M.I.A. - Kala
Record Label: XL Recordings
Release Date: August 21, 2007 (USA)
Hailing from West London and with deep roots in Sri Lanka, British born Tamil M.I.A. has made a huge splash in the music scene. Gaining notoriety for her song “Paper Planes," with a little help from Pineapple Express, M.I.A. has been thrust in to the mainstream, an unlikely crossover to pop territory with music as in-depth and chaotic as this.
Kala is M.I.A.’s second album, coming two years after her debut Arular, which had secured M.I.A.’s place as one to watch in the future. Receiving praise from fans and critics alike, M.I.A. was beckoned as a new hope in a scene which sorely lacked innovation and originality. Kala does not disappoint, opening with the pulsing beats of “Bamboo Banga.” Incorporating elements of Tamil film Dalapathi with a looping background, the song flows seamlessly from rap to Bollywood-esque vocals, without so much of a hiccup. This mesh of cultures and styles is one of the things that set Kala apart from the rest, unashamed of her background while acknowledging her rap influence, combining the two with little effort.
The album continues on with the frantic samples of “Bird Flu” and the Disco Dancer inspired “Jimmy” to reach track seven, “20 Dollar.” The diversity of styles on this album is most prominently shown here. Known for her sampling, M.I.A. uses themes from Pixies’ song, “Where Is My Mind,” to create a powerful commentary on the state of war and life in poverty, something with which M.I.A. is familiar. The lyrics and forcefulness of M.I.A.’s beliefs are a major contribution to the success of the album; “War war war / Who made me like this / Was it me and god in co-production / My devil's on speed dial / Every time I take the wrong direction.” Every lyric on this album revolves around political or social commentary, disguised in the danceable package of three minute pop songs, a cause for her major chart success.
“Paper Planes” immediately makes itself known as possibly the most relaxed song on the album. Sampling The Clash’s “Straight to Hell,” the song pulses and jumps, accompanied by M.I.A.’s commentary on the fear and alienation people feel towards immigrants, based on an external pressure from the media and falsities. Heavy stuff for a Billboard charting “pop” song. A song that has unfortunately made M.I.A. popular with the masses, unfortunate because of the misinterpretation of the gun shots and lyrics as a song about gang culture or at worst, terrorism, it remains every bit as witty and true after continuous playing of it.
While Kala does have its low points (“XR2” and “World Turn” are easily skipped), the album as a whole is a danceable and thoughtful take on hard hitting subjects. To the casual listener, Kala is an album that has good beats and melodies to listen to without having to think. Dig a little deeper, and Kala becomes something so much more; no less listenable, but more involved and intelligent than it may appear, Kala is an impressive sophomore attempt from M.I.A.
I could never get into this record but as always, your reviews are so informative. You're such a talented writer.
Thank you for the compliments! It's not the style I normally listen to, but it's nice to expand and listen to somethign different. A major pulling factor for me was the lyrics, but I do understand how it wouldn't be to the tastes of everybody.