Riz Ahmed, the London-born, Emmy-winning star of Rogue One and The Night Of, has made an album, short film and live show about being dumped by an abusive lover – Britain, his home country.
“Britain’s broken up with me.”
The pain in the album’s opening lyric gives a big emotional jolt before the music has even begun.
The first song, titled The Breakup (Shikwa), is delivered from the perspective of a person and a people who are so let down that they feel like their own country has ditched them. It only gets more pained and painful as it goes on.
That the person delivering it is Riz Ahmed – the Wembley boy with Pakistani roots who is now a Hollywood star – makes this break-up all the more heartbreaking.
He says the album is “an emotional exploration” from someone “who finds themselves on the front line of this new, traumatised, confusing reality”.
The press release bills The Long Goodbye as an album about the end of a “toxic, abusive relationship”. At times Ahmed raps as himself; at others he seems to be speaking up for British-Asians more widely, the Indian subcontinent and the British Empire.
He stresses that, to him, the album’s not political – it’s all deeply personal. “I want people to know what this feels like. People who haven’t really maybe understood how it feels, I want [them] to step into this feeling of heartbreak that a lot of us feel right now.”
‘Breaches of trust’
The 37-year-old made his name on screen in Chris Morris’s 2010 terrorism satire Four Lions, before starring in Nightcrawler, Jason Bourne, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Venom. On TV, he won an Emmy in 2017 for HBO’s The Night Of.
Meanwhile, he has had a parallel music career, using his sharp lyrical wit as Riz MC and part of the Swet Shop Boys, often to tackle his conflicted cultural identity and his experiences of racial stereotyping.
But the wound that’s laid bare on The Long Goodbye goes deeper.
When was he dumped? “I don’t know if we’ve really fully broken up. I just know that it’s complicated,” Ahmed replies.
“A lot of people are feeling like the terms of the relationship are changing, or that we’re somehow reneging on the vows that we exchanged. Like any relationship, I don’t know if there’s a specific moment where things all fell apart, or if there’s an accumulation of small breaches of trust that get you to this point.”
In a 2016 interview, he said he used to describe himself as British-Pakistani, but had come to realise that the word British on its own could encompass all identities.
Where You From, one track on the new album, dispenses with the relationship metaphor to give a complicated answer to the simple question in the title.
Does he feel the word British still suffices? “Of course I describe myself as British,” he replies. “If I’m not British, who is?
“I guess I feel that, in the midst of kind of rising xenophobia or a narrowing of people’s minds around what Britishness can look like or sound like or taste like, it’s all the more important for those of us with complex identities to stand up and defiantly and triumphantly declare ourselves as British.”
At another point in our interview, he stresses: “This isn’t me coming out and telling the world I’m no longer British and I’ve got nothing to do with Britain.”