Any artist who performs at the 9:30 club typically thanks the audience - the people of D.C. M.I.A., the multigenre, London-based rapper, chanted additional shout-outs to the CIA and FBI, organizations that once assisted in banning her entry into the United States and preventing her from returning to her Brooklyn apartment. Her familial tie to a Tamil Tiger may have slowed her down in the past, but now, more than ever, her provocative infusion of politics into her rhymes is rapidly making her the hippest artist of the year.
M.I.A., aka Maya Arulpragasam, is without a doubt the hottest thing since white bread. Her 9:30 club debut sold out in minutes, over two months prior to the show’s date. Not only was the concert highly anticipated, but it was also highly propagated: It created hype so large that most of D.C. knew at least one person who was going. The doors opened at 10 p.m., but the lady diva did not grace the club with her presence until nearly midnight.
To get the audience sufficiently pumped up, M.I.A. chose crunk Midwestern duo The Cool Kids to open the show. Main DJs Mikey Rocks and Chuck sought to tear up the club, and that they did. Admittedly, most of the crowd was pleasantly surprised by their performance and was quickly won over by their ill beats.
Before M.I.A. and her posse arrived, a video of a Japanese man declaring his state’s failure and demanding political change blared in an effort to rally the troops for the fierce ambiance that would soon come. Undoubtedly, the best part of the show was the consistently eclectic video projections, which flashed distinctive neon graphics coupled with scenes from M.I.A.‘s latest exploration of Africa.
Images of M.I.A. beating a drum upstaged stencils of tanks, tigers, bombs and artillery, which were all positioned over digital square patterns. The Nigerian MC Afrikan Boy, a collaborator on 2007’s “Kala,” appeared throughout the slide show, often dancing wildly. Though almost seizure-inducing, the visuals greatly enhanced the dance party mood.
When M.I.A. took the stage, clad in multicolor, woven cloth tights, a white vest over a baby blue bustier and stunna shades, the antsy crowd cracked and exploded into delirium. A host of guests arrived on stage to aid her in spinning beats and assisting with vocals, the littlest of whom - a child - truly cut up the rug. M.I.A. labeled her “a ‘90s baby.”
With a short discography, M.I.A. had few options from which to choose for her set. Thus, she ended up performing almost all of her songs, but mostly from her newest album, “Kala.” She began her set with “Bamboo Banga,” which is one of two defining songs on the album. The crowd chimed in at crucial moments with “power, power!” Spotting a good groove, she enacted an extended version of “Boyz” to keep the fans on their toes, almost akin to a jam session. From her first album, 2005’s “Arular,” she performed fan favorites “Bucky Done Gun” and “Galang,” as well as the less dance-worthy “Sunshowers” and “Pull Up The People.”
Unappreciated by many was her decision to wait until the very end of the show to sing “Paper Planes,” arguably the best track on the album. Ninety minutes into her set, she returned to the stage for an encore and performed the beloved anthem, complete with gunshot samples.
In the pandemonium of live action, it was impossible for M.I.A. to produce songs of the same caliber as on her albums. Like many rap artists’ performances, much of the perfected symphony is lost in translation through the live show. Despite the miscommunication, it was a privilege to see the ever-charismatic M.I.A. in concert; her visa expires soon, and the U.S. government won’t be taking any chances.