Kala (album)

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Kala
The head and shoulders of a woman wearing sunglasses and a fur hat, enclosed in a circle around which the words "Fight On!" are repeatedly written. Surrounding this are four smaller versions of the same image in negative, various brightly coloured geometric shapes, and the words MIA and KALA in capital letters
Studio album by M.I.A.
Released 8 August 2007 (2007-08-08)
Recorded 2006–07
Genre Dance, world, hip hop
Length 47:32
Label XL, Interscope
Producer Blaqstarr, Diplo, M.I.A., Morganics, Switch, Timbaland
M.I.A. chronology
Arular
(2005)
Kala
(2007)
Maya
(2010)
Singles from Kala
  1. "Bird Flu"
    Released: 23 November 2006
  2. "Boyz"
    Released: 11 June 2007
  3. "Jimmy"
    Released: 1 October 2007
  4. "Paper Planes"
    Released: 11 February 2008

Kala is the second studio album by English-Sri Lankan recording artist M.I.A., released on 8 August 2007 by XL Recordings. The album features musical styles including dance music and makes extensive use of South Asian music such as that of the urumee, a drum used in gaana music native to Tamil Nadu, India. It was mainly written and produced by M.I.A. and Switch, and features contributions from Timbaland, Diplo, Afrikan Boy and The Wilcannia Mob.

M.I.A. named the album after her mother, in contrast to her first album Arular, which was named after her father, and stated that her mother's struggles in life are a major theme of the recording. She began recording the album in early 2006 and worked on the tracks in various locations around the world, including India, Jamaica, Australia, Liberia and Trinidad. Planned sessions in the United States failed to occur, after M.I.A. was refused a long-term work visa to enter the country.

Kala was ranked as one of the best albums of the year by several publications. It reached number eighteen on the Billboard 200 chart and topped the magazine's Top Electronic Albums chart. In the United Kingdom it reached number thirty-nine on the UK Albums Chart. Kala spawned the singles "Bird Flu", "Boyz", "Jimmy" and "Paper Planes". As of 2013 the album had sold over 500,000 copies in the US.

Composition and recording[edit]

Dave "Switch" Taylor, who cowrote and coproduced Kala

M.I.A. (Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam) had released her debut album Arular in 2005, which achieved critical acclaim and sold 130,000 copies.[1] Plans for a second album were first revealed when she spoke later that year of her intention to work with American producer Timbaland. At one point it was anticipated that he would produce the bulk of the album.[2][3] However, she was unable to gain a long-term work visa to enter the US, reportedly due to her family's connections with guerrillas in Sri Lanka.[1] This led to conflicts between the two artists' schedules and meant that Timbaland's involvement was restricted to a poorly received guest verse on the track "Come Around".[2] M.I.A. instead opted to record the album at a variety of locations around the world,[1] beginning by travelling to India following the last date of her Arular Tour in Japan in February 2006.[4]

Short clip of "Bird Flu" showing the track's use of urumee drums.

Problems playing this file? See media help.

She initially travelled to India to meet A. R. Rahman, but found it hard to communicate her ideas to him and the planned musical collaboration did not take place.[5] Rahman did, however, provide M.I.A. with a number of contacts and allow her to use his studio, where 22 members of drumming group The Tapes were recorded for Kala.[6][7] Producer Switch, who had initially travelled to India purely to engineer the planned sessions, ultimately became involved in the composition of several tracks for the album.[5] A visit to Angola to work with DJ Znobia was cancelled after Znobia was involved in a car accident,[5] but M.I.A. was able to record in Trinidad, Liberia, Jamaica and Australia.[8][9] She and Switch relied heavily on Logic Pro, a digital audio workstation produced by Apple, and were able to capture vocals and background sounds outside the traditional studio environment, using a microphone and a Macbook Pro.[6][7] The album features guest vocals from Afrikan Boy, The Wilcannia Mob, and Timbaland, and further collaborations with Switch, Blaqstarr, Morganics and Diplo.[10] She likened the process of recording the album to "making a big old marble cake with lots of different countries and influences. Then you slice it up and call each slice a song".[5]

Music and lyrics[edit]

Kala is named after M.I.A.'s mother, in contrast to her previous album, Arular, which was named after her father.[11] She contends that Arular was a "masculine" album, but that Kala "is about my mum and her struggle–how do you work, feed your children, nurture them and give them the power of information?"[4][12] She further summed the album up as "shapes, colours, Africa, street, power, bitch, nu world, and brave."[13] According to Dominic Horner of The Independent, the album's music may not be appropriately described exclusively as either dance or world music, but it is a mixture of the two.[14] Music critic Robert Christgau characterised its music as an "eclectic world-underclass dance amalgam",[8] and Jonathan Brown of the Irish Independent cited Kala as a proper introduction to "world fusion", a genre that "blends sounds from across the globe which wouldn't – and some say shouldn't – be put together."[15] By contrast, NPR's Oliver Wang argued that, rather than a "so-called world music fusion" attempt, Kala is "agitated, propulsive pop" informed by international sounds.[16] Music journalist Jody Rosen called it "an agitprop dance record" that reappropriates hip hop in an international setting with beatbox riddims, "playground" rhymes, unconventional samples, and gunshot sounds.[17]

A man wearing an African-style hat, sunglasses, and a large gold chain, and holding a microphone. In the background a woman in brightly coloured clothing and sunglasses is also holding a microphone and is waving one hand in the air
Afrikan Boy performing live with M.I.A. in France. He provided vocals for the track "Hussel".

The tracks "Boyz" and "Bird Flu" use urumee drums, a signature instrument of Gaana, a Tamil genre of music, with which M.I.A. was familiar from her time spent living in Sri Lanka. She later worked on these tracks in Trinidad, where she absorbed influences from the country's love of soca music.[5][18][19] The lyrics of "Boyz" deal with the artist's time in Jamaica, and reference Jamaican dance moves.[5] The song "Hussel" began as an image in M.I.A.'s head of refugees being smuggled in boats, which she expressed musically by imagining how "if they banged that beat on the side of a boat, what would it sound like? That's why it's all echo-y and submarine-y". The sounds on the intro were recorded from Keralan [sic] fishermen chanting as they pull their fishing boats into the water.[5] "World Town" used instrumentation from the temple music she recalled waking up to as a child in Sri Lanka.[5] After playing the track to children in Liberia, she expressed a desire to record a video for the song there.[5] M.I.A.'s "flat, unaffected vocals and delivery of lyrics" on some songs drew comparisons to British post-punk bands such as Delta 5 and The Slits. She says it "was just what was happening to me naturally...I wanted it to be difficult and raw and not get into it so much".[18]

Afrikan Boy, an exponent of grime, a UK-based genre of urban music, provided vocals on the song "Hussel". M.I.A. opted to work with him because she felt that he seemed comfortable with his identity as a "real immigrant" and because his background was different to that of most MCs in the genre.[19] She had originally planned to include "Mango Pickle Down River"—her remix of The Wilcannia Mob's song "Down River"[20]—on a mix-tape, but chose to include it on the album because she felt it was rare to hear the "aboriginal voice" in recorded music,[19] and described opening track "Bamboo Banga" as having a "bamboo-stick beat, house-y feel".[19] The song "Jimmy" was included as a tribute to her mother and is M.I.A.'s version of an old Bollywood film track to which she used to dance at parties as a child.[18] Despite the involvement of Baltimore club musician Blaqstarr, "The Turn" turned out to be the album's only ballad, and the track has been described as the least like club music.[19] "20 Dollar" was written about the relative ease of buying AK-47s in war-torn Liberia.[21] "XR2" recalls part of the artist's life growing up with rave music in early 1990s London,[19] while the song "Paper Planes" jokingly plays on M.I.A.'s problems with visas and certain perceptions of immigrants.[22]

Release and artwork[edit]

A woman appears in three different poses wearing a police hat, bright neon blue short hair, large sunglasses, a gold chain, yellow and silver top, purple skirt and dark blue leggings. Her nails' are couloured in a light blue shade.
M.I.A. in a 2007 promotional photo for the Kala release

In April 2007 Rolling Stone reported that Kala would be released on 26 June of that year.[23] After being delayed for unknown reasons, the album was eventually released by XL Recordings on 8 August 2007 in Japan and on 20 August in the UK, and by Interscope Records on 21 August in the United States.[24] The Japanese edition featured three extra tracks not included on the versions released in other countries.[25] Following the unexpected commercial success of "Paper Planes", Kala was re-issued in the United Kingdom in October 2008.[26] A 4 November 2008 US re-release was announced,[27] but as of late 2009 the album had not been re-issued in the United States.

The album's packaging includes photographs taken by M.I.A. and others in Liberia and Jamaica.[28] The cover artwork to Kala, designed by Steve Loveridge, features neon fractal patterns and repeated slogans, including "Fight On! Fight On! Fight On!", which surrounds her image on the front cover.[29] The cover was considered garish, prompting The Village Voice to comment "Maybe one day [she'll] make an album cover that it doesn't hurt to look at".[18] Additional graphics for the album were provided by English fashion designer Carri Mundane (also known as Cassette Playa) and Steve Loveridge.[28] The album's artwork was inspired by African art, "from dictator fashion to old stickers on the back of cars," which M.I.A hoped, like her artwork extended "Okley Run" clothing range, would capture "a 3-D sense, the shapes, the prints, the sound, film, technology, politics, economics" of a certain time.[30]

Promotion[edit]

A dark-skinned woman wearing a black hat and black clothing holding a microphone while performing on stage to a crowd of people. The performance is taking place outdoors and part of a rollercoaster is visible in the background.
M.I.A. performing at the Siren Music Festival during her tour in support of the album

M.I.A. began her promotion of the new album with a live appearance at Radio 1's Big Weekend in Preston in May 2007, where she performed six songs from Kala.[31] In July she began the full KALA Tour with dates in the United States before going on to play a number of festivals in Europe and America.[32] After dates in Asia,[33] she returned to America for a series of shows in October and November,[34] before ending the year with concerts in the UK.[35] The tour continued during the first half of 2008 under the banner of the People Vs. Money Tour with further dates in North America,[24] although the planned European leg of the tour was eventually cancelled.[36]

The first track from the album to be made available to the public was "Bird Flu", which was made available as a downloadable promotional single on 13 November 2006.[37] The first official single to be lifted from the album, "Boyz", was released on 11 June 2007.[24][38] The second single was "Jimmy", which was released on 1 October 2007.[39] The EP Paper Planes - Homeland Security Remixes EP, featuring various mixes of "Paper Planes", was released digitally on 11 February 2008 and physically three weeks later.[40] A new physical single version was released in the UK on 13 October 2008.[41] Also in October 2008, How Many Votes Fix Mix EP was released, containing a remix of "Boyz" with Jay-Z and the tracks "Shells" and "Far Far".[42]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 4.5/5 stars[10]
The A.V. Club A[43]
Robert Christgau A+[44]
The Guardian 4/5 stars[45]
Los Angeles Times 4/4 stars[46]
NME 8/10[47]
Pitchfork Media 8.9/10[48]
Rolling Stone 4.5/5 stars[8]
Slant Magazine 3.5/5 stars[49]
Spin 4.5/5 stars[50]

Kala received universal acclaim from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 87, based on 37 reviews.[51] In her review for the Los Angeles Times, Ann Powers said that Kala succeeds at embodying disenfranchised characters in the dissonant Third World with "truly multi-vocal" music whose "every sound signifies something different, driving the music's meaning into some new corner."[46] Andy Battaglia of The A.V. Club wrote that its music ventures far enough where it can serve as both a party album and progressive aural assault.[43] AllMusic's Andy Kellman felt that Kala is better for intensifying Arular '​s qualities and "mixing cultures with respectful irreverence."[10] Barry Walters of Spin credited M.I.A. for evoking both the social demands and percussive sounds of the Third World, and found the album relevant at a time when "more Americans than ever feel like outsiders in their own country".[50] Robert Christgau stated, although the lyrics are "cannier politically" than Arular, the music is what embodies the songs' imagination and recreation of "an unbowed international underclass that proves how smart it is just by stating its business, which includes taking your money."[44] He later said that he had "pressed" to give it four-and-a-half stars in Rolling Stone and wished he "had the foresight to fight for five", as the album "kept growing on me till I even dug the Timbaland remnant".[52]

In a less enthusiastic review, Jonathan Keefe of Slant Magazine felt that the album is less successful than Arular because it lacks its predecessor's immediate hooks and clever pop sensibility.[49] Pitchfork Media's Mark Pytlik said that, because most of her lyrics give the impression that they are "in the service of the rhythms", M.I.A.'s allusions are more "rewarding" than what she literally wrote.[48] Andy Gill of The Independent found her lyrics to be unfocused in their arguments on money and social concerns, and remarked that the gun references on "World Town" and "Paper Planes" blemish "an otherwise fine album."[53] Alexis Petridis, writing in The Guardian, felt that Kala is still a "unique" listen in spite of occasionally tuneless songs.[45] Writing in NME, Alex Miller acknowledged that the music polarised opinion, claiming that some members of the magazine's staff had "fed several copies [of the album] into the shredder claiming aural abuse", but went on to praise the album for its innovation and refer to it as M.I.A.'s masterpiece.[54]

Accolades[edit]

Kala achieved a high placing on most publications' end-of-year "best of 2007" lists, including placings at number eight (Stylus Magazine),[55] number seven (NME),[56] number six (Paste,[57] The A.V. Club[58] and Entertainment Weekly),[59] number four (The Guardian[60] and Drowned in Sound),[61] and number three (Pitchfork Media).[62] The album was also listed at number three on The Village Voice's 35th annual Pazz & Jop poll.[63] Blender and Rolling Stone both named Kala as their number one album of 2007.[64][65] "Boyz" was number nine and "Shells" number sixty-seven on the same magazine's list of the 100 Best Songs of 2007 and 2008 respectively.[66][67] The album was nominated for the 2007 Shortlist Music Prize.[68] In 2009 NME placed the album at number seventy-two in its list of the 100 greatest albums of the decade,[54] Rolling Stone named it the ninth best album of the same period.[69] In his ballot for the magazine, Robert Christgau ranked it as the best album of the decade.[70] In 2012, Rolling Stone ranked it number 393 on their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[71]

Commercial performance[edit]

Kala debuted at number eighteen on the US Billboard 200, selling 29,000 copies in its first week.[72] It failed to rise above this position but still significantly outperformed the peak position of 190 attained by M.I.A.'s previous album.[73] It also topped the Top Electronic Albums chart.[74] The album was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on 5 March 2010,[75] and by September 2013, it had sold 559,000 copies in the United States.[76]

The album debuted at number thirty-nine on the UK Albums Chart,[77] and again did not rise above this position, although as in the US this represented an improvement on the chart performance of Arular, which had peaked at number ninety-eight.[78] The album was certified silver by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) on 30 January 2009, denoting sales in excess of 60,000 copies within the United Kingdom.[79] In Canada, Kala was certified gold by the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA).[80] The album also reached the top forty in a number of other countries, including Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Japan, Norway and Sweden.[81][82][83]

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Writer(s) Producer(s) Length
1. "Bamboo Banga"  
  • M.I.A.
  • Switch
4:58
2. "Bird Flu"  
  • M.I.A.
  • Switch[a]
3:24
3. "Boyz"  
  • M.I.A.
  • Switch
  • M.I.A.
  • Switch
3:27
4. "Jimmy"  
  • M.I.A.
  • Switch
3:29
5. "Hussel" (featuring Afrikan Boy)
  • M.I.A.
  • Switch
  • Diplo
4:25
6. "Mango Pickle Down River" (with The Wilcannia Mob)
  • M.I.A.
  • Keith Dutton
  • Lendal King
  • Colin Roy Johnson
  • Walter Ebsworth
  • Buddy Blair
  • Morgan Lewis
  • Brendan Adams
  • Daniel Wright
  • Will Jarrett
3:53
7. "20 Dollar"  
Switch 4:34
8. "World Town"  
  • M.I.A.
  • Switch
3:52
9. "The Turn"  
  • M.I.A.
  • Blaqstarr
  • M.I.A.
  • Blaqstarr
3:52
10. "XR2"  
  • M.I.A.
  • Diplo
  • Switch
  • Diplo
  • Switch[a]
4:20
11. "Paper Planes"  
  • Diplo
  • Switch[a]
3:24
12. "Come Around" (featuring Timbaland)
Timbaland 3:53
Japanese edition bonus tracks[84]
No. Title Writer(s) Producer(s) Length
13. "Far Far"  
  • M.I.A.
  • Switch
  • M.I.A.
  • Switch
3:24
14. "Big Branch"  
  • M.I.A.
  • Diplo
  • Switch
  2:44
15. "What I Got"   Arulpragasam, Charles Smith, Anthony Kiedis, Flea, John Frusciante, Chad Smith   3:15
iTunes Store US bonus track[85]
No. Title Writer(s) Producer(s) Length
13. "Big Branch"  
  • M.I.A.
  • Diplo
  • Switch
  • Diplo
  • Switch[a]
2:44
Best Buy edition bonus track
No. Title Writer(s) Producer(s) Length
13. "Bird Flu" (Cavemen Remix)
  • M.I.A.
  • Switch
  • Patnaik
  • M.I.A.
  • Switch[a]
3:18
Expanded edition bonus disc[86]
No. Title Writer(s) Producer(s) Length
1. "Paper Planes" (Afrikan Boy and Rye Rye Remix)
  • M.I.A.
  • Diplo
  • Strummer
  • Jones
  • Simonon
  • Headon
  • Diplo
  • Switch[a]
4:01
2. "Shells"   M.I.A.
  • M.I.A.
  • Diplo
2:36
3. "Far Far"  
  • M.I.A.
  • Switch
  • M.I.A.
  • Switch
3:24
4. "Big Branch"  
  • M.I.A.
  • Diplo
  • Switch
  • Diplo
  • Switch[a]
2:44
5. "What I Got"  
  • M.I.A.
  • Blaqstarr
Blaqstarr 3:15
6. "Sound of Kuduro" (Buraka Som Sistema featuring DJ Znobia, M.I.A., Saborosa, and Puto Prata)
  • M.I.A.
  • Buraka Som Sistema
  • Conductor
  • Riot
  • Lil' John
3:40
Notes

Personnel[edit]

Credits adapted from the liner notes of the expanded edition of Kala.[28]

Charts[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Sales/shipments
Canada (Music Canada)[80] Gold 50,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[79] Silver 60,000^
United States (RIAA)[75] Gold 559,000[76]

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone
xunspecified figures based on certification alone

Release history[edit]

Region Date Edition Label
Japan[105] 8 August 2007 Limited Beggars Japan
Australia[106] 20 August 2007 Standard XL Recordings
Sweden[107]
United Kingdom[108]
Canada[109] 21 August 2007
France[110]
United States[111]
Germany[112] 24 August 2007 XL Recordings
United Kingdom[113] 13 October 2008 Expanded
France[114] 14 October 2008
Australia[115] 25 October 2008

References[edit]

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