Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam (M.I.A.) is a singer, songwriter and visual artist who has released four award winning albums. She believes music can be used to achieve social change, and credits her growing up as a refugee as the impetus for this.

Although famous for her music, M.I.A. studied Fine Art, Film & Video at Central St. Martin’s School of Art and Design and her first public exhibition of paintings after graduating mixed Tamil political street art with London life and was nominated for an Alternative Turner Prize.

Turning her creativity to music, she released her first album in 2007 and has since released an additional three albums blending hip-hop, electro, world music and jungle with a distinct sound earning her nominations for an Academy Award, Grammy Award, Brit Award, Mercury Prize. She’s the only artist of Asian descent to be nominated for an Academy and Grammy Award in the same year.

M.I.A on Instagram
Uploaded by Instagram user miamatangi



If M.I.A’s story started in the London council estate where she spent her teenage years, it would be remarkable enough, but the fact it starts in Sri Lanka as the daughter of a Tamil activist has made her a refugee icon. Her stage name was inspired by her missing cousin,

‘We were the same age, went to the same schools growing up. I was also living in Acton at the time. So I was living in Acton looking for my cousin missing in action.’

An excerpt from the book ‘M.I.A’ 2012

In a 2011 interview with George Stroumboulopoulos, she noted that

“When Paper Planes happened I was too busy to take note, I wasn’t out there promoting it and doing any of this shit because this 25 year old civil war was coming to an end in my country and I was making new understandings and new observations and new experiences that happened to me which didn’t add up to what was going on over here.”

“I’ve just always travelled because, you know, that’s what you do when you’re a refugee and it’s impacted me because I’m not judgemental. I like to hear things from the horse’s mouth and I like to use my own brain to make judgements about what the truth is and what it isnt, and I know from my own experiences what that is, you know. That’s the thing about my music, I wanted to become a musician and help some sort of change or stand up for what I believe in, use music for what its supposed to be for, you know.. you have to be tough to withstand the pressure to … but the experiences I have had meant that I can use music to represent my people.”