Cleared for Takeoff

Visa issues resolved, M.I.A. can finally show us what she learned while in exile

That's an odd statement from an artist so openly infatuated with American pop music, but Kala is more an interrogation than an imitation. On "Hussel," a sort of answer song to Rick Ross's Southern-rap hit "Hustlin'," she asks, "Why's everybody got hustle on their mind?"

"When I was in Liberia, you get into the huts, and little kids are listening to that shit," she says. "And it's cute to see them dancing to it, like, 'Wow, yeah, the 'Hustlin' song, that's so cool!' And then it's like, 'Actually, it's not fucking cool.' You have to give them something else as well. If it's about working or if you're talking about money, then I don't think that 99 percent of music should stress that. So at the time, I was just asking somebody that question. I don't want to live like that."

Now that she's made a new album that fiercely challenges American pop, M.I.A. is faced with the interesting challenge of bringing it to America. If Kala is the direct result of her temporary exile, we may never get to hear another album like it again, since she plans on settling in Brooklyn as permanently as she can. "My dream is always to get a place and stay there and just do it," she says. "I would love to wake up every day in the same bed."

Interrogating American pop, not imitating it
photo: Janette Beckman
Interrogating American pop, not imitating it

M.I.A. performs at the Siren Festival (sponsored by the Voice) July 21,

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