Review Summary: The greatest point that can be made about Kala and M.I.A. is that in all its violent nature, it never forgets a sense of humor, hope, and fun.
There are must be at least a hundred fourteen-year-olds, on your block, tuning into TRL for the next pop star to emerge, but the hundred Ugandan fourteen-year-olds in M.I.A.’s recent “Boyz” music video are looking for a new leader. National disease, terrorism, civil war, poverty, famine, and leaders who have always kept the people they govern a 2nd interest. It’s a lot to get upset about, as we read and see images of a world endlessly torn by greed and violence. It almost gets us as upset as when we see a beloved global pop star exploiting this political and regional territory as a PR stunt. Bird flu is one thing, but Jon Bon Jovi singing about bird flu? Its so easy to sing “we are the world” from a little jet plane in the sky, but M.I.A. is keen on staying grounded for her time on Earth. Amidst the 8-year olds holding AKs and diseased chickens, hope is much more tangible to M.I.A. when she is so close to the hopeless.
There are some standards that artists establish on their debut, standards that are built upon or transformed into something else. After spending a year touring and another year of getting deported and convincing publications that she makes her own music, M.I.A. proves that her musical career will be about fighting whatever standards people said she started with. Every minute of this album explodes with not only thrills unexpected of M.I.A. but of the genres she is working with. She begins with a zombiefied rendition of The Modern Lovers’s classic “Roadrunner” amongst a backdrop as hypnotic as it is aggressive, until “Bamboo Banga” lives up to its name. In the end though, it is the same sort of dark party anthem from her debut that leaves its emotion and mission hidden. Before you have too much mindless fun, M.I.A. has something important to say and it’s going to last for the rest of the album.
Congo lines, Aboriginal rap groups made of 10 year old (who would have thought that Digeridoo could be so…crunk?), chicken squawks, Timbaland (slightly redeeming himself), Bollywood disco, and enough bass to blow out any 12’ sub in due time paint Kala’s musical backdrop. It seems like complete hyperbole to say any album sounds like nothing you heard before, but Kala ultimately delivers this promise. In fact, it delivers this promise so well that you might hate it for its sense of individuality but you can’t debate M.I.A. confidence in strange lands. While it takes time to get over the shrill soundscapes on display, the lyrical content is much harder to look over and will haunt you for some time.
Every song here has its strange avenues and destinations, but no song stands out more than “$20” on Kala. To call it daring is an insult, as M.I.A. makes a plea for the children caught in wars of Uganda over the most powerful use of dissonance in a basic house beat I’ve ever heard. While finding the political and militant views of M.I.A. was a shocking epilogue on Arular, Kala’s greater ambition is completely tied into the music this time around and can’t be ignored. “There's only one ocean that got fish left/One day we'll have to be a really good chef/ And I don't mean us in the bush making meth”, M.I.A. says only seconds after a 10 year old raps about how sweet his village bike is.
The greatest point that can be made about Kala and M.I.A. is that in all its violent nature, it never forgets a sense of humor, hope, and fun. As much as Kala is based around the current reality of 3rd world countries, it travels further and further into the realm of imagination. Some future dream of Africa and South India being the leaders of technology and music, where the word “exotic” is used to describe American sitcoms and TV dinners. It’s a dream that M.I.A. will always fight for and it’s a dream that will always exist in whatever she creates. Or you could take Kala for 2007’s most imaginative and luxurious rap album because it’s that too. It all depends on much you are willing to ignore.