Northwestern Events Calendar


“What’s My Fucking Name?”: Diasporic Translation in the Rap Performances of Riz Ahmed

When: Thursday, May 11, 2023
2:30 PM - 4:00 PM CT

Where: University Hall, 201 Hagstrum Room, 1897 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Cindy Pingry   (847) 467-1933

Group: South Asia Research Forum

Category: Academic


Please join the South Asia Research Forum for this in-person talk by Sara Grewal, Associate Professor of English (MacEwan University) Associate Professor of English


In 2022, actor and musician Riz Ahmed won an Oscar for his short film The Long Goodbye, depicting the British state’s disturbingly violent interruption of a South Asian family wedding, which ends with Riz’s brutal arrest as he raps the song “Where You From”—a haunting meditation on diaspora and postcoloniality. The Long Goodbye also gives title to Riz’s 2020 solo rap album, which includes this same song, alongside a remarkable repertoire of allegorical songs that depict a toxic relationship and breakup between Riz and his abusive, colonizing partner named “Brittney.” 

Another song on this album, “Toba Tek Singh,” productively alludes to Saadat Hasan Manto’s Urdu short story of the same name, which has long been hailed as both the paradigmatic example of Partition literature and (problematically) as the only work of non-Anglophone South Asian fiction worth reading. The titular character of the story is a resident of an insane asylum who speaks only in gibberish except when obsessively asking after the fate of his village with whom he shares a name, and who ultimately dies in the no-man’s-land between the Indian and Pakistani borders. In his rap engagements with this story, Riz Ahmed recuperates Toba Tek Singh as the quintessential figure of the South Asian diaspora. 

In this talk, I argue that Riz Ahmed’s multiple rap versions of the story of “Toba Tek Singh” explores the experience of what Harjeet Singh Grewal has referred to as dis-locatia—an “unmoored listlessness” that, through “the real and implied violence [of migration] places the émigré subject in a perpetual state of uprootedness” (Grewal 99). In my co-authored work with Grewal, we examine dis-locatia as the constitutive impulse that inspires diasporic Sikh subjects to express themselves through rap music; in this talk, I extend that argument to suggest that Riz Ahmed reclaims the experience of dis-locatia as a productively shifting site of infinite translation and self-versioning for South Asian diasporic subjects by inhabiting Toba Tek Singh’s gibberish as the rhyming, rhythmic, hidden transcript of rap.

About the speaker:

Dr. Sara Grewal is Associate Professor in the Department of English at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Her research interests include Urdu and world literature, translation, historical poetics, race and ethnicity studies, diaspora studies, and global hip hop. She is currently revising a monograph titled The Urdu Imaginary: Nationalism and the Ghazalization of Urdu, which examines the canonization of the Urdu ghazal as a raciolinguistic means of minoritizing Muslims in India. She is also co-writing a book on Sikh hip hop in the diaspora, titled Dis-locatia, Deterritorialization, and Diaspora in Sikh Hip Hop: The Varieties of Sikh Experience.


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