Friday, January 24, 2014

M.I.A's Mudra

The best reappropriation I've ever heard of is M.I.A's mudra.

M.I.A.'s fourth album, Matangi, is out today. The title, she explains, derives from her birth name, Mathangi Arulpragasam.
"It's what's on the passport but I haven't used it since I was very young," she says. "When I came to England, people had a hard time pronouncing it at school. So my auntie told me to call myself Maya, after her Yugoslavian skiing instructor."
What M.I.A. didn't know about her real name until recently is that she shares it with a Hindu goddess — and, as she tells NPR's David Greene, it's one with whom she's grown to feel a particular kinship. Greene recently spoke with M.I.A. about talking her way into art school, collaborating on Matangi with Julian Assange and why a raised middle finger isn't necessarily obscene to her. Hear the radio version at the audio link, and read more of their conversation below.
Matangi is, as you've come to learn, the name of a Hindu goddess of music. Did you feel a deeper connection with this goddess when you learned more about her?
She's basically a goddess of inner thoughts — the outward expression or the outward articulation of inner thoughts. She was really interesting because she lived in the slums; she lived with the untouchables and represented them. So it was really cool to find a goddess that was not considered clean and pure, and was not on a pedestal.
Remind us who the untouchables were.
The untouchables were basically the lowest caste in India. They were considered so dirty, they even weren't allowed to go inside the temples to pray. The Brahmans were the highest class and they controlled knowledge, spirituality, the temples. They were sort of considered the sacred, clean people. And the untouchables were the opposite of that. They were considered the dirty people that did the dirty jobs: They cleaned the streets, hunted, did things that were considered unclean.
Matangi's dad was called Matanga, and he was the first person to gain enlightenment as an untouchable, without being reincarnated as a Brahman. So he was given the gift of the goddess of music — who then had this part-time job of representing the untouchables, because her father was one.
I want to ask you about the Super Bowl halftime show in 2012. This was a huge audience, an American audience, a world audience. And on camera, you gave us all the middle finger. Why did you do that?
It's the Matangi mudra.
What is that? Why does that explain it?
Well, you know gang signs — in America you have gang signs, and people throw up initials and stuff like that. Well, 5,000 years ago, there was thing called a mudra, which is your sitting position when you do yoga or you're meditating or praying or whatever. And you have different ones based on what you're meditating over. There's not a lot of them that are named after gods and goddesses, but the middle finger is specifically named Matangi — the Matangi mudra.
So you were not giving America the middle finger? This was the Matangi symbol?
Yes. Do you like that? (Laughing) It's good, isn't it?
Something tells me that there might have been another meaning in that.
It's cultural! In my country, it's godly. OK?
Is the NFL believing that? I know they're suing you.
Of course the NFL is not believing that, because the NFL does not believe in any other culture outside of the NFL. But it's true; you can Wikipedia it. You can just say "Matangi" and "mudra," and you'll see it's the middle finger.

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