M.I.A.: Back in Action with 'Kala' Her creations invoke polyglot rhythms and revolutionary rhetoric from around the world. But singer, producer and rapper M.I.A. communicates them through agitated, propulsive dance music. Two years after her debut, her new album finds her more adventurous than ever.


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M.I.A.: Back in Action with 'Kala'

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The singer, rapper and producer known as M.I.A. had one of the most celebrated debut CDs of 2005.

Critics and fans went wild for her blend of revolutionary rhetoric, musical touches from around the world, and explosive club beats. They've waited two years for the follow-up welled out today. It's called "Kala."

And critic Oliver Wang says it's even more adventurous than her debut.

OLIVER WANG: "Kala" is not another facile attempt at so-called world music fusion. True, M.I.A. does mix in everything from Bollywood bass lines to Baltimore club beats to Australian aboriginal didgeridoo. But these are far more than showy stamps in a sonic passport.

(Soundbite of song "Mango Pickle Down River")

M.I.A. (Singer/Rapper): (Singing) First of all, I wanna say I don't even know why you act that way, my name is Maya and people always say, I act kinda strange like a dooba weh. I like fish and mango pickle. When I climb trees them feet them tickle. I'm broke this month didn't pay rent, I had to jump town and my money's all spent.

WANG: At a time when globalization is both dissolving and reinforcing national identities, M.I.A.'s music speaks from a blurry borderland through a lingua franca of agitated, propulsive pop. The energy should be familiar to restless youth almost anywhere. Aptly enough, some of the recurring sounds that shout out from the album are the voices of children.

(Soundbite of song "Mango Pickle Down River")

KEITH (Rapper): My name is Keith and we're getting' straight, I walk on stilts to a great debate. When they (unintelligible), I shake a leg. This is my rhyme and that's what I said…

WANG: Almost all of the voices on "Kala" were recorded in different cities -India, Trinidad, Angola, more than half a dozen locations around the world. On her first CD, M.I.A. imported the sounds of Sao Paolo Favelas and Kingston shantytowns into her studios. With "Kala", she went mobile, making it a point to record on location as much as possible. The noisy clash of voices and rhythms makes "Kala" sound like it's from everywhere and nowhere at once.

(Soundbite of song "20 Dollar")

M.I.A.: (Singing) War, war, war. Who made me like this? Was it me and God in co production. My devils on speed dial. Everytime I take the wrong direction. All I want is one thing and that is what you got. Sometimes I go lose my mind then I feel numb. There's 24 hours in a day. I used to split it 8, 8, 8. 8 sleep. 8 work. 8 for play. Now I give it all it takes.

WANG: Cutting through these contrasting styles is the thin blade of M.I.A.'s voice — all insistent yelps, slurring syllables and British brogue. She favors repeated couplets that turn her lyrics into a rhythm of their own as much a part of the sonic fabric as the howling synthesizers and gunshot drum rolls.

(Soundbite of song "Paper Planes")

M.I.A.: (Singing) All I wanna do is (bang, bang, bang). And take your money. All I wanna do is (bang, bang, bang). And take your money. Pirate skulls and bones. Sticks and stones and weed and bombs. Running when we hit 'em. Lethal poison through the system.

WANG: M.I.A. rhymes with the swaggering bravado of a street rapper, who favors bandoliers over bling. Parse the songwriting though, and the sensibility awkwardly falls somewhere between party girl and guerrilla fighter. The message lacks cogency but her hooks are potent, even when they sound nursery rhyme-inspired.

(Soundbite of song "World Town")

M.I.A.: (Singing) Hands Up. Guns up. Represent the world town.

WANG: Hands up, guns out, represent the world town. Even if her politics may not prove as deep as her rhythms, the scope of her musical ideas and focus of her execution have both improved over the last two years. Her debut rolled in on a wave of hype. But with "Kala", M.I.A. shows that she' a tidal force all her own.

BLOCK: Oliver Wang is a music critic and scholar in Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of song "World Town")

M.I.A.: (Singing) Hands Up. Guns up. Represent the world town. Hands Up. Guns up. Represent the world town. Represent the world town. Represent the world town.


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