Riz Ahmed addresses the Charlottesville attacks in ‘Sour Times’


Riz Ahmed gave a powerful performance of “Sour Times” on The Tonight Show, addressing why people turn to extremism in response to Charlottesville.

There have been a ton of responses to the violence in Charlottesville over the weekend. But Riz Ahmed’s “Sour Times” performance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon had to be one of the most powerful.

Actor and Swet Shop Boys rapper Ahmed was on The Tonight Show last night when the conversation inevitably went to the white supremacist terror attack that led to three deaths over the weekend.

When Fallon asked if he would perform something, Ahmed had the perfect song in mind: “Sour Times.”

“I wrote this piece ten years ago, and every year, I keep hoping it’ll become irrelevant, but it seems to become more and more relevant, sadly,” Ahmed said. “It’s my attempt to get behind the headlines and work out where all this extremism is coming from.”

Ahmed then grabbed Fallon’s mic, walked onto a dark stage, and went into an emotional and poignant spoken-word performance of “Sour Times,” a thought-provoking song that attempts to go beyond the big, stereotypical headlines, and explore what really drives people to extremism.

The song was first written a decade ago and appeared on Ahmed’s 2012 Riz MC album Microscope. It was written in response to the vilification of Muslims in the UK.

“Sour Times” talks about how Islam has existed for generations, so it can’t be what drives people to extremism. It’s their disenfranchisement, the economy, their lack of faith in democracy and more. People turn to extremism when they feel lost. And terrorism and extremism are much more complex than our headlines.

Ahmed’s performance touched on things from 2007, but he also updated it for what’s going on today. He changed up the lyrics to “The truth is, terrorism ain’t what you think it is/There’s no supervillain planning these attacks from some base/The truth is so much scarier and harder to face/See, there’s thousands of angry young men that are lost/Sidelined in the economy, a marginal cost/They think there’s no point in putting ballots up in the box/They got no place in the system and no faith in its cause… The way that Trump talks, gives a lost boy a cause.”

By changing the lyrics to include a reference to Trump, Ahmed is calling out white extremists for what they are and pointing out that Trump’s rhetoric has given them a voice.

This is far from the first time Ahmed has spoken out about how we talk about Muslims and extremism. As NME points out, after a white man attacked Muslims leaving a Finsbury Park mosque earlier this year, Ahmed took to Twitter to write:

"“When crazy Muslim kills, it’s MUSLIM TERROR. When Muslims save lives and lead relief at Grenfell, where’s the MUSLIM HEROES headlines? And when non-Muslims shoot American Politicians and drive a van into Muslims, why isn’t it called TERRORISM? Where are the calls for white males or American gun-owners to answer for all others? Prejudice, extremism, supremacism [sic] is all the same.”“Language matters. By emphasizing some violence over others or focusing on one extremism over others we fail to see how they’re connected. Violence is a cycle from people feeling under threat or their suffering undervalued. A first step is to use calm, and balanced language.”"

And he’s right. We have a President who never gave a statement on a mosque bombing in Minnesota and who took days to condemn Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists but can be quick to tweet about Islamic extremism. We need to acknowledge who can be extremists and why people are really driven to extremism.

Next: Other celebrities respond to Charlottesville

Check out Ahmed’s incredible performance above.