Albums You Must Own Number 6 – Kala by M.I.A.
Without a doubt ‘Kala’ is Sri-Lanka born M.I.A.‘s best studio album. With Bhangra, Australian beatboxing and British band samples it wasn’t only the most acclaimed album of the year, it was the most textured and interesting. Behind all the samples was also several political messages which gave the album the signature M.I.A. mark. Named after her mother it talked about her mothers struggles and this meant it featured very South Asian sounds.
The first song ‘Bamboo Banga’ has the distinct M.I.A. dark rap style which everyone can refer to liking. Her natural confidence shines in the album opener with the beat mixing up into a sample of Thalapathi which is an Asian film. This addition of the film song already tells us how this album is influenced and that the singer sticks to the message she had stated it was about. Representing the third world already in the first track and speaking candidly about the line between poverty and the rich is also a sign that she has no restrictions and will give a powerful message form the start.
Then ‘Bird Flu’ kicks in with its loud Bhangra drums and its autobiographical message of how she wants to make music for making music and not mainstream success. The messages behind her songs and how they become portrayed are what elevates the album automatically from a random mash of genres, to an album that has a natural rhythm to it, no matter how different each track sounds sonically.
‘Boyz’ is another heavily drum based sound and definitely a highlight on the album. A more upbeat and catchy rhythm it talks about drinking and partying but a sly message on how “no money boys, start a war” adds more darkness to what seems a lighthearted track. The unusual layers in the background along with the cheers from the crowd not only make this a song with a meaning but a song that people can enjoy listening to. The hook is definitely infectious and the instruments used carry off M.I.A.‘s confidence well with her.
‘Jimmy’ is one of the last Asian inspired sounding tracks but is a great way to end the sound. Her vocals on the single are very unexpected and show a greater vocal range. However what this song is really about is the dance/disco crossover elements it involves; balancing them perfectly to make a great dance single no matter where you are.
‘Hussel’ – the title says it all. A track about the difficulties in third world countries how they have to hustle their way through life but also highlight the lack if education and essentials due to the spelling error. Powerful synths and electronic effects bombard this track to make it the biggest mash up of sounds. Pulling them in together and making them sound as one would never work but M.I.A. manages to do it with her chants and Afrikan Boy‘s verse. ‘Mango Pickle Down River’ is the next track and incorporates everything Australian into a song just short of five minutes.
’20 Dollar’ follows and not as a sequel to ’10 Dollar’ which featured on her debut LP. For me it’s a signal and recognition to the different poverty in countries and how 10 dollars in one country are what people have to live off and in another 20 dollars is what they have. However unlike the message of a girl getting lost of the original, she talks about how 20 dollars in America would be nothing to an average American, but an achievement and finding to someone in a third world country. With dark alternative synths and dragging vocals, you can sense the struggles this character has had and makes you feel sympathetic for them.
‘World Town’ has drums that are very reminiscent of gun shots and the loud intimidating bang is very warlike. This beat alone is very powerful and in addition to her lyrics on several topics, she turns it into something even more intimidating like something is approaching you. ‘The Turn’ is the ninth song and has the contrast of live and electronic instruments which gives you something different to listen to upon each listen which only the producers can ever reach.
‘XR2; is where all of M.I.A.‘s “Britishness” is released talking about the drug phases of the 1990’s in Britain and her troubled childhood. For me it shows the real streets and the diversity of London with brands such as Versace and drugs being named within seconds of each other. The loud horn synth also pushes the effect the drugs have straight onto you with an almost immediate shock and sends the album into a physical dimension.
Then we get to the centre-piece. The track that has so much meaning and power. ‘Paper Planes’. A song which can only be described as prefect plus one. It’s sample and backing track offer a wide range of topics for M.I.A. to talk about as there isn’t one specific influence. On the cover she talks about getting high (both through drugs and planes) and getting fake visas. However in the real root of the song, we are exposed to the perception of minorities and how they are shown in modern day society. Taking full swing and pretty much the piss out of these perceptions and making them come to life, M.I.A. becomes a terrorist getting all her ‘friends’ over to New York personifying what society has led to believe.
This album has so much power, strong messages and raw emotions that it moves you after a full
listen and can change your view on modern society even if it is five years old. However it’s not just the politics but the samples, sound and quite simply M.I.A. that make it a very memorable listen.
Review by Bally Athwal