Borders – M.I.A

What's up with that?

Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam, better known as rapper and singer M.I.A., acronym of “Missing in Acton”, from the expression “missing in action” and London’s suburb Acton, begins her career in the music industry as the designer of the cover of British alternative rock band Elastica‘s second album “The Menace“.

M.I.A. was born in London in 1975 from Sri Lankan parents, her father Arul Pragasam was a famous activist of Tamil ethnic group origins, from Jaffna, the epicentre of the latest Sri Lankan civil war. When she was six months the whole family moved back to Sri Lanka.  Later, due to the civil war that affected the country from the early 80s, M.I.A. moved to India with her family and was then allowed to come back to England with a recognized refugee status. In England, she used music to learn English and became very interested in the western culture.

After studying arts and video making, she began her recording career in 2002 and in 2004 was nominated for an Academy Award, three Grammy Awards and the Mercury Prize, following the release of two of her most famous pieces  “Sunshowers” and “Galang“. This talented artist gained popularity and is known for her fortunate collaborations with affirmed rap, pop and hip-hop artists such as Gwen Stefani, Jay-Z and Madonna.

The song “Borders” signs M.I.A.’s strong commitment to raise awareness and condemn the outrageous condition of refugees who are forced to leave their homes and whose only guilt is that of seeking better life conditions. Released in November 2015, the song is a bold accusation to the system that has left these human beings alone, and could be interpreted as an autobiographical perception of the artist’s life as a refugee.

The migrants are the protagonists of the music video, as M.I.A. accompanies them in their journey, with clear references to some of the politics adopted by European governments especially in the last few months. The barbed wire fence, recalling Hungary’s action to prevents migrants trespassing Serbian and Croatian borders , or more recently Austria’s fence at the border with Slovenia for example, or the boats full of men on the sea, which has sadly become the grave of thousands of people. These references all mark a common resentment to which M.I.A. gives a voice.

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In a recent interview to Al Jazeera M.I.A. stated that it is important for artists and musicians to speak about current affairs and things that affect society, and giving the fact that she is a refugee she felt personally touched by the situation. Her goal is to help raise the issue to society while making music, which is something she has been able to do thanks to multiculturalism and integration, that is why she pledges to support these values.

The powerful video is the perfect visual representation of  a song where M.I.A. questions a series of issues: from the borders, of course, to identity, politics, money, life and power.  “This world needs a brand new rhythm“, that is the solution.

M.I.A.’s additional use of irony in presenting what has become the tragedy of migration even led several neo-Nazi groups to express their hostility towards the artist’s commitment to the issue, not to mention the critiques she gained for the decision to represent all refugees in her video as young, Muslim, black males. Her purpose was in reality to show this prejudice that all migrants coming to Europe are young African men, while in fact more than half of refugees arrived in Europe from the beginning of 2016 are women and children.

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Another response the song had was that soccer team Paris Saint Germain claimed legal actions against M.I.A. for the use of  a shirt worn in the video that changes the official uniform line from “Fly Emirates” to “Fly Pirates”.

Like it or not, the situation deserves a deep attention from each one of us and it is important that personalities with influence use their voice to raise awareness.

Lyrics

Freedom
I don’t need ’em
Where’s your rhythm?
This world needs a brand new rhythm
We done the key
We done them key them to lie
Let’s beat ’em
We them smartphones done beat ’em

Borders
What’s up with that?
Politics
What’s up with that?
Police shots
What’s up with that?
Identities
What’s up with that?
Your privilege
What’s up with that?
Broke people
What’s up with that?
Boat people
What’s up with that?
The realness
What’s up with that?
The new world
What’s up with that?
I’m gonna keep up on all that

Guns blow doors to the system
Yeah f*ck ’em when we say we’re not with them
We’re solid and we don’t need to kick them
This is North, South, East and Western

Guns blow doors to the system
Yeah f*ck ’em when we say we’re not with them
We’re solid and we don’t need to kick them
This is North, South, East and Western

Queen
What’s up with that?
Killin’ it
What’s up with that?
Slayin’ it
What’s up with that?
Your goals
What’s up with that?
Bein’ bae
What’s up with that?
Makin’ money
What’s up with that?
Breakin’ internet
What’s up with that?
Love wins
What’s up with that?
Livin’ it
What’s up with that?
Bein’ real
What’s up with that?

Guns blow doors to the system
Yeah f*ck ’em when we say we’re not with them
We’re solid and we don’t need to kick them
This is North, South, East and Western

We’re representing peeps
Let them play us on the air
When we’re talking in our sleep, does it listen on a system?
We’re sittin’ in the stoop
Where we get our scoop
This is how we keep it cool and this is how we do

We’re representing peeps
Let them play us on the air
When we’re talking in our sleep, does it listen on a system?
We’re sittin’ in the stoop
Where we get our scoop
This is how we keep it cool and this is how we do

What’s up with that?
Your values
What’s up with that?
Your beliefs
What’s up with that?
Your families
What’s up with that?
History
What’s up with that?
Your future
What’s up with that?
My boys
What’s up with that?
My girls
What’s up with that?
Freedom
What’s up with that?
Your power
What’s up with that?

Guns blow doors to the system
Yeah f*ck ’em when we say we’re not with them
We’re solid and we don’t need to kick them
This is North, South, East and Western

Guns blow doors to the system
Yeah f*ck ’em when we say we’re not with them
We’re solid and we don’t need to kick them
This is North, South, East and Western

We’re representing peeps
Let them play us on the air
When we’re talking in our sleep, does it listen on a system?
We’re sittin’ in the stoop
Where we get our scoop
This is how we keep it cool and this is how we do

We’re representing peeps
Let them play us on the air
When we’re talking in our sleep, does it listen on a system?
We’re sittin’ in the stoop
Where we get our scoop
This is how we keep it cool and this is how we do

Gonna keep up on all that
Gonna be doing it like that

 

Categories
Sounds from the Bucket
Francesca Aloisio

Francesca is both an International Relations graduate and a dancer living in Rome. She is particularly interested in international issues, intercultural learning and culture sharing, as well as music and arts. She is currently a consultant for the UN agency IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development) in the communication division.

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