Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: M.I.A., Kala

If you spend any time reading about current popular music on the net, in music magazines or in the general press, it would have been hard to avoid coming across a review of M.I.A.’s second mia kalaalbum, “Kala”.  People have been raving about it and with good reason.  In many ways it’s a terrific album and nothing else sounds quite like it.

M.I.A. attracted a lot of favorable attention with her debut CD “Arular” released in 2005 and plans were in place for her to record “Kala” in the US with the same old tired list of US Record Industry approved guest producers (you know who they are) for one track or another.  Didn’t work out that way.  Yay!  For a variety of reasons the US recording sessions never happened and M.I.A. put “Kala” together using styles of music and musical instruments she came across while traveling around the world on tour.   The result is a stunning, exhilarating amalgam of music, sound and energy that takes off like a rocket with lead track “Bamboo Banga” and never comes back to earth.  M.I.A is like a musical magpie picking up shinys wherever she finds them and sticking them anyplace they’ll fit.  The key word here is “fit”.  Almost anyone else banging African chants and drums, southeast Asian musical styles, Aboriginal instruments, disco, a children’s rap choir, hip hop, Bollywood soundtracks and Jonathan Richman’s (yeah, the Modern Lovers guy) “Roadrunner” into one set of songs would make a mess but M.I.A. is masterful at combining endlessly disparate pieces into seamless and compelling wholes.  This is exciting and inventive music that stands in sharp contrast to the by-the-numbers, mass produced rap and hip hop drivel that the US record industry churns out with numbing regularity.  Not being able to do the planned US recording sessions may have been the single most important factor that led to “Kala” being the excellent album that it is.

The weak point of the album is the lyrics.  Often they are gibberish that are mainly functioning as a vehicle for M.I.A.’s voice to play the role of a rhythm instrument.  In this respect her vocals are very successful, as a musical instrument, M.I.A.’s voice is perfect for these songs.  When the lyrics come through as carrying some meaningful content they are often display the overwhelming self-absorption that makes so much rap and hip hop shallow and empty.  Future generations will likely wonder what environmental toxins resulted in so many people of a certain age being born with their heads buried so far up their own asses that they believed anyone, anywhere would have any interest whatsoever in hearing them blather on and on about how cool they are.   

M.I.A. incorporates a good deal of imagery and vocal sound bytes in her music that vaguely  suggest solidarity with rebellious political movements around the world.  The more you pay attention to this aspect of “Kala” the more ridiculous it becomes.  It’s like an ostentatious display of self-identification with “The People” as a fashion statement.  There’s nothing remotely like a coherent political position that M.I.A. has spent more than two minutes thinking about here.  And the idea that a 30 year old music star with electric blue hair jet setting around the world recording her latest album has much in common with downtrodden peoples in third-world countries is ludicrous.  It’s like the worst of ’70s radical chic all over again.  If M.I.A. was pointedly bringing bad situations from around the world to people’s attention it would be one thing but this is shouting unconnected slogans mindlessly because they make you look cool and fit the rhythm of the song.  It’s playing dress up in other people’s tragedies in order to move product.

Lyrics aside, “Kala” is one of the most exciting albums to come out so far this year.  If you have friends who point to  mass market hip hop and say “See?  It sucks.”  turn them on to this.  In terms of pure music, “Kala” is killer.


09/25/2007 - Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , ,


  1. […] Review: MIA, Kala Lyrics aside, ?Kala? is one of the most exciting albums to come out so far this year. If you have friends who point to mass market hip hop and say ?See? It sucks.? turn them on to this. In terms of pure music, ?Kala? is killer. […]

    Pingback by Music Albums » Music Albums September 25, 2007 11:24 am | 09/25/2007 | Reply

  2. dude, i cant believe what i read…. MIAs lyrical content is profoundly thought out and is a collection of experiences and images from her life, gibberish? unconnected slogans? have a listen mate, you missed it.. have a good listen to them and piece them together and they form what i would describe is a strong and valid political stance, as you would say, considering her background and experiences. shes giving back what she can to people who she knows need it most,rather than pimped up producers, yeah fair enough she did a track with timbaland but you dont use an entire village as drummers and singers to cut costs or if your ‘forced’ to, its to give something back, and its also a strong message and revolt against manufactured music today. half of her travels were highlighting problems in the world, such as her education for darfur program, and heaps decent program here in australia, and she used what she came across that influenced and inspired her, and rather than take it and run, she involved these people… you obviously just dont get it, ‘its playing dress up in other peoples tragedies in order to move a product’, shame only listening to the surface that gets people like fergie where they are, throw on your new britney track and get krunk to ‘gimmee more’… MIA is up there with bjork, true musical artists of our time.

    Comment by pat | 10/05/2007 | Reply

  3. its good , but i would like to see more of related videos and snaps

    Comment by Hipandpop.com | 10/11/2007 | Reply

  4. Kala is waay better than Arular. World Town is the sickest track!

    Comment by Andrew | 06/22/2008 | Reply

  5. Here, Here!!! to the comment number 2. In addition to that, if you knew anything about M.I.A.’s politics, you would know that she seperates herself from the terrorist separatists the Tamil Tigers. Her goal is to bring attention to the Tamil citizens that are caught in the cross-fire. How many other musicians do you see purposly drawing attention to a subject (that is bigger than themselves)so specific and so under-publicized. She is perhaps the biggest global follow-spot rigger on a 26 year civil war. How much of the global community even KNEW about Sri Lanka the country, let alone Sri Lanka the war-torn people before she brought it up…THROUGH HER MUSIC!!! and her endless campaign to raise awareness on all sorts of global issues. The only ones who are self-absorbed, manipulating these tragedies, are those who choose to supress it by ignoring it.

    Comment by v | 05/12/2010 | Reply

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