Read the first part here
What about the Fly Pirates song? Was it all to provoke PSG?
You think so? (smiling).
I guess so yeah… haha.
I think it’s just me trying to take something negative and turning it into positive.
Did you expect a reaction from them?
No… Because it wasn’t a PSG thing, coz Fly Pirates comes from Fly Emirates, and Emirates kind of support lots of different teams, not just PSG. But PSG yes, their reaction was negative, but this album is about turning negatives into positives. And now I think it’s a good example of how to like, fly above it all and not really care.
“I feel like I do have the right to be pissed off at people, and angry”
So it was a funny thing at first? Some said it was against military and social policies in their country. But it was just a play on the words?
Yeah! (she smiles) Believe me or not. I really didn’t think so deeply about it. It’s the only T-shirt I had when I was in India making that video, so it was just like we had one girl styling 1000 people, right, that was proper hard times trying to make that video. So this girl was stitching all the clothes for me and 1000 extras. So I was throwing stuff in my suitcase and I had the PSG T-shirt, because I was dating a French person at the time, and I liked French people… Hahaha. It was just when I was looking in the mirror that I saw that it could make ‘Pirates’, I don’t know how haha, but it happened, and then tralala, we just did it and we didn’t think we would get in trouble. I really don’t think too much. I wore it because I liked it, you know, and I wanted to give a nod to the French. And then, all this fucked up stuff started happening. But I shot the video way before, in July 2015, and then it got released in November.
I guess the Pirates on the shirt could be the refugees, who have to struggle and fly across borders.
Yes exactly. I think I’m always going to be a pirate you know, it’s like in my DNA.
GENER8ION + M.I.A. – The New International Sound Pt. II
We were getting used to seeing you work with Romain Gavras for videos. Now you shoot your videos by yourself. Is there a reason why you shoot your own videoclips?
Well the “Borders” one was difficult. I shot it myself because it was something I felt really close to. We did try to get other people doing it. Well not really but I discussed the idea with people and I thought a lot of people wouldn’t… It just happened really fast, coz initially what I wanted to do was to go to India and go to the refugee camp where the Tamuls were, and shoot something else. But when I was in the refugee camp with the Tamuls in India, the boat in the Mediterranean sea that had a thousand people in it sank… that same week when I was there. So, I was like, “shit this is what I wanna do”. So I went to the ports and boats, then I came back here, and I wanted to get a director to come and do it. And then… I think that people were just like “Do something else”, “it’s not really a pop subject”. It was really hard to communicate what I saw, so I just did it. There was definitely a learning curve, just me and Tom doing it…
M.I.A. – Borders
But there were Tamuls! Do you speak Tamul?
I do, but not Indian Tamul, it has like a slight accent. I’m not sure if it’s the same difference as like Montreal French and Parisian French, you know what I mean? I’m not sure what the two differences are, but in India, it’s slightly different and I’m not the best Tamul speaker personally either, so like screaming bad Tamul into the huge megaphone would just be like… haha! We got there in the end.
You worked with Skrillex, Baauer, G-Dragon… How was it working with them? Did you brief them on specific instrumentals?
No, Baauer just asked me, I sent him a verse and he put it with G-Dragon. But he was just leaving EDM behind, and I thought that should be rewarded. Anytime somebody pulls out of the world of like EDM, or trap, it’s a good thing, you know. Like DJ’s that are coming back to work with artists, that’s good. With his sound, I thought I could do with him helping me mix some songs and stuff. So that was my first discussion with him to be like “okay, maybe if I ever make a record again you can help me mix it”.
Baauer – Temple ft. M.I.A., G-Dragon
What about Fakear? You hired him in the end.
Oh (looking at Genneah), what do I say about Fakear , He is on the record, he’s got a version, but it’s not on the album, it’s a remix. He sent me a beat, (laughing) and then I couldn’t find him. I never met him, never seen him! He’s the only producer in the world I ever tweeted and like I never, never, tweet producers. I said “I’ll give you my PSG shirt”, and he just disappeared… moved to a mountain or something. But I can’t blame him for it because I want to move to the mountains too. So I was like “high five, have fun”. But I still really wanted to work with him. He sent some other beats. I’m actually going to do something else with them. I like his sound a lot, it’s awesome.
“Anytime somebody pulls out of the world of like EDM, or trap, it’s a good thing.”
And the other producers on the album?
This album is really Blaqstarr. He worked out half of the album. I went for people that I thought were spiritually on the same side. Blaqstarr is a producer that’s never gone for money… Never. And people really sleep on him, you know, and he has been through so much. People really abused him in the industry. Literally, he’s like an alien, an alien saint. Coz he’s so good, whatever he makes just feels like good music, maybe it’s just personal though, like certain beats work on you that might not work on someone else. I don’t know, but music is supposed to be universal – everybody can relate or get it, you know, no matter what… If you tap into the right emotion, whereas the rest of the world is just worked out by calculation and mathematics… Now, you can just switch on a computer anywhere and it will give you the algorithm to write music like Mozart.
Yeah, it’s like a recipe.
Yeah it’s like, “hey I want to make a Kraftwerk beat” and then you go, “tututulutu”. And one will just pop out, you know? I wanted to bring soul into the music, and that is a very fucking difficult job. I wanted to work with Blaqstarr because I know he’s good, because he didn’t sell out and he’s been treated like shit. We haven’t spoken to each other for five years, and he’s just been living, you know, trying to pay rent and look after the kid all the time. So I know, true survival and he was feeling it, he was going through it, even though it’s different and mine was a political situation, that was like constantly like boom boom punching in the face. And everything was like… other artists, producers, like ex-boyfriends, etc, everything is like punching you down, you know, and you try to get strong and know who the fuck you are. And he was getting here from his personal life you know. And just living in the streets of Baltimore. And when we got together, it was like five years of this intense stuff we’d learnt. We made like five songs in two hours or something. And they actually helped me, they made me feel good, and he did what makes him feel good. So that was the direction I wanted to take on the album. Not what’s cool, not who the coolest person is on the planet, not like trying to do the quirky new thing. I’ve done all these things before.
And Skrillex is also among the producers?
Skrillex is an alien, so that was that connection. Coz he was just there when I was in the hotel with Blaqstarr working on Go Off. So me and Blaqstarr started that song and then Skrillex came in and did the Skrillex things on it. But we’d started the song… That was the song that got me and Blaqstarr together again, after five years. Coz I had Go Off, which Blaqstarr recorded on like street drums, and it was so amazing, and I was like “Look I haven’t talked to you for five years, but this thing I found on my old computer, it’s like so good, you should record it again, properly.” But we couldn’t recreate it coz it was too raw, and he lost the files. So, we made the Skrillex version, which is totally different, but that’s okay too.
M.I.A. – Go Off
At last year’s election in France the National Front came higher than ever before. At Trax, we asked some of the artists who reacted on social media why they reacted, and we did the same with artists who didn’t. We asked why they didn’t do anything. Some replied : “it’s not our job to do so.” What do you think about that ?
I hear it all the time: “Why don’t you shut up and get richer, more successful.” But I think that, as a musician… It’s weird because I come from a space of like 90’s musicians… My role models were brit-pop people and like hip hop people. And they were well outspoken about shit. You couldn’t get them to shut up. So to me, it’s just normal, I was born out of these two cultures but I was still able to keep the talking part. It’s part of the art, and even my inspirations… Musically, there were lots of people, but the main people in my lives were people from hip hop, dancehall. Dancehall doesn’t shy away from being political either.
Yeah, but on the bad side, sometimes. Like, “batty boy die”, etc.
Yes that’s true. Sexuality is different when you get to that. I thought all my interviews in France were gonna be about French kissing, about love and peace, but here we are talking about politics. But yeah, dancehall, like Vybz Cartel’s shit was called Gaza, you know. And they just don’t care. Capleton is mad spiritual. And even indie deals with it, hip hop deals with it, dance will deal with it, reggae obviously but I guess it’s the same thing. The only one… You know like hipsters don’t want to talk about politics. But hipsters are also the ones that always benefit from… from… the ruling class, and the ruling party you know. They’re not the disadvantaged. They have the option not to talk about it. But I think when you come from the disadvantaged side, you have to talk about it. You have no choice. So I think that’s the difference. When it was going super right wing, some of my friends were benefiting from that, and they would live their life with no changes, and it’s cool, and their kids are gonna be cool, and their kids after them too. And it’s not fair. And, at the same time in music everyone is getting inspired by everything. And like, somebody like a trap or an EDM DJ is gonna draw inspiration from all over the world, but they don’t talk about these dynamics, the pain and the way people are affected. Since the world started to go super right wing three or four years ago, the people who have made the most money out of that are non-speaking DJ’s. They don’t even sing, you know what I mean?
Yeah but when you see people like Beyonce or Kendrick Lamar taking on politics for ‘Black Lives Matter’, for example, do you think it’s a good thing? Is it sincere or is it marketing?
I know where you’re going with this. You’re totally going to fuck me over here! Let me see, let me see how to bat away this tennis ball haha. The thing that’s happening in America at the moment is a good thing. Whoever is talking about that, it’s a great thing, and everyone should talk about that. And I’ve seen that. I’ve seen white artists, black artists, everybody jumping to support it, it’s like “ok go, do it, it’s cool”. But I’ve been doing this for fifteen fucking years, you know, and there are consequences to this shit. But everybody will have a little taste of it, and, you know, they’re strong enough to deal with it coz they’ve all made their money, so they can deal with the consequences, the financial consequences, the media consequences, whatever it is. I think it’s great to use power to speak out. But my thing is, musically, the music industry, the way my music is distributed.. nothing is very independent, it’s not like N.W.A making cassettes and selling them out in the streets. You can say whatever you want about the government, or Apple, and sell it out of a trunk — you gonna be alright.
“Hipsters don’t want to talk about politics.”
But you can’t sell it on Apple Music.
Yes you can’t really talk shit about them then. So it’s really difficult for musicians, and it’s getting harder for musicians to get political, which goes back to the point I made earlier — it’s going to be harder for us to say shit, because of the distribution model. Where you gonna say this? Coz if you say shit they don’t agree with, they’re not gunna air it. And then, where will you go and sell your shit? where? Coz there’s no record labels. There’s no records or CD’s, there’s not gonna be physical music. And you’ll have to make it yourself. So indie labels are becoming important again. And if indie labels are gonna be independent and important again, then they’ll have to say shit… shit that nobody else is fucking saying. Whichever way, it works: on one hand, if Apple is gonna let you say shit then great, and if Apple is not gonna let you say shit, then you know you have to go back to like EdBanger Records before they signed to bigger ones like Because, before Because signed to blablabla, which eventually signed to Apple. So that’s the thing. It’s not the musicians, but in the last five or ten years, everything came together. So the relationship between politics and music is a very confusing one.
H&M World Recycle Week featuring M.I.A.
Do you think that audiences are waiting for this kind of step in the direction of social and political questions? Like what you did with H&M?
I had to do H&M to earn a bit money because I don’t sell records as much as people think I do.
You did that for money?
Yeah I had to, I had to do… You know it’s both, I tried to do something talking about… Even if they don’t practice recycling or do things efficiently, talking about recycling is so important, like we all have to kinda do it. So, it’s not like, “buy my bikini and wear it on your handsome buts.” It’s like, “got it recycled.” The only times I’m gonna step into fashion is to say things like that.
Yes, but the problem is that when you recycle things at H&M, they give you money to spend at H&M stores. So they’re just recycling their own money… that was the point?
Yeah. They collected a thousand tons, so the idea was like, “hey can you drop some of these tons to refugees around the world”, coz there’s 65 million refugees. So I was like, “can you assure me that you’re gunna give…” Coz I was really just taking care of that, whatever they wanna do on their side, it’s like “whatever, I’ll do it”. But on this side, can you give some money to refugees and can you drop some clothes for them, etc. And they were like “yeah, yeah, that’s what we’re doing”. So they showed us that they gave millions of dollars to the refugees. They were giving all these refugees in the Mediterranean a kit so they’ll all have blankets, like a survival kit when they arrive. And they were there and they were very proactive. So it was like a bit of a compromise.
So it was a good deal in the end?
Yes, because nobody gives a shit about refugees, so I had to do it for that. But it also allowed me some financial security so I could get kicked off festivals and stuff and not be affected.
Read the first part here.
Read the full interview in Trax #196, now available.
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