Monday, December 10, 2007

Albums of the Year: #9. M.I.A. - Kala


Despite the atrocious album cover, M.I.A.'s Kala is fantastic. It's also as complicated as Maya Arulpragasam is herself. It transcends genres, going from world music to hip-hop to electronica. It's political, bashing the West at the same time it asks for acceptance. The production is huge, at times sampling Bollywood and disco in the backing tracks, juxtaposing gun shots and cash register ca-chings, and featuring guest spots from Afrikan Boy and Timbaland. It's tough, natch, to categorize M.I.A. and her music; her American audience is more indie-rock inclined, probably because, compared to other hip-hop artists, her themes are so political and worldly. Seeing her last month in Chicago was surprising; I'll be the first to admit I don't see many hip-hop shows, and, as I expected, the mostly-white audience seemed to be filled with people who would be just as likely to attend any other indie-rock show. Her following aside, M.I.A. manages to produce post-Colonialist hip-hop, finally making Edward Said's Orientalism relevant to a jaded, superficially political hipster culture.

Video: "Bird Flu"

11 comments:

BG5000 said...

Can you imagine any other cover actually working with that album? And if she heard you call it "world music" she'd kick you in the balls.

Tyler said...

1. I'll admit that the album cover suits the album, and it's better than the cover for Arular.

2. I realize "world music" has a condescending tone to it, as there's a stigma about it: that anything not in English must be classified as "world music." But it's like saying M.I.A. isn't a rapper.

BG5000 said...

That's just it, by labeling her as "world music", you are partly saying she's not a rapper. You can't call what a rapper from Queens does hip hop and then call what a rapper from, say, Mali does "world music". One of the strengths that hip hop has over other genres is how it can take on so many regional or cultural influences and still be recognized as hip hop.

Besides, considering how widespread hip hop has become, even if the world music tag wasn't condescending, it would still be redundant.

Tyler said...

Are you saying, then, that you can't cross those genres?

This argument aside, these labels that I;m familiar with were the ones that my college radio station used to categorize the shows / albums, which were based on CMJ's terms. We had "Urban" for hip-hop, "World," "Americana" for country/folk, and "Progressive" for the miscellaneous indie-rock. I think this argument may stem from the indie mindset of music criticism that tries to be separate from the mainstream. Which, in reality, is ridiculous. It's the difference in taste that's fueling these definitions of music.

So, basically, I'm just saying that M.I.A.'s music is hard to classify, mostly because of the genres that are available to us.

BG5000 said...

No, i'm just rejecting the idea that 'world music" is a genre. And i don't think she's hard to classify either, her music is hip hop. If you want to argue about what sort of sub-genre she falls into (Grime, Ghetto-tech, Abstract, etc), have at it. But the end result is that this is a hip hop album, made by a hip hop artist.

Tyler said...

I'll support the rejection of world music as a genre, since it's about as stupid as "Americana," "Progressive," and "indie-rock" in general.

Brit said...

I don't know, I think world music could be an accurate genre to classify M.I.A. with INCLUDING hip-hop and electro. She's clearly the sort of artist who should be identified among many genres, and all though the term "world" might sound condescending, it's pretty accurate. I mean, how many artists use singers, musicians, and types of music from Jamaica and India and Sri Lanka like M.I.A. That seems pretty "worldly" to me.

Jason said...

I think world music has an unfortunate connotation associated with it. I had to find my Konono No 1 album in world music section but because of their collaboration with Bjork now you could probably find them in a rock/pop/electronic section of a record store. While i think 95% of world music is crap, I also think 95% of any music sold is crap. I think though that world music isn't necessarily an evil. My whole point with this though is that M.I.A. is definatly an Americana-grunge album.

Brit said...

I don't know how M.I.A. would feel about her album being described as "Americana grunge".

Tyler said...

She'd kick you in the balls for that one, Jason.

Brit said...

Hahaha, that's what I was thinking.