“I have the most interesting record,” rapper-producer Maya “M.I.A” Arulpragasam told us recently. Now that Rock Daily had a chance to check out Kala (due August 12), we totally agree. For starters, the one Timbaland-produced cut (“Come Around”) is the most conventional track on the album. There are also bird calls, Indian drummers, rapping Aboriginal children and eerie glitch-and-grind beats that’d make Thom Yorke puke with envy. With M.I.A. spitting catchy rhymes and id-channeling reveries, the overall sound is something like a inimitable female MC collaborating with robots and ghosts in a jungle — thickly detailed electro-rap both primal and futuristic. We’re still partial to “Bird Flu” and “Boyz” (two killer cuts available on Hype Machine) but some other standouts pushed our pleasure buttons: disco rump-shaker “Jimmy,” “Paper Planes” and “Mango Pickle Down River,” on which a group of teenage Aboriginals called the Wilcannia Mob drop hook-filled raps over a creepy slo-mo groove.
One reason for the album’s far-out sound was M.I.A’s globe-trotting M.O.: She cut Kala — which was named for her mother — in six different places, including India, Liberia, Trinidad, Baltimore and her hometown, London, often recording with local musicians and producers. “I feel like I’ve collected enough to make ten records,” she says. “At one point, I was recording with, like, thirty Indian drummers. Later we used the parts from India and then added did vocals in Trinidad using the atmosphere there.”
M.I.A. also got help from Diplo, U.K. producer Switch (who co-wrote eight tracks), rapper African Boy, and, of course, Timbaland. “He’s my idol. I cried on the plane when I was going to meet him,” M.I.A. says. “It was really cool working with him after working with producers in South India that he draws a lot from. I wish we had compared our Indian CD collection.”