Wednesday, April 23, 2008

M.I.A - Kala

XL Recordings 2007

In the opening track Bamboo Banga, M.I.A states ‘I’m a big timer’. Judging by the amount of press & hype the Sri-Lankan born/ London-based MC has been receiving with her second offering, this could be an understatement. “Kala” is named after her mother, and hints of feminist shadows are evident on tracks such as the drum-infused Bird Flu where M.I.A. laments not being a Rocawear model as her legs ‘hit the hurdle’. On the hypnotic $20, her distinct rap claims ‘people judge me so hard cause I don’t floss my titty set’. Boyz asks a series of questions about people-who-are-not-yet men with the last question wanting to know ‘how many start a war’. Politics gets further static commentary with references to Darfur, Rwanda & Congo on Jimmy, a track that sounds like it belongs in a Bollywood blockbuster but is ultimately about the opposite sex.

Hussel featuring Afrikan Boy is probably one of the tracks on the album that the second generation immigrant nation can relate to. It pulsates with messages about the validity of grinding to make extra cash yet touches on identity as Afrikan Boy declares ‘I rep Africa not Miami’. Interestingly, the tiny holes in Kala start to appear when she adds more featuring guests. Mango Pickle Down River features Aboriginal hip-hop group the Wilcannia Mob where the collaborating group drown out the song. Come Around featuring the supreme of hip-hop production Timbaland is actually a good song as it does not fully Americanise her sound but does not lyrically seem to fit into the structure of Kala.

Galang, the memorable track from her debut, Arular starts the song with
‘London calling, speak the slang, boys say wha-gwan, girls say wha-what’. Kala has expanded beyond London & its’ slang with international influences heard from the didgeridoos on Mango Pickle Down River and the drums of Bird Flu & World Town, with clever samples from the Clash on the stand-out track, Paper Planes. Like the pop starlets of today, M.I.A. has the supermodel looks. The difference ends with how she approaches her music: it comes across mashed-up at points but don’t let her slow-burning flow on XR2 fool you - the album is more carefully constructed than you think.

Reviewed by Aulelia Kashoro

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