Hindu Lore to Racial Politics, MIA's "Matangi" Delivers

| Mon Nov. 18, 2013 7:00 AM EST

Maya Arulpragasm (best known as MIA), predicted the NSA spying scandal. She is pop's most rebellious musician. And after a delay of several years, her new album, which she has described as sounding like "Paul Simon on acid," was finally released earlier this month. Whether or not it lives up to her characterization, Matangi—titled after MIA's namesake, the Hindu goddess of music and the spoken word—is decidedly eclectic, ranging from reggae rhythms to club beats, hip-hop vocals to slower love songs, and Eastern instrumentation to a mainstream pop style.

An MIA album would be nothing without a complex, varied message, and Matangi delivers. It's replete with allusions to Hindu stories and spirituality, alongside more current (if slightly outdated) pop-culture references: "YALA" (you always live again) plays off the cultural meme YOLO (you only live once) popularized by Drake's "The Motto." MIA's response explores the Hindu concepts of reincarnation and karma. "YOLO?" she sings. "I don't even know anymore…back home where I come from we keep being born again and again and again." "Come Walk With Me," ostensibly a song about modern love and romance, is accompanied by a an animated video of Hindu imagery.

Matangi also offers a strong (if ambiguous) political message. "Brown girl, brown girl, turn your shit down. You know America don't want to hear your sound," she raps on the short track "Boom." Meanwhile, "aTENTion" was "written with all the words that have 'tent' in them," she told NPR. "It's sort of to describe the refugee philosophy—people who live in tents—because I feel like they are the modern-day untouchables…they're faceless and placeless." The song, weirdly enough, was written with the help of Wikileaks' Julian Assange, who came by her London studio while she was working on his TV series. Mixed messages aside, Matangi, is everything you'd thought it would be, and gets better with every listen.

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