Text by – DAVIDE LANDOLFI
Translation by – JULIA PERRY
Matangi is the fourth studio album by the British-Sri Lankan M.I.A. which returns to the music scene after a three year break from her previous album, Maya and after a series of hardships that led her to the postponement of the disc. In order to really explain and understand what Matangi is as an album, it’s necessary to take a few steps back in order to get the full picture.
The poor welcoming Maya received in 2010 by critics and audience alike must have been enough to discourage, at the least, the British artist to the point of losing the vitality and creativity necessary for the realization of new material. Inspiration on M.I.A.’s part was found once again thanks to research she made on the Hindu goddess of music, and of the arts in general, Matangi, and thanks to a new and regained spirituality.
This newfound spirituality was what prompted the separation between the singer and her label, Interscope Records. Accused of having too much of a positive and cheerful sound, M.I.A. was forced by her label to give a darker sound to her project, a more negative tone because this is what had been originally proposed with Arular in 2005. All in all, all this happiness didn’t exactly go well with the original sound produced by Interscope for M.I.A. This split between the singer and her label brought out the real M.I.A.: revolutionary par excellence, subversive, a fighter, one who isn’t afraid to upset and be unsettled as well as uncomfortable. With her, nothing is conventional. Ban the faint of ears from any M.I.A. production: whether it be Matangi, Maya, Kala or Arular.
Obviously, fans from the start will recognize all the hallmarks of an artist prone to conventions, but in its entirety, Matangi deviates from old productions showing a more gentle and more conventional sound. A disc that is confusing, but only up to a certain point: surely more digestible, more pop and without a doubt, more ambitious and more mature.
Immersed in the spirituality of the goddess of music Mathangi, this fourth work draws musical melodies from the sacred Hindu apparatus, both the holy and the profane are mixed in an orgy of sounds governed by lofty productions: The Partysquad, Surkin, Danja, Santigold, Hit-Boy, The Weekend.
Matangi is an orgy of Indian men ready to stain their white robes of the goddess’ aides on the steps of her temple. The cruelty of sounds makes the work more abrupt and perhaps more understandable.
In the confusion of these filthy orgies and sacred lashes, the power, the fury of the goddess in the opening intro of Karmageddon can be heard: rhythmic, monotonous, with a heavy rhythm to introduce the entire disc. This marks change.
The doors to the temple are opened in the title track MATANGI where the tribal influences, Punjabi, vibrant and frenetic tambourines welcome this revival more cheerfully and positively than in any of her previous works. Only 1U is rap-rowdy and seasoned by numerous stop & go’s that put a strain on the middle ear of the listener which will be K.O. in the tribal Warriors, where the track sounds like a million warriors shouting their opposition against the politically correct.
Sudden changes of rhythm even in the amazing Come Walk With Me that echoes Charmless Man by Blur and which incorporates the Hindu tradition, just like in aTENTion: a mix of world music, in which each verse end contains the word TENT. Simultaneously hypnotic and frustrating.
We hear a totally new and mature M.I.A. in Exodus feat. The Weekend, sounding decidedly softer and more R&B continuing in her song Bad Girls, where the Hindu appeal gives way to Arab influences, confirming the eclectic and the desire to extract from the immense cauldron of world cultures, and in Double Bubble Trouble brazenly dance-hall and urban, an uninvolving march. Perhaps the only gaffe in Matangi.
The more “pop” M.I.A. that we know returns in the club-banger Y.A.L.A. (standing for You Always Live Again), surely one of the most catchy pieces of this discography. This radio-friendly moment doesn’t seem to last long though, and before we know it the album slips into a cyber rap style in Bring The Noize which incorporates the sharp and barely tolerable sounds featured in the previous Maya.
Closing the disc are Lights and Know It Ain’t Right, perhaps two of the most serene tracks. The first wrapped and enclosed in a sacred dimension full of echoes typical of Indian temples, the second is more sensual and whispered quietly in a baby-making-song-style, typically M.I.A.’s.
The last track on the disc, Sexodus feat. The Weekend, is really nothing more than a remix of Exodus, and is one of the few cases in which the original song and remix are on the same plane, and even complement each other.
Matangi is both sweet and sour. The audience is split in two: those who think it’s a miracle and those who think of it as a complete failure. The variety of influences and richness of genres that are encompassed in it should be enough to satisfy even the most demanding palates, acting as a generous buffet. Yet this doesn’t seem to be enough since M.I.A. tests all limits of human endurance with various solutions that both clash and irritate, but that ultimately work.
Matangi perhaps loses itself in its overcoming of the sound barrier, which was Maya, but gains in maturity: never in any other project will you feel the urgency and the need to blend and put together all that is miscible in the world.