M.I.A.'s 'Mata' review: British-Sri Lankan rapper is back with intoxicating new album

Six years after her previous release, propulsive beats abound in this vibrant collection of songs

M.I.A is back to her best with 'Mata'. Photo: Island Records
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For someone as opinionated as M.I.A, her previous album, 2016's Aim, was a charmless affair.

At the time, the British-Sri Lankan rapper and singer, full name Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam, faced a fork in the road and couldn’t reconcile her trailblazing experimental approach with her increasing pop-friendly sounds that earned admiration from the likes of Madonna and Nicki Minaj.

As a result, much of Aim, with the exception of strong single Borders, sounded lost.

Artist: M.I.A
Label: Island
Rating: 3.5/5

In that sense, M.I.A. was right to take time off to recalibrate.

Her comeback effort, Mata, is an invigorating effort that brings both strands together and ultimately recaptures some of the spark.

At under 40 minutes, it is a lean and vibrant mix of global sounds filtered through M.I.A.’s idiosyncratic song-writing.

This means electronic bleats clash and at times blend with choral vocals, South-East Asian percussion and some fierce Tamil rapping.

F.I.A.S.O.M. (Freedom Is a State of Mind) is a brilliant opener with its intoxicating mix of horns, Bhangra-style beats and sampled vocals.

Hovering over that frenetic production is an an ethereal sounding M.I.A. declaring: "I don’t care if people don’t like me / If you’re lookin’, you know where to find me."

Zoo Girl is another whirlwind of a mix. It is powered by bass rumbling trap production and laced with woozy keyboards and chanting backing vocals.

The thumping Energy Freq, meanwhile, built on a sensual vocal loop from a Tamil film, could be this generation's version of Punjabi MC's 2002 hit Mundian To Bach Ke.

While Mata is a thoroughly propulsive affair, the beats cloak some of the insecurity M.I.A. expresses in the lyrics.

In the summery The One she is brimming with confidence as she acknowledges her success and stature, while in Zoo Girl it sounds as if she is trying to convince herself of her talent.

"This time I’m gonna have way more bite,” she raps. “Put a voice to the mic, make a beat real tight. I still got fight, I still got vision. I still got sight, my brain's still bright"

Indeed, with Mata, M.I.A. rediscovers her mojo and shows she still has plenty to say.

Updated: October 21, 2022, 6:02 PM

Artist: M.I.A
Label: Island
Rating: 3.5/5