M.I.A. — “Galang”

Released: 11.1.04

Peak: Did not chart

Maya Arulpragasam pushed all the right fanboy buttons. She was “exotic,” i.e., foreign and hot, politicizing geek lust with art school collages of tanks and grenades. Not only did she sport a dangerous pedigree as any Other ought, but her pops’ crew the Tamils were fairly under-the-radar as insurgents go–how often does a music nerd get to crate-dig an obscure Asian uprising? And “Galang” surfaced like a distant rumor of a song, compressed and smuggled through mp3 blogs and peer-to-peer servers, inviting our complicity in its illicit passage.

All of which made M.I.A.’s image as easily dismissible as a Che t-shirt if you were so inclined (though no more easily dismissible than your supposedly poseur-proof inclinations). But then there was “Galang” itself. As a denizen of that dancehall-braised community that Michaelangelo Matos dubbed the “electro-bounce diaspora,” M.I.A. synthesized more influences than she probably realized into an idiosyncratic primitive futurism. “Galang” nagged intractably from the margins of coherence, its snares echoing distant car bombs, its homemade bloop-toons competing for attention like the horn blats of frustrated drivers in a hover-car traffic jam. And to make it all make no sense at all, the bassist out of Pulp had a hand in it.

True to global ghetto style, the lyrics spat up enough nonsensical surface noise to distract the casual listener from the message. M.I.A. casually slaps down the four sham options offered to the poor: development of natural resources, hard work, religious conviction, and prostitution. And “The Feds gonna get you/ Pull the strings on the hood” is no joke in the post-Fourth Amendment U.S., not to mention the wider expanse the CIA patrols. But if there’s plenty terror in her jabber, tangled underneath in a grapevine of half-true admonitions, there’s plenty resilience too, and the chorus’s titular Jamaican slang underscores the fact that refugees will always know how to get on.

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