With news of an eminent collaboration between M.I.A. and Madonna for a couple of tracks that will be included in the later’s new album (M.D.N.A., release scheduled for next March), this seems like a good occasion to go back in time, more specifically, to 2007 and “Kala”, M.I.A.’s sophomore full-length.
Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam’s biography is so cool that it could almost be annoying: born from a Sri-Lankan family, her father is a Tamil revolutionary known as Arular (incidentally her first album’s title), an activist searched by the Sri-Lankan army; because of this, the rest of her family was forced to flee the country when she was very young, escaping to India before finally moving to London, where they were relocated as refugees. Here, she learned English and ended up studying fine art, film and video, while also starting her first experiments with music, together with her then-boyfriend Diplo. After Arular, widely seen as one of 2005’s best records, she was then refused a visa to enter the U.S.A. where she was supposed to work with Timbaland, all because of her origins and family history. So she then decided to take some time off and travel around the world, with the goal of collecting new sounds, cultures and experiences that would take part in her second record. The result of all this? Kala.
With an immense palette of sounds, beats and atmospheres, the few criticisms that were previously pointed towards Arular, saying that its songs sounded too similar (they didn’t, but ok), were definitely no longer valid. Kala had everything: there were still hints of hip-hop, baile funk, grime, ragga, dancehall or electro, but also Bollywood disco-sound, kid’s beat-boxing, Pixies citations, even-more-audacious sonic elements and filthier beats, and a whole atmosphere of extreme globalization where every culture had something to say, even (especially) the most marginalized ones. And that was another way to look at “Kala”, still valid today: a visceral world-music record as done by a revolutionary woman, where instead of the usual touristic cliches, we have sweat, blood and sex fluids. M.I.A.’s strong and fascinating personna is the commander that gives sense to so many disparate elements, presenting Kala as a definition of her own kaleidoscopic and very personal universe.
At that time did it sound as revolutionary as “Arular” did back in 2005? Maybe not, but it didn’t matter anymore. She was already somewhere else and, apparently, she had taken the whole world with her. And come to think about it, you can’t get much more political than that.