RIZ AHMED – ONCE KINGS

Riz Ahmed has had a powerful 12 months. He rounded off 2019 with his film ‘The Sound of Metal,’ before releasing the stunningly provocative audio-visual album ‘The Long Goodbye,’ as well as being featured in Vogue’s iconic September issue, Activism Now. With the kind of consistency, inspiration and momentum mere mortals can only dream of, this October saw the release of his long-anticipated film, Moghul Mowgli. Although the film is only available to watch in cinemas [which is currently quite problematic!], the accompanying single release is the perfect antidote to ease us through until the film is more readily accessible.

The track consists of a stream of punchy, rapid-fire lines detailing life as a British Pakistani Muslim, whilst also summarising the plot of Mogul Mowgli; “Yeah, the sickness more common in Asians / The sickness all come from self-hatred / The sickness began on a train where the bodies of babies are soaked in the blood / From a border that cuts us in half when its blade hit”

Ahmed’s protagonist, Zed, is struck down by an auto-immune disease in the film, but these lines are clearly a double entendre lending themselves to images of the British partition of India and Pakistan, densely layered with meaning and emotion. 

The London rapper says the track is the “most personal” one he’s “ever made, drawn from the same experiences that inspired the film Mogul Mowgli.” The lyrics are evident enough; Riz’ lays his soul bare with deeply personal lines regarding his racialisation; “Got six degrees but I’m self separated / Riz doesn’t fuck with Rizvaan bruv he hates him / Code switch til don’t know which my name is”

Referring to his full name Rizwan, Ahmed voices a common, but problematic, immigrant behaviour whereby their ‘foreign’ names are switched in order to be palatable on the Western tongue. Additionally, he touches on the feelings of self-loathing manifested within so many Black, Brown and Asian communities who feel alienated and ostracised. References to Allah and Mo Salah, as well as Riz rapping in both Arabic and Urdu, suggest that this track was clearly made with the Pakistani and Muslim diaspora in mind. As a second-generation Muslim-Brit, it’s indescribably refreshing and gratifying to hear.

“So believe all that you see of us in the news / Say we might sneak up and feel up your boo / Dilute your gene pool and steal all your food / … / Blackie then paki then terrorist, same shit.”

The video is a stunning, albeit not totally original, compilation of clips from the film. A smorgasbord of Pakistani culture rotating in front of us is harmoniously accompanied by the Bollywood singing that plays throughout the track.

The vulnerable track is evidence that racism, prejudice and discrimination only make him stronger to fight back through the power of lyricism and thankfully he shows no signs of slowing his roll now. Stream below via YouTube.

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