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Album Review: MATA - M.I.A.

M.I.A. is back with her latest album MATA, Delhi Kalwan gives us the lowdown.

By Delhi K. Kalwan, Fourth Year Biochemistry

M.I.A. is back with a bang, releasing her sixth studio album, an eclectic mix of what you would expect from the rapper and hip-hop sensation. Six years since her last album, the 47-year-old artist and ‘Paper Planes’ singer, recently signed with Island Records,  proves she is not going anywhere any time soon.

MATA not only alludes to the artist’s birth name (Mathangi), but cleverly nods to motherhood and her Sri Lankan Tamil roots. Mata, in many South Asian languages means ‘mother’. This encompasses what the album really is about, a bold, almost in-your-face, soundtrack that blends all the different facets of the M.I.A. identity.

The intro comes in two parts and sets the tone for the new album, as well as bringing the energy. ‘F.I.A.S.O.M Pt. 2’ (Fearsome) includes the line, for which it is named after, ‘Freedom Is A State Of Mind / What you gonna do with mine?’ bellowed in an empowering chant-like fashion by none other than up-and-coming artist Priya Ragu; almost as if a mantra or a call to action with desperate urgency.

Throughout her career, M.I.A. has been unapologetically vocal about issues in Sri Lanka, as well as being anti-war and pro-denuclearisation, which also helped grow her a loyal following. She doesn’t shy away from sharing her political views and openly expresses them in her music. Prior to the release of the album, she had also been causing a raucous with her vaccine scepticism over twitter.

Despite some of her recent controversies, it is impossible to discount her influence being a pioneer in genre-defying takes on pop, rap and hip-hop. Travis Scott had even named her one of his favourite rappers of all time. While MATAhas not received much reception, it certainly does better than previous album, Aim, at distilling her distinct sound and providing captivating mixes and messaging.

‘Beep’, one of my favourites rhythmically, is about embracing who you are with the repetitive phrase ‘Be free’- a recurring message at the heart of the album.

‘Popular’ is rather reminiscent of the artist’s usual sound, reckless and carefree attitude. A call back to her chart-topping ‘Bad Girls’, this song solidified itself as one of the highlights by embodying the M.I.A. sound we know and love.

The album hosts strong and rhythmic rap songs like ‘Zoo girl’ and ‘MATA LIFE’. Moreover, the album often samples Tamil beats under her lyricism, particularly notable in ‘Energy Freq’ and ‘Puththi’. Fans of the ‘Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs’ may also notice the sampling of ‘Maps’ in ‘K.T.P. (Keep the Peace)’.

The album ends on a strong and sombre note with ‘Marigold’, through such a fast-paced and booming album this track slows the pace and almost feels like a receding tide. While overall MATA feels fresh, the old M.I.A. maintains a presence through the album, which successfully balances personal and political elements, as well as being loud without crossing territory into noise music.

Featured image: Island Records

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