MIA at the Royal Festival Hall for Meltdown 2017
Meltdown festival, curated by outspoken rap star and activist MIA, ends on a high with a performance by the artist herself. Held at the Royal Festival Hall, the space is abuzz with anticipation and expectation for one of music’s biggest and more controversial icons.
A large projection of the rapper’s emblem is emblazoned on the wall: two hands forming a flying bird, around it written MIA Meltdown and the dates of her project. The stage is lit in bright vivid colours, with numerous vertical neon poles depicting prison bars and two screens on either side displaying her creative visual art. DJ Tiger constructs the beats, while two female dancers on either side open the set with their fierce choreography, as MIA arrives, to riotous applause.
Dressed in what appears to be white high-end couture, she begins with Borders, from her latest album Aim – MIA backwards. As political as any in her oeuvre, the lyrics are definitive of her style and passionate commentaries on the issues of the world, as she chants: “Borders, what’s up with that? Politics, what’s up with that? Police shots, what’s up with that? Identities, what’s up with that?” Her lyrics are a direct confrontation to the matters she cares about most, whether it be the Syrian refugee crisis, or the recent tragedy of the fire in Grenfell Tower in London, and is felt clearly. MIA is relevant as much today as she was with her ground-breaking debut, Arular.
Following Borders and Go Off, she delves into the classic Pull Up the People. As fresh and catchy as it was back in 2005, this is a track about the marginalised. Its glitchy dance grooves get the crowd dancing happily, yet there is a darker sensibility, reminding us of her difficult childhood during the Sri Lankan civil war. Themes of displacement and immigration run through her work. As she descends into the crowd singing Bamboo Banga, this creates a heightened excitement, a chance to be close to such an inspiring figure. Back on stage, she performs Galang, the penultimate track from Arular, and a real crowd pleaser; MIA is truly in her element.
Mid set, the rapper climbs the neon bars and talks to us about eliminating the “elite tower” and the end of classifications, as she proclaims, “No fucking colour, no fucking class”. The audience is made up of many races and creeds, and this is a comment people empathise with, punching the air with fists. Sat atop the bars, she gives us POWA, a powerful commentary on politics, and the media, intensely singing, “I’m not Rihanna…Madonna…Mariah…Ariana”. A formidable statement, it’s one that demands respect, as she is an artist in her own right, admirable and essential to today’s music. Next, she strides into Bucky Done Gun, a song with resounding military trumpeting. Born Free soon follows, a punchy punk kick to the set, energetic and fast paced.
MIA returns for the encore with Ali R U Ok? an homage to Middle-Eastern Arab music, a clear indication of her diverse inspirations. Bad Girls becomes the highlight of the concert, as the artist invites women from the audience to accompany her on stage, which soon becomes packed, everyone dancing and clearly enjoying what looks to be the experience of a lifetime. Giving us another classic, Paper Planes, MIA proves she knows exactly how to perform an invigorating show. The sound of gunshots rings the hall, as everyone sings beneath multicoloured confetti. Bird Song has a chorus of young women, all making trilling bird sounds. Freedom, the final track of the night, is a live debut, seamlessly linking her performance to present a show that is fun, imaginative, and a celebration of all things MIA.
Photos: Mike Massaro
For further information and future events visit the MIA website here.
Watch the video for Finally here: