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M.I.A.: Kala

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It literally took about thirty drummers to get the gigantic sound of the bizarre dance masterpiece “Bird Flu,” and the effort shows. Unlike her debut (which was recorded in a relatively contained and personal fashion) M.I.A.’s Kala (Interscope) traveled the world with her, all the while taking on bits and pieces of India, Liberia, Jamaica or wherever else she happened to be. Those brought-up on a diet of American Pop and Hip-Hop may find M.I.A.’s nature difficult to digest, but it doesn’t have to be.One minute, Maya gives a shout-out to the new dance steps from the Islands on “Boyz,” the next she becomes Bollywood’s disco dream for “Jimmy.” Later, she effortlessly slides into “Mango Pickle Down River,” which is what “Paul Revere” might have sounded like had The Beastie Boys been recording on the Australian Outback. The most fascinating part though is that while packing so many influences into a dozen songs is normally a recipe for disaster, everything on Kala maintains an indescribable singularity that keeps the entire thing bound together in a completely organic way. “XR2” is like the offspring from a quickie Vegas marriage of Ibiza and Miami’s dance grooves and once again, it’s M.I.A.’s talent for integration that makes it enjoyable.As dense as the music is, the vocal work on the album deceptively mixes depth in with the fun, both through the lyrics themselves and the clever deliveries. “Paper Planes” comes in as a beach-y Caribbean number, but even those who have trouble with her accent and unique vocabulary will understand her frustration when she sings, “all I wanna do is…” followed by the sound of gunshots and a register opening. Even when not saying so directly, her globalist mindset still seeps into every crack of the album by virtue of the care she takes to pay tribute to the tastes of everyday people the world over. Kala isn’t about the music that they want us to believe is popular in Jamaica (or London or Africa), it’s about what the real people are really listening to.Much like the first time hearing Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, even if you don’t understand a single word that comes out of M.I.A.’s mouth, there’s a feeling communicated through the music that you aren’t likely to get in many other places. If you don’t try too hard to wrap your mind around Kala, M.I.A. can wrap her mind around you. And while it might take you places you didn’t expect, it will be worth the ride.

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