When music critic Jane Dark named M.I.A.’s Kala his 2007 album of the year, he noted that it earned the distinction in part because “it is the soundtrack of a world turned upside down.”

He goes on:

For decades, “world music” has basically been reggae. Not in the sense of accent on the three, but as a structure of feeling: songs of freedom punctuated by melancholy domestic plaints, built on a foundation of rhythm guitar and percussive lilt, with a sense of patient endurance and occasional exhortation. A liberal-progressive politics of hope with a beat you can nod along to, convivial both to doobie and dinner party. That in fact describes the other current hero of world music, Manu Chao; you’ll notice that his international breakthrough, Proxima Estacion: Esperanza, is practically named “Politics of Hope.” Manu Chao is excellent, and he is also reggae — sometimes in fact, and always in feeling. He released an album this year with stacks of cred and critical air support and it tanked. And for all its particular failings and delights, it tanked because it required the fantasy of reggae: that the world out there is going to love us into changing; is going to be stalwart and righteous til we get it; that we’re moving forward together, especially if we’re cool and progressive and down; that a better world is not only possible but is seven hugs and four joints away. This was never true; the “world music” we liked sure helped us pretend it was anyway. No more.

Whether you agree with Jane’s somewhat cynical world view or not, it’s a compelling way to describe “world music”.

As for M.I.A., she’s a British/Sri Lankan female rapper – plenty of varied musical traditions to draw on there. Here’s the video for Jane’s favorite song on Kala, “Bird Flu”:

Community Connections:

Awhile back, Matador Trips editor Tim Patterson posted a blog about Somali-Canadian rapper K’naan, and Matador member anne137 wrote about her playlist for itchy feet.

If you’re a world music fan, be sure to check out Traverse’s Music+Art archive, as well as the 10 Ways Music Connects Travelers.