The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU professor Susanne Scholz in the West Bank in 2018.
SMU professor to return to campus after being trapped in Gaza for 12 years
Sara Hummadi, Video Editor • May 18, 2024
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M.I.A. returns fresh and powerful

M.I.A., also known as the Sri Lankan-British singer-songwriter Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam, proclaims on the first track of new release “Kala” to be “coming back with power/ Power!” And truly, the power of Kala proves she is doing just that. Having refined the hyper-hybridized grime-world-electro-hip-hop sound of her 2005 debut “Arular,” M.I.A. has fashioned a fresh, winning record without compromising a dicey decibel of her signature sound.

But before you pop in “Kala” and expect to break it down with some mad backbeats, I should warn you: M.I.A. doesn’t put out without commitment. As a whole, her music (despite its commercial success) is of a messy sort and is often outright inaccessible. It can take multiple tries to locate the sexiness and seriousness amid the clatter. Only “Paper Planes” fully succeeds on the first go, and that’s at the tail end of the album. It’s as if M.I.A. is rewarding her listeners for their previous half hour of hard work.

But true to form, the hard work eventually pays for itself in excess. Opening track “Bamboo Banga” is a foremost example of this retribution. When one finally finds a fitting rhythm among its inexplicable beats, the song manages to evoke simultaneously a Bollywood spectacle, an innovative DJ set and the so-called “ghettotech” touted recently by such indie pornographers as Architecture in Helsinki. “Hustle” also has a dense treasure trove beneath its cacophonous shell, one brimming with addictive digital slides and a melodic chorus that emerges from the chaos like a lollipop among AK-47s.

Oh, and on the subject of guns, there’s plenty of them on the album to go around. “World Town” bounces to a beat set by what sounds like rifles being cocked. The aforementioned “Paper Planes” memorably mixes gunshots into a cheerfully violent chorus. And by violent, of course, I mean the shameless “I’m going to kill you and take your money” irony that pervades the most charming moments that M.I.A. provides.

Ever immodest about her upbringing “in a mud hut,” she sings (or raps, mixes or yells) what she knows, often focusing on the grit and grime of the third world where her roots lie. Hearing this in lyrics such as “I put people on the map/ who never seen a map,” we’re forced to question everything from our nation’s unholy war to its growing obsession with empty heiresses and pop trash. The utmost success of Kala stems from the very questionability of these dour topics.

That’s why mid-marker “20 Dollar” comes across as perhaps this record’s biggest success. Ultimately a dance jam, the song’s infectious chorus demands us to put “our feet in the air and head on the ground” while its verses deliver lyrics that sound like something from the Humane Society, only hipper and funnier. By this logic, “20 Dollar” functions as a fine “myse en abyme” for all of M.I.A.’s discography: throbbing with the excitement of hell but packed tight with insight and off-the-wall humor. The song alone, like “Paper Planes,” is worth the price.

But for that same amount, we get much more than two excellent tracks. We get an album that is both sexy and serious, both fun and meaningful, – one that pounds to the rhythm of a fierce, unique sound.

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