Politics and music have always made uneasy bedfellows, but 27-year-old Maya Arulpragasam knows about unease. The Sri Lankan native's family fled that country's civil war for Britain more than 20 years ago, and her father -- linked to the divisive revolutionary outfit the Tamil Tigers -- remains M.I.A., a moniker Maya has adopted for her equally revolutionary debut.
Emerging from the same urban wilderness as the Streets and Dizzee Rascal -- and putting those two to shame -- M.I.A.'s Arular (a play on her missing father's code name) is fearless and aggressive. She knocks listeners unconscious with her snarling, confrontational approach, by turn Jamaican-dancehall toaster, dirty American rapper, monastic-Tibetan chanter, and British jungle MC. She also disguises her very serious lyrical messages in what sounds like borderline nonsense; her topics range from teenage prostitution to war, all spit rough-and-ready over punky electro rhythms. Arular's cut-and-paste feel and politically fraught nursery-rhyme babble bring to mind tin toys in crowded wholesale shops and Third World markets: noisy, man-made, harsh, and difficult to ignore.