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M.I.A. – Matangi Album Review

I cannot put into words how much I am looking forward to M.I.A.’s forthcoming album, previously tentatively titled MATAHDATAH. Her latest work, like Ola and Borders, has been so fresh, sharp and culturally relevant that society is long overdue for some more words of wisdom from the goddess Matangi herself. 2013’s Matangi is M.I.A. at her best, and the dance/hip-hop album is damn near perfection.

No artist is less afraid to hold a mirror to society and call out its shortcomings than M.I.A.; in fact, it seems like she’s built her career on her status as an underdog. Matangi sees M.I.A. looking inward, reflecting on her faith all while holding true to her beliefs and yearning for a world where humanity is at one with the world, and not obsessed with possessions, borders and hatred.

The opening track of Matangi, “Karmageddon” does well to showcase M.I.A.’s penchant for clever wordplay and serves as a good mission statement for the rest of the album. “Ain’t Dalai Lama / Ain’t Sai Baba / My words are my armor and you’re ’bout to meet your karma.” Matangi is going to go in hard, even if it’s more on a metaphysical, introspective level than her past works.

M.I.A. pays tribute to her Sri Lankan and Tamil heritage on tracks like the titular “Matangi”, where she spells out her name in Tamil. On “Only 1 U” M.I.A. samples a song from the Tamil film Vettri Kodi Kattu, and reflects on people’s desire and love for their valuables. As wickedly ingenious as always, she counts down from the abundance of cash and people, from a trillion down to one, highlighting the importance of self reflection and living life to the fullest. “There’s only one you, and I’mma drink to that!”

While “Only 1 U” begins to show M.I.A.’s religious philosophies, “Warriors” takes the torch and carries it to another level. She literally sends out good vibrations with four OMs on “Warriors”, a delightfully aggressive and, to borrow from the song’s own lyrics, gritty trance track. It’s such a good track that she used it for MATAHDATAH Scroll 01 – “Broader than a Border” (around the 2:50 mark). If “Warriors” is a nice transitory track from Matangi to MATAHDATAH, then fans of M.I.A. are surely in store for more mind blowing and mind opening music!

On “Come Walk With Me”, M.I.A. ponders the digital age, where connection is simultaneously instant and distant. With the internet, it’s so easy to connect with the world, and it’s also harder to find originality. If everything’s already been said and done, how can an artist keep inspiring and enlightening the world? M.I.A. realizes it’s not about finding something that hasn’t already been done, but instead using her wisdom and role in pop culture to spread her message to new people, and the digital age makes this easier than ever. Chances are you listen to your music on a computer, find new music on websites like this one, or from social media. “Come Walk With Me” is not just a reflection on how society is growing and changing with the digital era, but also an invitation to listeners from M.I.A. to follow and walk with her on the path to positivity.

“aTENTion” is an interesting song, all about a refugee’s struggle and their camp tents. WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange collaborated with M.I.A. in the studio on the track, helping her come up with words that rhyme and contain the word “tent”. The resulting track finds M.I.A. rhyming and making back to back puns. Sonically, “aTENTion” is anything but formulaic, and the song’s shrill vocals and never-ending chain rhymes come together for an interesting commentary of the life of a refugee.

M.I.A. leads her refugees and followers away from the material pleasures of this world on “Exodus” (and later, “Sexodus”). This track, originally intended for Madonna’s MDNA, samples The Weeknd’s ‘Lonely Star’ as M.I.A. invites listeners to join her in escaping life’s transitory pleasures and focusing on realizing true nirvana. “Baby, you can have it all. Tell me what for?”

“Exodus” is particularly genius in the way its verses can be strung together to show the progression of M.I.A.’s exodus. In the first verse, she makes her call – her open invitation to join her on this mental exodus, and in the second verse she’s arrived: “My sights are set in higher times, and my eyes can see in 3D.” In the final verse, she calls out the world’s habit of making material pleasures a priority. Similar to “Exodus” having a Biblical connotation, the lyrics of the song are religious in the way that M.I.A. starts on her path to enlightenment, obtains it, and ascends so high that by the third verse she is working to enlighten others.

While the first leg of Matangi is spiritual and deep, things take a turn for the lighthearted and fun with the breakout hit, “Bad Girls”. It’s practically impossible not to have heard this song at least once in your life, and for good reason: it’s insanely catchy. In fact, comments left on the video to this day continue to reference other areas of entertainment like movies and television shows that have featured “Bad Girls” and drawn viewers into the track over four years after its release.

Is “Bad Girls” the best track on Matangi? Not by a long shot — and the fact that “Bad Girls” is still so catchy and memorable speaks to how strong Matangi is as an album overall.

Throwing it back to the “Banana Skit” from her debut album ArularMatangi features “Boom Skit”, which makes a mockery of M.I.A.’s critics, especially surrounding her Super Bowl controversy. In February of 2016, M.I.A. released a full, unedited version of the “Boom Skit”, featuring a voicemail about the NFL lawsuit and an extra verse. The track has since been pulled from her Soundcloud.

The Partysquad produce “Double Bubble Trouble” and “Y.A.L.A.”, doing as their name suggests and turning up the party. Of the tracks on Matangi, “Y.A.L.A.” (You Always Live Again) is the best; it is a perfect mixture of M.I.A.’s amazing, party/rave influences and manages to incorporate her spiritual outlook as well. This is the track that truly defines Matangi and the message M.I.A. wanted to get across. Playing on the pop culture phenomenon of YOLO, M.I.A. takes this viewpoint to task. “If we only live once, why we keep doing the same shit?” Perfection.

Matangi continues to stay strong after “Y.A.L.A.” with “Bring the Noize”. M.I.A.’s rapping reaches new fast-paced heights on the track where she boasts her talents as a songwriter, contrasts the East and Western styles, and goes after the big banks. While “Y.A.L.A.” is the sonic definition of Matangi, “Bring the Noize” features a music video that is the visual definition of the album. In the clip, M.I.A. plays with religious symbolism, has pink hair, and gets down at a rave. That’s Matangi in a nutshell.

As Matangi begins to wrap up, it would be hard to keep the same momentum it had from “Y.A.L.A.” and “Bring the Noize”. The album mellows out on “Lights”, a track written during M.I.A.’s ΛΛ Λ Y Λ (Maya) era, and reflects on looking for light in the darkness. This track is more reminiscent of M.I.A.’s earlier work, and while it isn’t bad, it’s not as revolutionary as the rest of the album, and “Lights” feels out of place. The album closes with “Know It Ain’t Right”, which continues “Lights” mellow vibe, but manages to feel more fresh and at place on Matangi. M.I.A. wraps up the spiritual journey that is Matangi, leaving a message to imprint on your brain. “We know it ain’t right, but we do it anyway.”

Overall, Matangi is M.I.A.’s strongest work to date. Her boasts and brags, likening herself to the Hindu goddess Matangi are not without merit — M.I.A.’s mastery of her lyrics and wordplay are truly wonderful, and she uses her talents to not only entertain but enlighten listeners. Matangi is a wonderful collection of spiritual and dance music, and the album has everything you need, from songs to dance your cares away, to darker, more reflective tracks to meditate and think about life. Matangi is a must listen. Buy it now on iTunes and Amazon.

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Written by Sam Bennett

Sam Bennett is the creator and editor of POParazzi. He works primarily in Washington, DC. You can contact him at sam@poparazzi.org and visit his portfolio at sam-bennett.com.

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