M.I.A. jumps back into action with latest release
While breakthrough artists’ initial momentum usually fizzles out with their second release, the high-beat action and energy found on 2005’s Arular aren’t missing from M.I.A.’s sophomore debut, Kala.
The fun kicks right off with "Bamboo Banga," which resonates from a Bollywood film. M.I.A. declares her return to the listener: "M.I.A. coming back with power power / I said M.I.A coming back with power power." And the British-born Sri Lankan artist is back – with horns and drums welcoming a hero, or heroine, from battle.
M.I.A.’s first album derived its energy from her tumultuous political roots (her dad founded a guerilla group in Sri Lanka) and subsequent London upbringing. In Kala, though, M.I.A. focuses her attention on the upbringing of others in different countries. The rhythms and beats are evidence of this: sounds from a Jamaican dance hall, mash-ups of sounds from the Caribbean isles, American hip-hop, the aforementioned Bollywood sampling and even pint-size Australian aboriginal rappers featuring the didgeridoo. The result sounds like a mix album of world hits.
"Hands up, guns out, represent that world town" M.I.A. chants in "World Town" while clapping hands, booming drums and synthesizer are in the background. The playful summer song "Mango Pickle Down River" features M.I.A with Australian aboriginal rappers as the didgeridoo produces a simple bass line. And "Boyz" – which is about, well, boys – features Kingston pulses. The music video for this single, though, is out of this world; the video is tripping on Microsoft Paint as Kingston dancers surround M.I.A.
The album isn’t without its flaws: roaring drums and synth lines flatten political messages and commentary. In "Birdflu," looping drums and various sound effects hinder the listener from understanding the jabs on sex-starved men, tribal drums and a synthesizer overpower the commentary on capitalism in Africa in "Hussel."
But Kala isn’t just song and dance: M.I.A. reaches outward with sweet songs such as "Jimmy," a remake of a Bollywood love song, but with a European disco twist and strings. Even here M.I.A.’s political touch is present as the song includes a reference to the genocide in Darfur.
Just like in Arular, M.I.A. doesn’t wince at the grisly nature of the world, something the Western world is turning a blind eye to. M.I.A. informs the listener of the cost of AK-47s in Africa in "20 Dollar." It’s $20, if you were curious.
"I fly like paper, get high like planes / If you catch me at the border I got visas in my name" starts off "Paper Planes" with a playful, summer tone. And then the lyrics take a gritty turn, "Everyone’s a winner now we’re making that fame / Bona fide hustler making my name." The following chorus, which is sung by children, is overshadowed by the most unexpected sounds – gunshots and a cash register.
M.I.A. integrates rock into this album, too. She gives a nod to the Pixies and the Clash, whose song "Road to Hell" is sampled in "Paper Planes." Whether that’s another form of political commentary about the West and its interaction with the rest of the world is up to the listener.
It’s not as infectious as Arular, but with varied sampling of world sounds, Kala’s verve makes it an addictive listen.