M.I.A. has many interesting songs and is an amazing electronica artist. What is also interesting is that she went all the way from a little war-torn island, Sri Lanka, to a leading top-ten artist in the USA and in Europe.
And while there are many videos she has with great production and interesting sounds and all, and also great songs from all of the M.I.A. albums combined, there is one in particular which reaches out to her own people, goes back to the homeland, and shows the true spirit of what she is about. This song is “Bird Flu”.
On multiple levels, she went back to the roots on this one. First, she went to India to a place near where Sri Lankan Tamil refugees live to shoot this, as Sri Lanka was pretty dangerous at the time with the war going on. Next, she borrowed elements from a famous Tamil song, “Thirvizha Na Vantha”, from the movie Jayam. She went to the Chennai temples and found musicians to record in an Urumi Melam ensemble, which itself is quite a statement, since this the urumi drums is typically only played by the Dalits (better known as the “Untouchables”). What is amazing about this is that she is a famous recording star respected in the west, and from all the elements she could have used in her music from India and Sri Lanka, she chose to use ritual music of the Dalits. This was quite the political statement that she is WITH her peoples without looking at caste, and fittingly so.
The Urumi Melam ensemble consists of the nagaswaram (the loudest acoustic instrument in the world which is not brass, considered to be very auspicious, and used in ceremonies in South Indian Hindus), the pampai (a pair of double headed drums), one to three urumi drums, and a melodic instrument. What is ironic here is that the Urumi Melam ensemble generally plays funerals and other inauspicious events, while the nagaswaram is considered to be a very auspicious instrument. The juxtaposition! I’m sure M.I.A. did this on purpose.
She also used the Gaana format in her songwriting. Gaana are fast Tamil songs sung at celebrations. Again this was most fitting because the video definitely displays these people all celebrating in song and dance. What is also interesting is that this is definitely a nod to her native Sri Lanka, as both Gaana and the popular Baila music of Sri Lanka are both in 6/8 meter.