Maya Arulpragasam thought she was done. After 10 years and four albums of diasporia-pop provocation and button-pushing, she had no plans to make new music, and was concentrating on other art projects. “Then I took this trip,” she explained tonight, premiering ‘Swords’ on Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 show. A fan tweeted her with a GIF of a girl sword fighting in India, and by the sounds of things, she was enraptured. “I happened to be in India so I tracked this person down. 24 hours later I was with these people.” She shot a video in six hours in a 10th century temple, recording the sounds of swords clanging violently, then drove that night to a studio, where her first single since 2013’s visceral ‘Matangi’ was pieced together over night.
There aren’t many artists left who can still make a release feel like an event. But MIA is one of them. She’s a pop star who knows how to get tongues wagging, how to make the most of her moments, how to do something that’ll launch a thousand blogs. And while she’s always understood the power of the attention-grabbing publicity stunt, whether it’s causing chaos at the Grammys or flipping the bird and stealing Madonna’s spotlight at the Superbowl, she’s also always seemed aware that the best way to make a statement and focus everyone’s gaze on her is through her art. It’s why typically some of her most memorable releases have felt less like songs, and more like grand, audio-visual projects. Remember the ginger apocalypse of the relentless, Suicide-sampling ‘Born Free’? Or the toppled oil tankers and machine gun-toting flunkies of ‘Bad Girls’, as MIA leans nonchalantly on a skidding car?
New single ‘Swords’ doesn’t pack quite the same ghetto-blaster attitude as those songs, instead turning the clanging metallic sounds she recorded on the fly that day in India into a fierce percussive lurch. “Highly explosive, ready and raw,” she sneers over deep bass. “Everything banging like we’re in Bangalore, sounds of swords cutting edge like woah.” It’s loose and fluid, as you might expect given its spontaneous birth in that 10th century temple. The track is part of an audiovisual project, released on Apple Music today, called ‘Matahdatah Scroll 01 Broader Than a Border’. Borders, she told Zane, “can be geographical but can also be more.” ‘Swords’ sees MIA continue to slink into exciting new territory. See a teaser above and click the link to listen to the whole thing.