Everything We Know About M.I.A.’s ‘Matangi’

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Yesterday, Sri Lankan rapper, visual artist, and general hell-raiser M.I.A. (née Maya Arulpragasam) released her Matangi , an extended cut produced for the Paris Fashion Week runway show of Japanese brand Kenzo. It’s the first officially released new material from M.I.A. since her hit single “Bad Girls” came out over a year ago, although producer Danja dropped its b-side, “Doobie,” this January. Fans are already speculating on what the ‘s sound, which is more reminiscent of Bollywood music than Arulpragasam’s typical genre-bending style, means for M.I.A.’s upcoming fourth album, also titled Matangi. So that you can continue parsing the evidence, we’ve collected everything we know about that record so far, from the release date to the tracklist to song previews. It’s almost as good as having the album itself. Almost.

Matangi is (supposedly) coming out in April

Although M.I.A. initially announced to fans this August via Twitter, her preferred method of agitation communication, that Matangi would come out in December 2012, she admitted at a November appearance at the MoMA PS1 that the release was delayed indefinitely. There’s still been no official release date from her label, Mercury Records, but Arulpragasam told Australian magazine Gold Coast in an interview this January that Matangi will tentatively come out on April 15th in order to coincide with the Tamil New Year. Still, fans shouldn’t get their hopes up too high; M.I.A.’s relations with her record labels are notoriously fraught (she’s been affiliated with nearly half a dozen, including her own imprint N.E.E.T.), and Mercury’s website says only that the LP is due out “this summer.”

The album is named after the Indian goddess of the arts.

Like her previous albums, Matangi also derives from M.I.A.’s family name: though Arulpragasam typically goes by Maya, that’s actually her middle name. Her full name is Mathangi Maya Arulpragasam. Still, she’s not the title’s only inspiration. At the MoMA PS1 event, the artist revealed that she’d found out about her namesake while doing Google research for her installation at India’s first-ever biennial art exhibition this December: “The whole time I’ve been alive on this planet, my mom never mentioned where my name came from. Matangi was the goddess of knowledge and the arts — music, art, dancing, spoken word. When they invented this mythology 4,000 years ago, the concept of someone being about all those things was normal.” Matangi’s mantra is “Aim,” or “M.I.A.” backwards. Finally, the name reflects Arulpragasam’s recent interest in India: she told the PS1 audience that she traveled to the country after the 2010 release of her Vicki Leekx mixtape to “get spritual,” and she “fell back in love… I was recording initial bits of drums and things like that for the record.” Sounds like the Kenzo mix was an accurate preview of Matangi‘s aesthetic, or at least some of it.

We can expect lighter — but not too light — material.

According to her Gold Coast interview, M.I.A. actually completed Matangi in 2012, but was told by Mercury Records that the LP was “too positive” and she needed to “darken it up a bit.” It’s hard to believe that the same artist who flipped off millions of Super Bowl viewers and released a music video that used the persecution of redheads as a heavy-handed metaphor for genocide could produce material too lighthearted for, well, anyone, but M.I.A. is nothing if not unpredictable. Her lyrics are certainly sounding more upbeat than usual; the two-minute preview of Matangi track “Come Walk With Me” includes lines like, “There’s nothing that can touch me now/You can’t even break me down” and “Can I be your best friend/Can I make it to the end.” By contrast, leaked track “AtTENTion” sounds like an example of the kind of darker, classic M.I.A. Mercury wanted, with Arulpragasam declaring, “My existence is militant… I’m a refugee from a yellow brick tent.”

There will be 12 tracks, including “Bad Girls.”

One of the many reasons /\/\ /\ Y /\, Arulpragasam’s third and least well-received LP, caught flak was its length and lack of focus: including its widely distributed bonus tracks, it clocked in at 16 songs, compared to Arular‘s relatively tight 11 full-length songs and Kala‘s 12. So it comes as little surprise that the partial track list M.I.A. posted to Twitter in August contains only 11 titles (many of them partially obscured by a neon-green Ohm symbol). Interestingly, the artist also confirmed in a Twitter Q&A with fans around the same time that “Bad Girls” would be included on the album, although it was recorded in 2007 during the same sessions with Danja that produced “Doobie.” Provided M.I.A. doesn’t release any extra singles before Matangi‘s spring/summer release, that means fans have already heard almost a quarter of the LP: two full tracks, “Bad Girls” and “AtTENTion” (likely a renamed version of “Refugee-In-Tent” or “Tentple”) and parts of a third, “Come Walk With Me.”

There will be no collaborations, and M.I.A. is being picky about producers.

In yet another dispatch from August’s Twitter dialogue, M.I.A. flatly stated that Matangi will include absolutely “no collabs,” meaning we won’t see anything like Kala‘s excellent guest spots, which included both well-known artists like Timbaland and less-exposed rappers like Afrikan Boy. (M.I.A. concluded the same tweet with the words, “maybe its based on what they stand for. nobody can cross it, only that know can cross it .” No word on what that means.) As for producers, Arulpragasam proclaimed she’ll only be working with those “that dont act like a fame whore coloniser.” It’s unclear whether that group includes longtime collaborators like Diplo or Blaqstarr, but Hit-Boy, the man behind “N*ggas in Paris” and “Clique,” let slip at the Grammys that he and M.I.A. made “seven incredible records.” If all of them make it onto the album, that means more than half of Matangi is the work of a single producer, albeit one with a proven track record.