M.I.A. Talks Smack, and a Brief Review of 'Kala'

I recently read an interview with MIA at Pitchfork Media. The part that seemed most interesting had to do with the role producer Diplo has played in her music. According to M.I.A., the influence of Diplo has been seriously overplayed by the media, for reasons that might have to do with gender and race:

M.I.A.: Yesterday I read like five magazines in the airplane-- it was a nine hour flight-- and three out of five magazines said "Diplo: the mastermind behind M.I.A.'s politics!" And I was wondering, does that stem from [Pitchfork]? Because I find it really bonkers.

Pitchfork: Well, it's hard to say where it originated. We certainly have made reference to Diplo playing a part on your records, but it seems like everyone plays that up.

M.I.A.: If you read the credits, he sent me a loop for "Bucky Done Gun", and I made a song in London, and it became "Bucky Done Gun". But that was the only song he was actually involved in on Arular. So the whole time I've had immigration problems and not been able to get in the country, what I am or what I do has got a life of its own, and is becoming less and less to do with me. And I just find it a bit upsetting and kind of insulting that I can't have any ideas on my own because I'm a female or that people from undeveloped countries can't have ideas of their own unless it's backed up by someone who's blond-haired and blue-eyed. After the first time it's cool, the second time it's cool, but after like the third, fourth, fifth time, maybe it's an issue that we need to talk about, maybe that's something important, you know.(link)

Go, Maya. As she goes forward, she puts more emphasis on the gender question, and less on the whether "people from underdeveloped countries" can have "ideas of their own":

M.I.A.: [...] And if I can't get credit because I'm a female and everything's going to boil down to 'everything has to be shot out of a man,' then I much rather it go to Switch, who did actually give me the time and actually listened to what I was saying and actually came to India and Trinidad and all these places, and actually spent time on me and actually cared about what I was doing, and actually cared about the situation I was in with not being able to get into the country and not having access to things or, you know, being able to direct this album in a totally innovative direction. (link)

Unfortunately, perhaps, most of the interviewer's questions are about the various men she collaborated with on her new album 'Kala', whether it's Diplo, Switch, or Timbaland. (Well, at least there's nothing in here about cleavage...)

I think she's making a valid point about how women musicians are often represented in the alternative/indie rock world. I can remember people saying similar things about Bjork's relationships with some of her male producers, several years ago -- not really giving Bjork credit for her own brilliant and idiosyncratic musical vision. Bjork, like M.I.A., is clearly a force of nature...

On the other hand, M.I.A. did date Diplo at some point (I don't know exactly when), so does her desire to deemphasize his influence have to do with that? I'm just asking...

* * *

Through a DJ friend, I managed to get my hands on an advance copy of M.I.A.'s new album, Kala. It's already been released in the U.K.; the U.S. release date is August 27. This is a brief review (we reserve the right to do a more detailed take later).

Some of the best tracks are already in circulation: "Bird Flu" and "Boys." I don't care for "Jimmy," which heavily samples an old Bollywood film song (from Disco Dancer), though I gather that other folks like it. To me it just sounds a bit clumsy. (Check out a sample from "Jimmy" at Ultrabrown)

My favorite of the other tracks on the record has to be the collaboration with Timbaland, "Come Around." Other cool tracks are "20 Dollar" and "World Town." All three have hypnotic beats, and a slightly more laid back lyrical delivery from M.I.A.

Overall, people who liked the manic energy and off-kilter beats of Arular will probably be into Kala. The sound is slightly different -- it's certainly no retread of her earlier work. The beats here are generally less electronic and more noisy and organic; the maximalist palette seems well-suited to M.I.A.'s over the top personality.

Admittedly, some of the louder tracks on Kala do grate a bit on the ears, but then I suppose that's what an IPod playlist is for, hm?