty… awesome.
As for me? True. The waiting wasn’t easy, but I couldn’t wish for a better birthday present.
PS: Special thanks to CISKO, JAIME and JEN for hanging out with us in times of waiting, and EMEKA to provide me with that golden hook-up. And last but not least MAYA for bringing DA FIERCE!