British actor, rapper, and activist Riz Ahmed's second studio album The Long Goodbye, released last March, is a concept album about the United Kingdom's fraught historical and contemporary relationship with South Asians and British Asians. The metaphor of an abusive romantic relationship frames the album, spotlighting Britain during the rise of the far right and its burgeoning xenophobia against South Asians.
“Where you from”
Produced by Redinho, the album combines powerfully vulnerable, hard-hitting lyrics with modern rap beats and traditional South Asian stylings. Ahmed is a stunning lyricist, delivering catchy and cutting bars transmitting his deep, raw thoughts on the complex South Asian identity in the Western world.
The track “Where You From” dives into the unresolved racism, prejudice, and abuse that laces relations between Britain and people of South Asian descent. Ahmed touches on the current momentum of nationalism: “Now everybody everywhere want their country back, if you want me back to where I'm from then bruv I need a map.” Attempting to sort out his layered identity, he concludes, “Maybe I'm from everywhere and nowhere, no man's land.”
‘Long Goodbye’ on screen
A short film, also titled The Long Goodbye, accompanies the album, highlighting the humanity of Muslims and South Asians amidst aggression based on their religion and ethnicity. Media outlets, far-right politicians, and xenophobic nationalists deliberately vilify Muslims with harmful rhetoric under the pretext of fighting terrorism. The violent images and tearful pleas in the film illustrate the urgent need for a drastic change combatting widespread Islamophobia.
To promote the album during quarantine, Ahmed hosted a series of live discussions called “The Long Lockdown.” The discussion titled “Making A Home In No Man’s Land” features Ahmed in conversation with three Desi writers: Rupi Kaur, Nikesh Shukla, and Fatima Bhutto. A major Long Goodbye theme is home being a complex thing for immigrants and children of immigrants to nail down, and the discussion participants explore their complicated identities, literal and figurative definitions of home, and how constant longing for the idea of home informs their writing.
Where or what is home? Kaur, an immigrant and traveling poet, defines home not as a physical place but a “state of mind,” believing that if her mind and body are connected she can feel at home anywhere. Bhutto has also lived in multiple countries and describes home to be a “place of longing.” A self-proclaimed rootless person, Bhutto has spent a lot of time thinking about the “idea of where you are meant to be versus where you are.” To her, home is where you find the people you love, even though “those people are always going to be scattered, so we live scattered lives and we have to imagine things in a scattered way.”
My own fragmented idea of home and continued search for a sense of belonging likewise guides my work. Shukla, a British writer, describes how “the thing that fiction gives me is clarity and the thing that prose gives me is a method of interrogation.”
Where are you from? Yeah, but where are you really from? This question makes me feel as if I am being forced to choose sides when it comes to my roots. Growing up in Orange County, I felt like the “other” in my own hometown. Up until my early 20s, I often felt a strong force pulling me to India, like I had been uprooted from a life I was supposed to live. It took decades to begin to unpack my experience as an Indian American in the United States, finally landing on the fact that I wouldn't have been able to become the woman I am if I was raised in India. It took me years to accept and own how I belong to the United States as much as I belong to India.
“A shifting idea”
Contemporary xenophobia forces South Asians to constantly confront their definition of home. When I finally felt like I was on a steady path of healing regarding my own convoluted identity, the 2016 presidential election made me question my place all over again. Do I have the will to fight for my place in this country? Do I want to call this country home? Am I in an abusive relationship with the place I call home? Adding fresh salt to old wounds, the feeling of being an unwelcome outsider came flooding back.
I’ve built homes across the world in Orange County, San Francisco, Chile, India, and Philadelphia. I left pieces of my heart scattered across continents and state lines, searching for a place where I could create a sense of home on my own terms. It has taken me decades to make the idea of home a state of mind—the scent of my mom’s cooking, putting on a nostalgic record, wearing my favorite sweater, or an unshakeable sense of peace.
Ahmed grapples with his own identity politics in The Long Goodbye, concluding that home is “a shifting idea, maybe belonging is something I have to find inside myself, through my performance, through my voice.” Ahmed’s heartbroken vocals embody his painful struggle: the country he grew up in doesn’t claim him, wants to kick him out, ignores the contributions his people have made, denies the atrocities committed against his ancestors, and continues a vicious cycle of pain. Ahmed offers his own antidote, redefining immigrants’ whole concept of home as an idea, not a physical place you arrive.
What, When, Where
The Long Goodbye. Written and performed by Riz Ahmed, produced by Redinho. Released March 6, 2020. Get it here.