Ever since her 2004 self-released mixtape—the acclaimed Piracy Funds Terrorism Vol. 1—M.I.A. has been an unabashedly political artist. So perhaps it’s not surprising that the British Sri Lankan artist’s 2005 debut, Arular, takes its title from the code name her Eelam Tamil activist father Arul Pragasam was using during the Sri Lankan civil war. As M.I.A.—who was born Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam—explained at the time, she’d named the album Arular in the hopes that her largely absent dad would see his moniker on a pop record and reach out (a desire which would eventually become reality). But the album is still steeped in political ideals: The opening track, “Banana (Skit),” finds M.I.A. proclaiming her refugee status and, later on in the album, there are nods to the Palestine Liberation Organization, admonishments of George W. Bush’s administration and interrogations of the ways in which Tamil activists had been being framed in Western media. But Arular is also playful and joyful, with a saturated color palette of humid, tropical electronics, and with songs that find M.I.A. enthusing about such diasporic pleasures as drinking a Rubicon (“Amazon”) or putting seasoning on her mango (“Sunshowers”). Incorporating the traditions of both US hip-hop and British punk—with their activist sensibilities, skits, and approach to storytelling—Arular finds M.I.A. imploring us to dance to protest music. She gets a lot of help from her then-boyfriend—a striving young producer named Diplo—in crafting a brash, unique sound that pulls on the threads of dance as a genre in a global sense, melting borders in a way that would become a trademark of her sound: Take the glorious baile funk on “Bucky Done Gun,” the quasi-dancehall-meets-jungle of “Galang,” or the sticky, Bollywood-esque drum patterns on “Hombre,” made with toy drums she’d bought in India. Because of a limited budget—and compared to the more dense productions that would become a hallmark of M.I.A.’s later career—Arular is relatively rough and ready. But if a first album is a statement of intent for an artist, then the songs here speak volumes. As scrappy and somewhat esoteric debuts go, it showcases M.I.A. as a singular artist with a bold, uncompromising vision.

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