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Muneera Pilgrim: The disruptive Bristol storyteller fighting back against gatekeepers

by Steve Topple

"People, communities and stories have the potential to break the system. We don’t realise how close we are to a better way."
A photograph of the artist Muneera Pilgrim. A Black woman wears a head scarf with a colourful top against a blue background. She is looking sideways at the camera.
Muneera Pilgrim is a poet, hip hop artist and the author of That Day She’ll Proclaim Her Chronicles (Photo: David Shadwell)

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For Muneera Pilgrim, poetry is all about storytelling.

In fact, she believes it is "fundamental to life".

Her work, ranging from poetry to music and spoken word, is proof that we can all affect change by telling our stories.

Regardless of the grip the system has on us, or the monopoly the media has on the narrative, Muneera is living proof that true storytellers can break through and affect real change.

Born and raised in Bristol, her background is actually in Hip Hop. DJing from the age of 14 on pirate radio stations, eventually Muneera formed a Hip Hop group called Poetic Pilgrimage in the late 2000s.

Motivated by the lack of representation for Black women and the misrepresentation of Jamaican culture in British culture, Poetic Pilgrimage was a unique collaboration between Muneera and friend Sukina Abdul Noor: two Muslim women whose musical eclecticism represented their own diverse cultural heritage and passions.

Performing around the world, Poetic Pilgrimage mixed Hip Hop sensibilities with radical and disruptive social narratives.

But after struggling to break through in the 'gate-kept' world of Hip Hop in Bristol and London, and upon realising that Poetic Pilgrimage was already so poetry-heavy, Muneera switched gears to focus on written prose as an artform.

Since then, Pilgrim has become a respected and influential name in the arts as well as activism and education – featuring on the BBC, having her own TEDx talk and writing for the Guardian and Al Jazeera.

In 2021 she released her debut collection of poetry, called That Day She’ll Proclaim Her Chronicles and published by Bristol-based Burning Eye.

The title of the collection is taken from a verse in the Qur'an. It explores belonging, gender, race, identity, girlhood and familial bonds – all set against the back drop of colonial power structures in the streets of London and Bristol.

Muneera admits that the collection is 'not a comfortable read at times—in the same way life isn't.

She says: "I often think about what it takes for a caterpillar to become a butterfly: that growing and the sprouting of wings, and how painful that must be. And I think about life and all the phases of experience we go through – yet at the same time, we’re still given an opportunity to start again."

Crucially, Pilgrim felt with That Day… that she was “doing a duty to myself, my heritage, the women and girls that I work with, people’s stories that I was holding”. Needless to say, she achieved this. Because That Day… is a stunningly powerful piece of work - almost musical in its peaks and troughs of emotion, subject, rhythm and meter.