M.I.A: Bob Your Head In Tune To The Beat

Maya ArulpragasamM.I.A. at Central Park’s SummerStage

New York, August 7, 2005

Ahhh, shit.

The words “MAXIMUM CAPACITY” sent a cold shot down my spine on an otherwise pleasantly warm afternoon. You see, my year has led up to this day–starting late last year when someone had recommended Piracy Funds Terrorism, Vol. 1, the block-rocking mixtape from the suddenly iconic M.I.A. and her deejay Diplo. While initially unimpressed, Piracy eventually won me over. By the time Arular was released in March, I was salivating. And both albums have dominated the iPod since.

It only seemed natural that Maya Arulpragasam would perform a free show to wind down the 20th anniversary of the Central Park SummerStage series–she has become the face of the most revolutionary form of music since punk, and quite possibly the future of pop music as we know it. So what better way to conclude one of the more diverse musical series in the country than to begin to look forward to the next era?

So maybe, yeah, I guess it was my fault that we arrived a little late to this free show. We still got there early enough to hear the last bit of DJ Rehka’s set, but the park’s SummerStage area was already packed. As a result, about a thousand people congregated behind the area’s tall bleachers about a football field away from any real semblance of the concert. Luckily, Rehka brought the bhangra in force, spinning gems like we were in the middle of a Punjabi harvest.

With no visuals to help the growing crowd outside, we had to rely on the trademark hard-cadence of Brazilian baile to realize that it was now Diplo warming the crowd. Pulling all the standards–some “Push It” here, a sprinkle of “Cutty Ranks” there, Illadelph’s prince built anticipation for the headliner by spinning some of the borrowed material from Piracy, teasing us into expecting a segue into Maya’s set. When she finally did arrive, her instantly recognizable voice spoke a few indecipherable words to her biggest crowd yet (whether or not she knew it) before spitting her lone verse on “Bad Man,” the undeniably best track on Missy Elliott’s latest The Cookbook. And then it was off to the races – “Sunshowers,” “Fire Fire,” “$10,” “Bucky Done Gun,” “Hombre.” She got our arms in the sky by dropping the mixtape version of “Pop” with the brilliant Dead Prez beat and filled between-song gaps with some chit-chat and assorted free-styles. Diplo dropped bombs, beats, and bombast behind Maya’s electrifying declension. I mean, let’s not mince words–this shit is bananas.

From Rehka to Diplo to Maya, the interdependence of world music was apparent. The concert retained a unified feel despite the distinction in the three performer’s cultural influences. By now, this display of the world’s freshest music had attracted more then just M.I.A’s previous fans–various passer-bys had stopped to stand and listen, with nothing to look at, appreciating the ingenuity taking place. After all, New York is synonymous with diversity and Central Park is the city’s star. The group listening to the concert outside had now risen to about two or three thousand–an incredible assortment of people, the type of crowd that you only get in this random sort of situation. And though our nation’s dominant attitude now tends toward ignoring race rather than acknowledging and accepting it, the mindset here was that culture and diversity should be noticed and appreciated.

Eventually, mild appreciation turned into a gigantic dance orgy–the entire crowd breaking into a beautiful frenzy of movement amidst the grass and dirt. Not that hippie Woodstock mud shit either, this was various hues weaving in and out of each other, waltzing around the sunbeams under a sky so bright blue it accentuated the perfect green of the trees surrounding us. People on bikes and rollerblades had to stop to gauge the spectacle and were quickly drawn into it themselves, dancing like they were down with this shit from the weekly Hollertronix night in Philly.

We were all so enthralled it took a minute for fans to recognize the initial bump of “Galang,” the obligatory set-closing hit single. Those who knew the words sang them, those who didn’t simply continued to dance, still unsure of whom (or rather What) was causing them to do so. After a brief retreat, Maya returned with an encore that began with “Pull Up The People” before reveling in the mixtape treat “URAQT” and finishing with a super big pimpin’ version of “Bingo.” It had come and gone so quickly–the crowd broke like a fever–that I had to question its legitimacy afterwards. The most powerful flames always burn the quickest.

I’m still not sure what rings more true: was it Maya’s global sound as a microcosm to the diverse and appreciative audience, or vice versa? This bold new front emphasizes inclusion, so it becomes clear that these are sounds for us all to share. On this day, the impressive collective of listeners gave up on thinking about and rationalizing racial and cultural ideals and just took it all in, resulting in a powerful display of unity. When you hear these exotic sounds combined with our native hip-hop and club movements, it isn’t Americanization as much as a new formula for harmony–a re-definition of our idea of music and what should be the death knell of the terms “Eastern” and “Western” in the context of sound.

Appropriately enough, at some point during Maya’s set actual sunshowers began to sprinkle down. No matter how minimal, the sunshower itself is an act of two seemingly discordant pieces combining to create a beautiful moment. At least in this tucked away space, what was supposed to clash gave way to comfort, and there was one omnipresent essence to the goings-on outside the confines of the SummerStage. The word of the day, truly, was “love.”

11 thoughts on “M.I.A: Bob Your Head In Tune To The Beat”

  1. do you have to hear the entire album to get it? Ive heard bits and pieces of MIA it doesnt sound bad or anything, it just doesnt do a thing for me…i like some hip hop and dance, i dig “worldbeat” fusion stuff

    ive seen bits of her stuff,mind you it was on mtv and just bits but it was just excruciatingly boring

    30 seconds and it was boring…

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  3. “she has become the face of the most revolutionary form of music since punk, and quite possibly the future of pop music as we know it”

    Dude….what??? You’re forgetting rap. And postpunk. And RAP. This MIA is decent but she isn’t nearly worth your hype.

  4. “she has become the face of the most revolutionary form of music since punk, and quite possibly the future of pop music as we know it”

    I’m not going to dis MIA. That single is catchy. It’s the type of song that gets stuck in one’s head and might even end up circulating forever in the cultural/marketing spin cycle that is television advertising, wedding DJing and “Remember the 2000s?” retro discs.

    How, though, is this the most “revolutionary form of music since punk, and quite possibly the future of pop music as we know it”

    What makes this act so revolutionary. Frankly, I don’t get it.

  5. “What makes this act so revolutionary. Frankly, I don’t get it.”

    it’s cause she’s hot, duh. Everybody knows that hot girls can’t actually be talented, and so any time they make something marginally okay the world jumps all over them cause they’re all photogenic and shit. Score another for the hype(rbole) machine.

  6. Wow! I thought I was harsh at times in here. I’m not trying to rag on MIA. I’m just looking for a better explanation as to what makes this chick so “revolutionary”.

    How is this any different from any other dance or pop song that’s managed to hit the charts?

  7. In Tom’s defense, I think by “most revolutionary” he wasn’t referring only to M.I.A, but the growing movement that combines hip hop, dancehallL, grime, and indigenous Eastern/African music. Which is, if you haven’t really explored the genre, bad ass. Don’t pass judgement on the whole genre from what you’ve heard of M.I.A. She is the poppiest and least distinct of the genre (also why she’s become the most popular), but if you dig you’ll find that Tom’s got a good point. I’d reccommend DJ/Rupture, the aforementioned DJ Rehka, Low Budget, even some of Diplo’s mixtape stuff. M.I.A. is the door that people unfamiliar with the genre use to broaden their horizons. Every style of music has that artist.

  8. i won’t go so far as to say m.i.a. is revolutionary, but she is doing interesting things that i’ve never personally heard before. the trick is not to take this music too seriously. it’s fun, the lyrics are interesting, and she is hot. :) i’m going to see her tomorrow night and shake my ass. you guys can argue about her importance. to me, it’s just fun music.

  9. im still really into M.I.A., i agree with Rad Brad s past comment. MIA’s music, then her story, plus her art? got me obsessed. i went to grime night, i downloaded hollertronix, i ask dancehall/grime/hip-hop friends to give me a clue as to what to look for.

    MIAs lyrics are the best!

    piracy funds terrorism, arular all of it.

    i think she could (re)start the revolution fo’shizzle!, if MIA became the idol i mean if people really identified with the lyrics and understood them, and these people were the mainstream i think a hell of a lot of shit in this world would be roses.’i don’t be running at all, i got my own goal

    i stand in one place, and make sure i just hit the ball’ or ‘you can be a follower but whos your leader break that cycle or it will kill ya’

    i mean she turned me on to dizzee rascal!

    ” to all the youngers cotching in the stairs in the flats

    to the super star soccerlings Beckham in the makins u can go far

    if u put ur mind to it ur a star

    dont wait to be told just do it,

    try and keep school in ur plans dont worry bout ur mans

    they’ll be there in the end if ur real

    if they aint dnt be makin no effort to impress

    ur fine the way u are just do wat u feel

    young baby mothers yo i got ur back as well,

    young baby fathers hold it down for ur girl,

    i aint tryin to preach but for wat its worth, (wat its worth)

    thats kids the next generation plant earth,

    big shout to the world cuz i been all around (all around)

    wen im gone im always thinkin bout my home town,

    im from the LDN, no forgettin that, and the big uk i stay reppin that! ”

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