British-Sri Lankan rapper MIA, whose politically charged music has explored the nuances of life as a refugee, has been made an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
MIA, real name Mathangi Arulpragasam, 43, is honoured for her services to music after using the medium to shine a light on the politics of displacement across a 20-year career.
Best known for her 2007 song Paper Planes, MIA’s five albums and two EPs have been platforms for her sometimes controversial commentary on the subject.
That 2007 song features the chorus, “All I wanna do is take your money” and is punctuated by gunshots and the sound of a cash register.
Known to friends as Maya, she cites female punk group The Slits, fashion designer Malcolm McLaren and The Clash as influences.
Her music is a melange of hip hop, Jamaican dancehall, punk and Britpop.
Arulpragasam was born in Hounslow, London, but spent much of her youth in northern Sri Lanka and India.
When she returned to the UK on the cusp of her 10th birthday fleeing the Sri Lankan civil war she was housed as a refugee alongside her mother and two siblings. Her father, a Tamil political activist, remained in Sri Lanka.
Arulpragasam attended London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art where she became known for her use of bright pink stencils.
Through a friend – Blur’s Damon Albarn – she was introduced to Elastica frontwoman Justine Frischmann who hired her to design the cover for the band’s 2000 album The Menace.
The pair became close and, encouraged by Frischmann, Arulpragasam began to record tracks using her studio as a bedroom.
In 2006 she completed her second album, Kala, which she named after her mother.
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Visa complications forced her to record in a variety of locations including India, Trinidad, Jamaica, Australia, Japan and the UK.
But her effort paid off when lead single Paper Planes, dubbed by her as a “satire on immigrant stereotypes”, was released to international acclaim.
The track, which was a collaboration with the British rapper’s then-boyfriend Diplo, was nominated for a Grammy award and featured on several film soundtracks.
She has since released another three records and an autobiographical documentary Matangi/Maya/M.I.A.