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M.I.A., with the Radio On

mia.jpgroadrunner-bird.jpgM.I.A. mania is starting to sweep the world in anticipation of the official release later this month of Kala. The new album follows the thoroughly unclassifiable British/ Sri Lankan aural graffiti artist’s breakthrough Arular album and Piracy Funds Terrorism mixtape, the sources of several of the Zeroes’ most arresting rhythms so far. Since the artist otherwise known as Maya Arulpragasam–whose website should remain unvisited if you are not wearing sunglasses–has been known to draw from everything from bhangra and baile electro-funk to dancehall and Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, you might wonder about the source of the leadoff sounds you will hear on her new album. Uh, how about…Jonathan Richman?

That’s right. In her continuing quest to bring the noise to college radio-obsessed geek rockers, Maya’s new “Bamboo Banga” starts out with a twisted, tripped-out reworking of the Modern Lovers’ car radio classic “Roadrunner,” which will remain Richman’s most iconic song no matter how many charming ditties he writes about dinosaurs, bumblebees and lesbian bars. Achieving speeds usually reserved for professional stunt drivers and Lindsay Lohan, M.I.A. doesn’t even notice the Stop n’ Shop as she drives “with the radio on,” and I’m betting that her car is equipped with satellite radio. Here’s an audio snippet from M.I.A.’s mini-cover, juxtaposed with a video playing “Roadrunner” Modern Lovers-style.


“Bamboo Banga” isn’t even the most interesting reworking of a rock classic on the new album; after the click-through we’ll present her take on the Clash.

M.I.A’s early single “Galang” name-dropped the Clash’s London Calling, and the new album takes the Clash connection a step further with the haunting and melodic “Paper Planes,” which builds around the spooky riff from the Clash’s “Straight to Hell.” Below are a short clip of Maya making “Paper Planes” with recently estranged producer Diplo, and a full-length video of the viral, incendiary “Bird Flu.” (You can also watch M.I.A. performing “Paper Planes” at this week’s Lollapalooza.)

While skeptics and rock purists will probably scoff, I’m pretty sure that the Ankara-born world music troubadour Joe Strummer would have loved M.I.A’s work. Like the Clash before her, M.I.A.—who is understandably obsessed with her father, the Tamil Tiger fugitive—also gets tagged for political naivete. But Maya doesn’t strike me as starry-eyed about the Tigers’ history, and from what I’ve seen, I concur with Robert Christgau’s conclusion a couple of years ago that she “feels the honorable compulsion to make art out of her contradictions. The obscure particulars of those contradictions compel anyone moved by her music to give them some thought, if only for an ignorant moment–to recognize and somehow account for them. In these perilous, escapist days, that alone is quite a lot.”

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