notes from a journey through Chicago's cultural landscape...

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Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

...this is not about me, this is about my city - a living document of Chicago's art's scene, a memoir of concerts I've been to & performances I've seen, a jaded scribe's small sampling of the many offerings of this vibrant cosmopolitan city that I'm lucky enough to call home. I work the city as the city works me, all of us connected in varying degrees, here i pay tribute to our evolving soundtrack, I plug praiseworthy endeavors & try to give a little back... Together with my peers we paint this crossroads with every shade we can find, in your mediums & mine, i run with deep house deviants & wrinkled blues cats, youngun' b-boy crews & quirky circus brats, snobby eclectic DJs & electric painters laboring on projected displays, film makers armed with mini-DVs & picky chefs sculpting tricky masterpieces out of vegan grease... i kick it with slam poets & theater geeks, powerbook producers & fashionista freaks, photoshop fellowships & choreographer hips, while jazz cats blow digital epics through pursed bebop lips... i'm at the nexus of the next wave of Chicago sound - this is where i share the stories of all the beauty I've found...

Thursday, May 19, 2005

M.I.A. & Diplo @ Metro Chicago

Concert Review for

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a radical woman of color in possession of a microphone is a revolution waiting to happen. Weaned on the bitter milk of colonialism, spitting spiced manifestos in the ghetto slang of an appropriated tongue, a female desi MC with skills is a glorious phenomenon to behold. Shaped by all the joys, contradictions, challenges and indignities of being born a brown girl in a world presided over by white men, there is something incredibly uplifting about someone who’s overcome unlikely odds to emerge unscathed, fully empowered, and with a middle-finger raised high against all the inherent injustices of a rigged system. The recent arrival on the world stage of Maya Arulpragasam, aka “M.I.A.” heralds the rise of a new style of conscious hip hop surfacing from marginalized third world communities, in which a Tamil hottie can make a living spitting catchy streams of unapologetic insurrection over the grimiest, funkiest beats the UK has to offer. I had the pleasure last night of seeing M.I.A. in concert alongside her co-conspirators MC Terry and DJ Diplo, and came away from the show with a head full of unforgettable hooks, a body jacked up by dirty dancehall bass and with a deep sense of solidarity for the unique aesthetic and subversive message of the world’s preeminent postergirl for progressive desi hip hop.
Currently on her first American tour supporting LCD Soundsystem, London-based M.I.A. is a critically-acclaimed MC and producer who has received more press-coverage than any single desi artist in recent memory. She makes great copy, which is why her story and profile have been filling magazines for the last year – fueled by the 2005 release of her debut album “Arular” and last fall’s notorious Diplo-crafted mixtape “Piracy Funds Terrorism Vol.1.” Her records are infused with a sound unlike anything else, a thick stew of potent garage-heavy hip hop which borrows liberally from every shade of UK immigrant culture to forge a refreshingly innovative danceable 21st century urban folk music. It sounds hot on tape, and I was looking forward to seeing M.I.A. perform live in order to assess whether or not all the hype was legit and well-deserved. Having heard vague unsubstantiated rumors of M.I.A. lip-synching through performances, I was quite ready to be let down, mentally prepared for a disappointing performance from a character who simply could not live up to the overexposed media-manufactured image that precedes her. My worries proved to be groundless, as M.I.A. delivered a fantastic enthralling set that was at once intimate, inspiring and powerfully authentic and original. This is no feeble Ashley Simpson-esque bubble-gum diva sleepwalking through songs someone else wrote, this is no industry-framed idol regurgitating the safe saccharine melodies of yesteryear, this is an artist whose success is not dependant on the fickle trends of the music industry’s bloated corporate machinations. M.I.A. is the real thing, a raw conscience channeling the patois of the streets over the hardest beats she can find, deftly using the tools of hip hop to shape her message and spread it concealed in what seems to be the most innocuous of places, a gibberish pop song. Regardless of how you feel about her lyrics and music, it’s difficult to not be enamored with the spirit that crafted such an ingenious ploy…
The actual show was quite an experience. I turned up at the sold-out Metro a little after 9 pm to find the main floor of the venue already densely packed with a tangibly excited crowd of hipsters. Aphex Twin’s “Windowlicker” was playing as I entered, a good omen for the start of any concert, and as I worked my way towards the front of the room the mix evolved to incorporate a few dancehall tracks and an eclectic assortment of garage and hip hop instrumentals. A hooded Diplo showed up discreetly onstage for the briefest of moments to test some gear, and then disappeared again for what seemed like an eternity. The mood of the crowd was anxious and suitably claustrophobic by the time Diplo returned to work his turntables and laptop, and after a few cursory tracks, he triggered a video sequence that preceded M.I.A.’s stage entrance. The video was a carefully cut version of a Tony Blair-George W. Bush joint press conference, humorously edited to where both nation’s leaders were repeatedly asserting that the only thing they could truly be sure of was “M.I.A.” The crowd loved it. Enter the divine feminine.
M.I.A. and her co-MC Cherry bound on stage, eliciting a roar from a suddenly exuberant crowd. M.I.A. is a vision of understated sequins and printed cloth, in denim and white sneakers and wielding a disarming smile, while Cherry rocks a small white tank top and short shorts. Both women are devastatingly gorgeous, in the way of shit-talking street sisters well-versed in fending off the unwanted advances of every thug within whistling distance. They grab their mics as Diplo drops the intro to “Pull Up the People” and the crowd begins to bounce. It’s immediately apparent that this crew is here to throw down anthems, and that this show is going to be a loud, celebratory sensory assault. After the first track is over, M.I.A. asks to be turned up, (“louder…more bass…I need to feel it”), and then they launch into another song, then another, each punctuated with memorable exchanges between the performers and the audience. The beats are compelling, the bass is invasive, the vocalists are on point and in sync, and the crowd is completely captivated by M.I.A. and the infectious energy of her music and character. Each chorus sounds like a call to arms and each break ripples through twitching, bopping heads and bodies straining to see the stage and the artists on it. By the end of her set, before the intro to “Galang” drops, it’s apparent to everyone in the room that M.I.A. is way more than just hype. Hidden within the weave of these beats and lyrics is a contagious drive for self-determination, a long-simmering desire for social justice, and an encoded invitation to a righteous form of empowerment. M.I.A. wants what any missing person seeks from her community once the forced stretch of isolation comes to an end: a gathering of complementary fragments, a chance to reconnect with like-minded souls, and above all, one ass-kicking party to bring home the love of those souls so potent they’re destined to spend their lives on the run…

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Blogger Athena said...

Hi, if you can get in touch with me about the use of a quotation from this review for an upcoming academic text, I'd appreciate it.

Please reach me at

Athena Bryan
Editorial Assistant, Sociology

4:05 PM  

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