Friday, August 24, 2007

Kala by M.I.A.

Maya Arulpragasam, or M.I.A. as the moniker she understandably performs under, is not one for backward steps. However, after her debut in 2005, Arular, was critically lauded and announced a new talent to the world, the inevitable questions began to be uttered: where to now?

Well, the answer is here, in the sequel, Kala, a stunning melange of Bollywood rhythms, hip-hop sensibilities and a mish-mash of funk, reggae, jungle, gunshots, chanting, guest vocals and indigenous Australian rappers.

MIA has long been known for her fairly radical political views (and for the daughter of a rebel fighter with the notorious Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, who has been a refugee in India and traveled the world after losing her father, who can blame her?), and it turns out that they're responsible for the production of the most amazing hip-hop record to come out in years (and yes, that includes everything Kanye West has ever released). MIA was refused a visa to the US in 2006 when she was scheduled to work with uber-producer Timbaland on a number of tracks, awhich likely would have resulted in the necessary homogenisation endemic in US hip-hop right now.

Unfazed, she traveled the world, becoming something of a musical sponge, soaking up influences from African tribal beats ("Bird Flu"), Australia ("Mango Pickle Down River"), her native subcontinent ("Boyz", "Jimmy") and European garage ("Bamboo Banger"). The resulting record is an incredible mix of rhythms, samples and rhymes, positively oozing sweat from every pore, a feverish, thumping album of party pop unlike anything anyone has heard.

Perhaps it is he sheer audacity of Kala that is so intoxicating, sounds that appear in each speaker seem unannounced, uneccessary and utterly extravagant, but it is this superfluous soundscape that makes the record such compulsive listening. At no point is the listener left alone to await the next verse, sample or generic rhyme; instead, gunshots fire in the left speaker, while bleeps lifted from old Nintendo games jump out of the right, Bollywood strings jerk and shimmy over thumping tribal drums, didgeridoos and all manner of synthesised noises.

In short, Kala is a triumph, a veritable smorgasboard of wonderful, inventive, creative and utterly delicious sounds that cannot fail to leave the listener dazzled. While M.I.A.'s debut was a startling wake up call to the world, Arular was the stark, beautiful monochrome compared to Kala's delectable technicolour.

4 1/2 stars.


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