Politics and music have always been uneasy bedfellows, but 27-year-old Maya Arulpragasam knows about unease. The Sri Lanka native's family fled that country's civil war for Britain more than 20 years ago, and her father--linked to the divisive revolutionary outfit the Tamil Tigers--remains M.I.A., a moniker Maya has adopted for her equally revolutionary debut. Emerging from the same urban wilderness as the Streets and Dizzee Rascal--and putting those two to shame--M.I.A.'s Arular (a play on her missing father's code name) is fearless and aggressive. She knocks listeners unconscious with her snarling, confrontational approach: part Jamaican dance-hall toaster, part dirty American rapper, part monastic Tibetan chanter, part British jungle MC. She also disguises her very serious lyrical messages in what sounds like borderline nonsense; her topics range from teenage prostitution to war, all spit rough and ready over punky electro rhythms. Arular's cut-and-paste feel and politically fraught nursery-rhyme babble bring to mind toys made of tin in crowded wholesale shops and Third World markets: noisy, man-made, harsh and difficult to ignore.
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