Image by Jan Lehner
When M.I.A. arrived on these shores in 2004, we were amongst the first to interview her – and we immediately fell under the spell of her fierce single-mindedness. A Sri Lankan refugee who pulled herself up from the bleak London circumstances she later found herself in, there was absolutely not a doubt that she was the genuine article.
So it was especially absurd to find her embroiled in what would cheekily come to be known as, ahem, “Trufflegate” in 2010. Indeed, emptily-provocational journalist Lynn Hirschberg (who had notably started a war of words with Courtney Love back in 1992) profiled M.I.A. – born Mathangi Arulpragasam in 1975 – for the New York Times, and attempted to use an order of truffle fries to hack away at the singer-rapper-songwriter’s authenticity. But that same year, her Romain Gavras directed video for “Born Free” – a terrifyingly stark portrait of genocide – had left little doubt as to her ideological fearlessness. It was subsequently banned from YouTube.
In 2012, M.I.A. took it as mainstream as possible, provocatively flipping the bird during a performance with Madonna at Super Bowl XLVI, for all of a laughably horrified America to see. The NFL sued her, and she proceeded to publicly make utter fools of them and their hypocrisy, before the matter was settled in 2014.
Now the news comes that she has just been awarded an MBE in Britain (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for her considerable services to music. Curiously, it is arguably the perfect riposte to all those who have taken her on the last 15 years, a fiery Sri Lankan civil war refugee being honored by Queen Elizabeth II herself, as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
“I’m honoured to have this honour, as it means alot to my Mother. I want to honour what my mum spent many hours of her life doing! She is one of the 2 women in England who hand stitched these medals for the last 30 years. After receiving asylum my mum and cousin took this job in 1986, because it was the only non English speaking manual labour she could find.”
But perhaps a lyric from M.I.A.’s debut album Arular could best sum up the true significance of the moment: “Blaze a blaze (galang a lang a lang lang) / Purple haze (galang a lang a lang lang).”
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I'm honoured to have this honour, as it means alot to my Mother. I want to honour what my mum spent many hours of her life doing! She is one of the 2 women in England who hand stitched these medals for the last 30 years. After receiving asylum my mum and cousin took this job in 1986, because it was the only non English speaking manual labour she could find. She spent her life in England hand sewing 1000s of medals for the Queen. No matter how I feel or what I think , my Mother was extremely proud of the job she had. It's a very unique situation for me where I get to honour her most classiest minimum wage job ever. #TAMIL #UKTAMIL #REFUGEE survival story. #LIFECYCLES. #whomademymedal