March 19, 2023: As tomorrow marks two disturbing decades since American and British military forces invaded Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power, a powerful anti-war protest song by India-based singer Asif Rahman has sparked a buzz in music and activism circles. Asif’s evocative, self-composed track titled A Soldier Returns is presented by Empire Diaries.
The song narrates a haunting first-person account of a soldier left disillusioned by the horrors of conflict and misery in Iraq in 2003 that the transatlantic troops perpetrated. Sung passionately by the maverick singer, the song carries a strong message to the masses, seeking to awaken them against tendencies of conflict and clashes.
In the track written by Nadim Siraj and recorded in English, the singer starts with the words – “Hello! Dear brother” – confessing to his near and dear ones about his troubling engagement in the war as a combat soldier. He reminisces his gory acts as a trooper, and decries war following his traumatic experiences. He signs off with a cautionary note, singing that his stories are bound to leave listeners “shaken”.
The vivid visuals of the music video, pieced together by the track’s producer Ratna, showcases visuals from the invasion of Iraq, and also features the singer belting out the track at outdoor and studio locations. The chilling announcements of the invasion by then US president George W Bush and then British PM Tony Blair are played out in a visually engaging backdrop.
The track’s build-up shows Australian journalist Julian Assange and his lawyer-wife Stella Assange. Julian Assange is jailed in London for exposing US-led war crimes in Iraq on his whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks.
The opening minutes also feature a short clip of Mike Prysner, a disillusioned US-based Iraq invasion veteran who is seen screaming tough questions at Bush at a talk show years after the 2003 invasion, only to be forcefully carried away from the site.
The free-flowing song’s instrumentation includes Spanish guitar and harmonica, both played by singer Asif. Debdeep Banik’s subtle sound mixing skills and Chinangshuk Chandra’s imaginative video editing expertise helped turn A Soldier Returns into a compelling experience.
Recalling how the song came about, singer-composer Asif said, “One fine day, the three of us (Ratna, Nadim, and I) were having a casual conversation. Ratna suddenly came up with a proposal that she has something in her archive and would only share it with me if I agreed to tune it up. I told her I’d have a look at it before making any commitment. Then she texted me a piece starting with the words – ‘Hello! Dear brother’.”
“As I went through it, I instantly felt deeply associated with the words planted by Nadim. So, I gave it a ‘go’ right on the spot. I’m a war movie buff. Films such as Platoon, Enemy at the Gates, and Guns of Navarone have always haunted me. So, in some way, I could relate to the words, and that’s what inspired me to sign on to the project.”
Asif is a professional artist who is into folk, western, contemporary, classical, and experimental music. He’s been recording music for TV series and albums as a singer from his childhood days.
He hails from a family of Kolkata-based music industry insiders. His mother, Sufika Rahman, is a renowned classical singer and sought-after music teacher who has recorded albums and has worked alongside the leading names in India’s music circles. Asif’s father, Babul Rahman, was in charge of artists’ contracts for decades at famed music company HMV during its heyday.
In his message to audiences, Asif, who currently resides in Kolkata, said, “Had there been no war, this song would’ve been unnecessary. I hope that, at least for now, mankind won’t vouch for any further wars. Let’s have peace.”
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