Maya Arulpragasam spent the early years of her life in a number of places. She moved from London, England, to her parents' native Sri Lanka at the age of six months, only to relocate to Madras, India. During a return stay in Sri Lanka, the civil war taking place within the country escalated to the point where Arulpragasam began to lose family members and friends. She didn't see her father -- a devout and active separatist as part of the Tamil rebellion, which has clashed with the Sinhalese majority -- often throughout these years, but her life stabilized once she and the rest of her family were able to make it back to London.

As a student, Arulpragasam became involved in the arts and published a monogram book of her paintings -- titled M.I.A. and heavily influenced by the Tamil rebellion. She later connected with Elastica, providing the photography and graphics for the group's second album, and she shot footage during their American tour. Elastica's support act, Peaches, introduced her to the Roland MC-505, a sequencer she became familiar with after returning home. Steve Mackey (Pulp) and Ross Orton became involved after hearing a demo; they made adjustments to "Galang," a song that was then pressed into 500 copies and released, under the name M.I.A., by the Showbiz label. It didn't take long for the song -- a bold, righteous amalgamation of hip-hop, electro, dancehall, grime, and baile funk -- to make an impact with DJs. She wound up signing a contract with XL, which re-released the single and, eventually, debut album Arular in 2005. Anticipation for the release was considerable, only heightened by the Piracy Funds Terrorism mixtape she put together with DJ Diplo. Her second album, Kala, was released in 2007 and was recorded while spending time in numerous countries. M.I.A. produced most of its tracks with Switch; Blaqstarr, Diplo, and Timbaland also contributed.