Mathangi Arulpragasam rejuvenated Meltdown Festival while reminding us of her one-world philosophy
M.I.A. has been threatening to quit since 2007 and her second album, ‘Kala’. Nine years later, with a couple more albums in between, she prepped the release of 2016’s ‘AIM’ with insistence that this really would be it. “It’s my last record so I wanted it to be happy,” she told Annie Mac on Radio 1. It was casually put, rather than an artist fishing for cries of ‘don’t leave us.’
When ‘AIM’ dropped in September of last year to mixed-to-negative reviews it really did feel like the end. The previously released ‘Borders’ showed that there was still pop genius and political fire in M.I.A. but across the rest of the album, half songs that peaked with her sampling her own ‘Arular’ track ‘Galang’ (admittedly due to a legal dispute over an Elton John sample) suggested something hard to swallow – M.I.A. seemed to be all out of ideas. Worse still was the sense that most people hadn’t really bothered to even check out ‘AIM’.
Tonight M.I.A. closes her own-curated Meltdown Festival with a tightly executed, gapless run of career hits that is quite simply incredible. But before we get into that, and the fact that setlists like this appears to only support the notion of an artist reflecting on (and enjoying) what they’ve achieved, rather than what they want to achieve next, it’s worth sparing a thought for how M.I.A. has revitalised the Southbank Centre’s Meltdown – a 10-day run of shows that has felt Guy Garvey’d-out long before the Elbow singer curated last year’s event.