Free and Freer: WikiLeaks and ViCKi LEEKX

Curator's Note

This November, WikiLeaks began releasing secret U.S. state department diplomatic cables, leading one commentator to quip, “This is democracy's Napster moment." As Napster had roiled the music industry, so now did WikiLeaks the realms of international statecraft. If information has wanted to be free since the 1960s – from the rule of experts, of codes of discretion and slow process – it would seem that in 2010 its liberatory moment arrived. Bad news (perhaps) for major record labels and governments accustomed to doling out their products and data at their own pace and price.

Shortly thereafter, British/Sri Lankan pop star Maya Arulpragasam – a.k.a. M.I.A. – underlined the WikiLeaks/Napster connection with her excellent new free mixtape ViCKi LEEKX. As ViCKi LEEKX, M.I.A. arrogates the D.I.Y prestige of the mixtape form and presents herself as a guerilla champion of networked free culture. The 36-minute mix begins with a South Asian woman’s voice narrating lines from a Julian Assange interview: “We choose the right format, we leak the information to the public, and we defend ourselves against inevitable legal and political attacks.” Later, the tape samples audio from Wikileaks’ first high-profile leak, the April 2010 release of classified video of the deadly July 2007 U.S. Baghdad airstrikes . Equating her “leaked” mixtape with the exposure of state secrets, M.I.A. -- who recently suffered an embarrassing New York Times Magazine profile that painted her as an narcissistic poseur -- defines her music as swimming in an insurgent stream of privacy-unprotected data.

“I’m not talking about getting it for free,” M.I.A. repeats throughout, recalling her 2010 video “Born Free,” which re-imagines racism by staging the violent rounding-up of light-skinned red-heads into prison camps; “I’m talking about making it freer.”  M.I.A. asks, what makes music or information free(r)? Is free simply a price, a download option? Or rather a state of mind, a political situation, an aesthetic or kinetic style?  Her mantra, “ViCKi LEEKX – leak me” brings out the implicit erotic potential of a "leak."  After all, this is a mixtape designed for the dancefloor, its politics of a piece with its polyglot musical flow.


Fascinating piece, Ivan - and what a video! I love the Napster metaphor: like WikiLeaks, Napster destabilized institutions and bureaucracies, it produced cultural confusion and economic dislocation, and its ultimate consequences are still in doubt. They've both been blows for democracy in all its unpredictable messiness.

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