M.I.A. - Kala - Review
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critics' view

Born in Hounslow, raised in her family home of Sri Lanka, and then on the run in India, Mathangi 'Maya' Arulpragasam's music is as variegated as would be expected. It's mostly coming from London and The Bronx, but there are still liberal samplings of Eastern ethnic music, both purist and populist. M.I.A. (which sometimes stands for Missing In Action) is very influenced by her Tamil father's militant past in Sri Lanka, and this uppity vibration is injected into her music, in both serious and comic ways. Maya's also a painter and graffiti artist. Look at her website through sunglasses!

This disc was mostly recorded in Chennai, India, and it shows. M.I.A. was holed up in a Bollywood studio, and so she was doubtless free to sample real live players, with an emphasis on booming dhol drummers. The whole album is churning with diced-up audio debris, Maya rapping sullenly and dangerously across a remarkably kinetic soundstage. She's got the tone just right, between hardcore political critique and gleefully stupid wordplay. She's nimble in delivery, and in the penning of the lines themselves.

The opening "Bamboo Banga" tightens the knot with poised tension, constricting as its pulsing beats build, hinting at Jonathan Richman's "Roadrunner", and full of her usual self-referencing lyrics. The layers mount up, with a freaky new element introduced at 20 second intervals. "Bird Flu" is packed with deranged chorus vocals, packing a savage punch. The single "Boyz" comes over like a crazed adult nursery rhyme, then she cuts to Indo-Japanese disco cheese (in a reggae stylee) for "Jimmy", a cover of an actual 1982 Bollywood movie number. Fancy some Algerian rai synth worms? "Hussel" has plenty. Meanwhile, the pretty unique "Mango Pickle Down River" mixes Aboriginal didgeridu with early Public Enemy, complete with manic child rapping. Sometimes, the album sound is snipped down to one or two elements, at others, it's milling with a mashed-up sample smörgåsbord. With this second album, M.I.A. is moving at a startling rate…

Martin Longley
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The BBC's album reviews ended in 2013, although the pages are archived for retrospective reading.
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