‘M.I.A. is coming back with power!’ Don’t be fooled by the flat delivery with which M.I.A. appropriates the intro to Jonathan Richman’s vintage hit, ‘Roadrunner’ for her track ‘Bamboo Banger’: Kala is an album that knows no boundaries. Mathangi ‘Maya’ Arulpragasam is popularly known as M.I.A. (the familiar acronym also stands for ‘Missing in Acton’, the area of west London where the Sri Lankan artist has lived for her formative years.) Somewhere between an electronic dance music flavoured with the gritty textures of grime and Bollywood soundtracks, M.I.A. first came to overground notice with the astounding ‘Galang’ – a 2003 single that had a hook bigger than Missy Elliot’s ‘Get Ur Freak On’.
The interest in ‘Galang’ – recorded, like the rest of M.I.A.’s début album, _Arular_, in a London bedroom – has translated into bigger bucks, personnel and location. *Kala*, her follow-up, retains the tough impunity of its predecessor, but also leaves you breathless. Recorded in India, Liberia, Jamaica, Australia and Trinidad, *Kala* is not just 12 tracks of clever beats and a bit of Jamaican-cum-Tamil-flavoured chatting, but an album that’s clever enough to know that listlessness is the enemy of change. ‘Jimmy’, a nominal cover of a song from the Bollywood film _Disco Dancer_, may sound like a retro-pop piece, but it’s actually a politicized swipe at conflict zones and apathetic youth. (The daughter of a Tamil militant, M.I.A. has some idea of what she’s talking about.) And ‘$20’ – with its lyric, ‘Do you know the cost of AKs up in Africa?’ ‘$20 ain’t shit to you’ – is as direct as its replication of a riff from New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’ is audacious.
Help us produce more like this
Patreon is a platform that enables us to offer more to our readership. With a new podcast, eBooks, tote bags and magazine subscriptions on offer, as well as early access to video and articles, we’re very excited about our Patreon! If you’re not on board yet then check it out here.