M.I.A.'s Stunning New Audiovisual Project Is Not Cultural Appropriation

Source: Apple Music

M.I.A. knows how to make an entrance. 

After being off the radar since her last album, Matangi, which dropped in November 2013, she's announced her return with some fascinating styles in tow. Monday, she rolled out the first of a series of "music and video bundles," as Pitchfork describes them, leading up to her next album, entitled Matahdatah

The first video, "Matahdatah Scroll 01 Broader Than a Border," presents snippets of a new song "Swords" with an accompanying visual featuring some deadly Indian swordswomen. The second half is tracked to an older song, "Warriors," off her 2013 Matangi album. It includes light footage many fans never thought they'd never see. Filmed in Cote d'Ivoire, Africa, the label previously blocked it over concerns of cultural appropriation, nervous it would be called out because it was shot in a country M.I.A. doesn't have personal ties to.

However, it's not cultural appropriation. Each section of the video is a celebration that marries the unique culture of its host country with the artists and their work. 

According to an accompanying statement, M.I.A. shot the "Swords" footage at a temple in India at the same time as she recorded the clanging metal sounds she used to build the song's beat. The young warriors slay with staffs as well, and perform for their town in full regalia. But it's the second half, "Warriors" that her label took issue with. 

It features an African man dancing in a colorful costume, matching the song's stuttering beat with some incredible rapid-fire steps.

Back in May, M.I.A. outlined the matter with her fans via Twitter, saying she couldn't release the video because it was shot in Africa.

She cited what she saw as a double standard.

This video is not cultural appropriation. It's a truly stunning collaboration between artists of very different backgrounds. 

"'Warriors' was shot in Cote d'Ivoire with a guy I saw in a YouTube video doing the most incredible dancing," the singer writes in her statement, according to Stereogum. "I tracked down that exact guy, flew out there and played him the 'Warriors' track. He did his thing for me. He is a spiritual warrior and communicates through dancing. It's a lifelong commitment for him to be the designated spiritual body that channels that dance."

The dancer's moves weren't taken out of context or altered in a way that disrespects the host culture. They came straight from the artist himself, and are presented in a way that celebrates his art's unique elements. They do not feel stolen in any way.

M.I.A. is set to dive even deeper into this concept of cultures and the boundaries between them. She said shooting the "Warriors" video inspired her "to make a whole series of songs and videos on the concept of borders," which fill her new album Matahdatah

"Making songs and videos at the same time out of a suitcase on location is something I did on my album Kala, but it's video, as well as music, made by me in a very Arular way," she writes. "The concept for this LP is 'broader than a border' and Matahdatah is the journal of Matangi. Sometimes I move vertical and sometimes I move horizontal."

We'll see how the project develops over the course of the next few music and video bundles. Check the full video at Apple Music and decide for yourself if its appropriating or celebrating Cote d'Ivoire culture.

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Tom Barnes

Tom Barnes is a senior staff writer at Mic focused on music, activism and the intersection between the two. He's based in New York and can be reached at tom@mic.com.

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