October 09, 2007

M.I.A. – Kala

5 out of 5 stars


Holly Barnes

I really should have learned by now not to avoid an artist simply on the basis of a couple of tone-deaf televised performances. Unfortunately, that’s what I did with M.I.A’s previous album, Arular, and on hearing the follow-up, could kick myself. Kala is ridiculously good – a bona fide iPod pounder packed with heavy, energetic beats and primal sounds. Previously a visual artist, Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam draws on her Sri Lankan heritage and many years spent in London in her effortlessly cross-cultural musical offerings. These are songs that could probably sound strangely at home in both Fabric and her native homeland.

The different sides to M.I.A. meld seamlessly throughout Kala; on the one hand, there are lyrics about shanty towns and border conflict, vocals in unfamiliar tonalities and tribal, militant beats. On the other hand, we have slick production and studio trickery, with mention of Roc-a-Wear models and such. Held taut together, all these elements make perfect sense and whereas on other albums the introduction of Bollywood strings would be the final nail in an overly-wrought coffin, here there is absolutely no cause for raised eyebrows. Next single Jimmy is a cover, apparently, of a soundtrack piece from the 1982 Bollywood film Disco Dancer. My knowledge of Bollywood being extremely limited, I couldn’t even begin to tell how different M.I.A.’s revisioning of the song is from the original. Suffice to say that it provides one of the many golden moments on the album – a track that I could listen to “time and time and time again”.

East meets West in every song on Kala. The album kicks off with Bamboo Banga, a relentless beat onslaught, featuring vaguely-tuned vocals with lyrics that bear more than passing resemblance to Jonathan Richmann’s US-punk classic Roadrunner. Elsewhere, $20, with its chorus of “with your feet on the air and your head on the ground” borrows fairly liberally from the seminal Pixies track Where Is My Mind?, but adds mesmerising vocals and synths that plough deep furrows through the song. An inescapably political album, here M.I.A. asks: “Do you know the cost of A.K.s up in Africa? $20 ain’t shit to you, but that’s how much they are”, where on Hussel, Afrikan Boy repeats “You think it’s tough now-ow-ow-ow, come to Africa” before going into more detail about the hardships of life in the economically developing world. It’s half a world away from the slick and superb, but somewhat less socially conscious, music of the Timberlakes & Furtados. However, producer extraordinaire Timbaland lends his Midas touch for final track Come Around, an insanely catchy slice of daft vocalising, warping flourishes and the obligatory call to “bounce”.

Mango Pickle Down River is probably the most multi-layered song on Kala – the one that takes several listens to penetrate its meaning. With a background of didjeridoo and drums, M.I.A. raps about life by the river, joined by an Aboriginal youth project under the name of The Wilcannia Mob. Distracted by the hypnotic ‘didge’ at first, the kids’ lyrics can take longer to really notice. One boy tells the listener: “I’m with a gang and I’m almost 10” in an accent virtually unheard in England. This song, possibly more than any other on Kala, illustrates the inventiveness of Maya Arulpragasam; searching outside the automatic musical comfort zone for inspiration in different lifestyles, continents and philosophies. I defy you to feel bored while listening to M.I.A.

This review first appeared in Issue 1 of the Warwick Boar

Living Glastonbury

Madi Sinclair

Lily Allen

Armed with the obligatory supplies of wet wipes, pretentious cowboy hat and spotty wellies, I was confident that after surviving 3 previous Glastonbury festivals, I would be ready to join 120, 000 other revellers in what bizarrely becomes Somerset’s largest metropolis for one weekend only. As I arrived on site on a decidedly old school shuttle bus from the train station, I realised that this year may be different. I looked down through my oversized sunglasses (which remained attached to my face for the entire weekend) to see that my white top and handbag were already sodden and splattered with mud and the absence of “sensible waterproofs” would prove to be my fatal error. Of course, that didn’t put a stop to the festivities, but it dawned on me that I may not be the seasoned camper that I used to be.

By Friday night, some of the more hardcore attendees had already been in the wondrous Pilton for 48 hours so events were certainly in full swing already. With my almighty, shiny press pass, I had the privilege of access-all-areas so I quickly tried my luck at getting into the VIP compounds and realised that no one is remotely recognisable whilst caked in earthy residue. I made a decision to try and see as much as physically possible and to attempt to get around to the headliners as well as the lesser known but equally talented acts. Earlier in the day, Scottish pop rockers The View were bright and breezy but still retained that it is rock and roll to have “the same jeans on for four days now”- they obviously aren’t too familiar with students and definitely weren’t quite understanding the environmentally friendly washing habits of much of the Glastonbury crowd! Amy Winehouse was pre-“major front page scandal”, Joss Stone was unpublicised yet heavenly in the Leftfield and The Magic Numbers, Bloc Party, The Fratellis and Kasabian all provided impressive performances leading up to the Friday evening finale from Arctic Monkeys which was sadly plagued by technical sound errors. Despite this, their cover of Diamonds are Forever was surprisingly palatable for those of us who are less fond of Shirley Bassey (comically referred to as “Our Shirls” by the one and only “Denim Brian” in my quaint local Devon pub). Meanwhile, Bjork made a much awaited sensational come back on the Other Stage to follow highlights from The Coral and Rufus Wainwright. Elsewhere in the mysterious depths of once green pastures, acts such as Chumbawamba (yes, they do still exist after the infamous “Tubthumping”), Simian Mobile Disco, Kate Nash in Emily Eavis’s brand new Park area and Fat Boy Slim ensured that the opening night of Glastonbury 2007 was one of the best ever.

Lily AllenThe rest of the weekend upheld this standard- I missed the morning as I attempted to paddle in my flooded tent but the bargainous Yeo Valley delights of the yoghurt variety gave me the energy to embrace the day. I proceeded to the aptly named “press pit” which sounds great but in reality means being despised by the die hard fans at the front of the barriers who would sell their toes to be closer. Lily Allen was her charming cider toting self and did not disappoint and The Long Blondes lead singer Kate Jackson joined The Brakes for an exclusive collaboration before their set on The Other Stage. I joined some fellow Warwickians to see The Bees at the Jazz World Stage and was suitably impressed by their upbeat presence. Later in the afternoon, my companions and I stumbled upon the saloon area and decided to let ourselves be persuaded by the gingham clad performers to take part in a spot of country dancing. After a round of dosy does and galloping, I concluded that this is what Glastonbury is really about- unashamed tomfoolery with the unsung heroes who bring the quirky atmosphere that no other festival holds.

After a fantastic performance by Mika- complete with “Big Girls” and a giant chicken- I made a small mistake by deciding that I needed to see The Kooks and The Killers again. Both performances were breathtaking (albeit Brandon Flowers’ scarily tight sparkly attire) but it was here that it dawned on me that fellow audience members have a strong influence on the enjoyment factor as my friends and I were sandwiched between 14-year-old, definite first time alcohol consumers, singing the wrong words and thrusting their skinny fit jeans and studded belts in a dire attempt to crowd surf. A late night in the cider bus and dinner with a random Irish man put this right and as the Sunday finale loomed, I became resigned to the mud and abandoned all hope of remaining clean as the festival spirit was upon me.

Oversleeping once more on Sunday, I was late for breakfast with Warwick University’s very own previous president Mr Brian Duggan but we caught up in The Glade Cafe eventually. Brian was very much into the festival morale and was sporting mud soaked attire like the rest of us. Jerk chicken was his favourite festival food and Bjork had been the highlight so far, so in a quest to find Brian’s recommended cuisine, I set out for the very last time to soak up the sounds, sights and pungent smells of the festival. I was entranced by the soothing spicy aromas of the chai tent where we took part in a beat boxing workshop (where a lot of saliva was expelled) and then one of the most comical parts of the weekend where a Lily Allen wannabe sang of her failed date outside Topshop, how mean her Dad was for not giving her more money (brat) and about a girl at school who had lied. Sadly, this was an example of the lesser talents of the UK but it provided brilliant entertainment for a Sunday afternoon. Then came my personal highlight of the entire weekend which proved that the best things are stumbled upon and not ruined by extensive planning. The Marley Brothers presented a 30th anniversary revival of Exodus on the Pyramid Stage and the sun had finally started shining. Everyone was relaxed and cheerful and the more spacious surroundings, away from the front of the stage, were still an excellent viewing point because of the large screens. I discovered my brother and his inebriated friends by identifying their Tibetan flag (now a Glastonbury veteran itself, identifiable on much of the footage!) and was plied with hot cider (strangely delicious). The stress of jostling for somewhere to stand had fizzled and the reggae from Damien and Ziggy was unforgettable.

At this point, I debate whether to report the reviews from others and pass them off as my own or to tell the truth. As I am a terrible liar, I think that the latter would be more appropriate. I was greeted by the prospect of another night in a wet tent followed by joining the 120, 000 others trying to return to global locations all through the same 2 platform train station. Alternatively, I could leave and get straight on a train followed by a hot shower, lots of food which hadn’t been at a festival for five days (like the powdered mashed potato that offended my taste buds earlier in the day) and a warm bed which was moisture free and void of festival remnants. My choice was rather wasteful yet I still concur that it was the right decision. Yes, I bailed and said goodbye to the masses after grasping some snippets of The Rakes, Mark Ronson and Vitalic. Of course, I was determined to exploit my press privileges so I made a final visit to the backstage areas and was assisted by a celebrity obsessed acquaintance who helped to make this my most successful mission yet. I pounced on Zane Lowe, Donny Tourette, Matt Prichard from Dirty Sanchez and James McAvoy from Shameless- all of whom were surprisingly charming, particularly James who did an extremely long but incoherent interview with me while pretending to be a lead singer of a rock band.

As I got closer and closer to our beloved Royal Leamington Spa, the numbers of fellow festival goers dwindled and my now brown wellies and cowboy hat seemed less and less normal. Hundreds of pairs of wellies were dumped at Castle Cary train station to leave a symbol of the mass exodus.The locals gave me inside information and told me they’d sell all of them back to us on arrival next year; it seemed rather ironic but amused me to think that this would be the only rural venture of the year for many. It was a relief to be back in my humble student abode but the weekend had still been fabulous and I would recommend Glastonbury to each and every one of you. My main pieces of survival advice would be don’t wear white unless you wish to receive a catalogue of stains, take waterproofs to stop everything you own experiencing osmosis and bring wellies to prevent utterly gross outbreaks of trenchfoot. Also, painted nails hide the dirt and sunglasses make you feel more acceptable to the unforgiving public. As for the festival experiences, the best bits come when you least expect them to so steer away from the mainstream and seek out the most unique bands and events- bring on the transvestite circus!

October 02, 2007


The Music section of The Warwick Boar has a new home on the net! The team listen to so many records, go to innumerable gigs and write so much on the subject that there's just not enough room in the paper to fill it all. Come, read, chat- all are welcome.

If you'd like to write for us, all you need to do is email boarmusic@hotmail.com and I'll put you on the writers' mailing list. Then come and get your free stuff and all I ask in return is the written word!


Holly Barnes (Music Editor).

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