Magazine article The New Yorker

Kindred Spirits

Magazine article The New Yorker

Kindred Spirits

Article excerpt

Kindred Spirits

Riz Ahmed

On a hot Saturday afternoon, the actor and rapper Riz Ahmed (a.k.a. Riz MC) and the rapper Heems (real name Himanshu Suri) headed to the Jackson Diner, an Indian buffet-style restaurant, in Queens. The pair had just finished filming two music videos in Flushing for their upcoming debut album, "Cashmere." For one of the videos, they'd invited more than a hundred people from the neighborhood to serve as extras. "It was so dope--Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims," Ahmed said. A few years ago, Ahmed, who is British-Pakistani, and Heems, who is Indian-American, decided to combine their musical talents and form a duo called Swet Shop Boys. They recorded "Cashmere" in five days, in Ahmed's apartment in London.

The two originally met online, when Heems praised Ahmed on Twitter for his song "Post 9/11 Blues" ("Bush and Blair in a tree / K-I-L-L-I-N-G"). Heems describes the song as having a "laughing-to-keep-from-crying vibe." In 2012, Ahmed, who lives in London, visited Jackson Heights to research his role in the HBO drama "The Night Of," as a Pakistani-American college student accused of murder. Heems was living in Brooklyn; they arranged to get together.

"There aren't a lot of South Asians in media," Heems, who used to be part of the group Das Racist, said, at the restaurant. "I tend to gravitate toward other South Asians doing stuff, whether it's art, music, or writing. So it was just kind of an Indian-man digital head nod. 'I see you, dawg, how's it going?' "

Ahmed piled chicken makhani and rice on his plate and took a seat next to Heems. "As a child of immigrants, and second generation, you have this big identity crisis," he said.

After they met, the two men realized that they had many similarities. Ahmed's family was originally from India; they relocated to Pakistan after Partition, in 1947. Heems's family moved in the opposite direction. They both came from working-class backgrounds but went to elite universities: Ahmed to Oxford, Heems to Wesleyan. Ahmed felt that there was something fateful about their coming together. "I had this idea of how empowering and healing it can be to join up these diaspora dots," he said. "So there's this New York-London-Indo-Pak thing. It's a celebration of our global mongrel identity, which in some ways is kind of postmodern but is also kind of premodern. …

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