Riz Ahmed, a British-Pakistani actor, is best known for his roles in Rogue One: A Star Wars story, and The Night Of. But he has also had a rather diverse music career, as Riz MC and one half of the rap duo the Swet shop Boys. His music has always had sociopolitical undertones that address the experience of being brown in a Western country, like his song ‘post 9/11 blues’, which was temporarily banned from the radio in the U.K. His latest album, The Long Goodbye, is a work of blazing fury and heartbreak that examines the oft toxic relationship between Britain and its South Asian diaspora.
The album, much like Riz Ahmed himself, is a blend of two cultures that feels both familiar and foreign, and never quite settles into either category. An allegory as perfect as any for third culture kids. He draws inspiration from Pakistani poets and writers, and uses their work to frame his own complicated relationship with Britain. The album begins with the song ‘The Breakup (Shikwa)’, which takes its name from Allama Muhammad Iqbal’s famous poem also titled ‘Shikwa’. The song itself is a personal complaint, following the same tradition as the poem. The Long Goodbye is in essence a breakup album, where Britain becomes the Britney that Ahmed is in a toxic relationship with. ‘Shikwa’ has lyrics like “Beat me red and blue” and “Took my industry and independence from me” through which he traces the trauma and confusion inflicted by colonialism right down to present moment where the empire is long gone, but its multicultural children stand in a cultural no-man’s land. Ahmed first alludes to this sense of alienation from both cultures in ‘Shikwa’, where he raps “How she ain’t what she was and how our kids don’t show no love”, and then continues that theme in the song ‘Toba Tek Singh’. The song is aptly named after Sadat Hassan Manto’s seminal short story in which, the partition has just taken place and the owners of an asylum for the mentally ill are trying to decide whether patients should be sent to India or Pakistan. The protagonist of story refuses to choose between India and Pakistan, and stands his ground on the no-man’s land between the two countries, until he passes away there. This feeling of not quite belonging to your parent’s culture but also not being fully welcomed in the culture of your country is something that all children of immigrants can relate to. The anxiety and alienation of being a third culture kid is felt throughout the album, but conversely, for Ahmed, there is also hope that if he and others like him stand their ground they can lay claim to this new space.
The second half of the album though still laced with anger, slowly transitions into acceptance and self confidence. The second last song on the album, ‘Deal With It’ fully embodies that acceptance and confidence. He sings, “We built this bitch, so it’s time to get paid now” and “We on the podium, winners and in your cinemas, flow like a thob over Adidas”. The Long Goodbye is emblematic of every diaspora individual, it encapsulates the complex and oft painful journey of self acceptance. It captures the hurt of being forced to play the ‘good immigrant’ in your own country, and then slowly learning to love yourself for your multicultural identity and developing the confidence to assert yourself and demand your due.