Poetic Pilgrimage isn't just a rap group -- it's a statement about Islam, women and what it means to belong.
Muneera Williams and Sukina Owen-Douglas, both born and raised in Bristol, England, to Jamaican migrant parents, make up Poetic Pilgrimage, a rap duo that explores topics of gender, faith, citizenship and heritage. The women, now in their 30s, met in high school and discovered a shared love of music when they joined the choir together. They enjoyed discussing things like history, spirituality and the representation of black women in the media, Williams told The Huffington Post. These were the seeds for Poetic Pilgrimage, which Williams and Owen-Douglas formed when they moved from Bristol to London for college.
The women converted to Islam in 2005 after being introduced to The Autobiography of Malcolm X in a college class. The decision "sparked a journey," Williams said, which has confounded some.
"Sukina (my band member) and I often joke about performing to new audiences and how it takes about three songs before they get over the shock of hijabis running across the stage, telling them to throw their peace signs up," Williams wrote in a February blog post on HuffPost UK.
But for Williams and Owen-Douglas, hip-hop music provides the perfect outlet to express their complex identities -- and their voices need to be heard, Owen-Douglas said, "whether the [Muslim] community accepts it or not."
"Hip Hop began as the voice of the underdog, the voice of the ones whose story is never told, of those who are spoken about but not spoken to," Owen-Douglas wrote in an email to HuffPost. "With two turntables and a mic these pioneers became narrators of life on the poverty line, storytellers of those who are victims of an oppressive system. That initial purpose of this art form fits us like a glove."
In their song "Land Far Away," off their 2010 Star Women Mixtape, the women paid homage to their Jamaican roots by reimagining the famous reggae track "Satta Massagana" by the Abyssinians. They shot the music video for the song in the Shepherd's Bush neighborhood of west London because of its historical significance for the city's Caribbean immigrant population, Williams said, and to "celebrate our Jamaican heritage and highlight the inclination toward spirituality that is naturally cultivated through the use of reggae music."
Williams and Owen-Douglas infuse reggae, jazz, world music and spoken-word poetry into their sound, highlighting the multiple ethnicities and nationalities they represent and solidifying Poetic Pilgrimage's place as a crossroads of cultures.
“Some people think the… West and Islam can’t meet," Owen-Douglas told online hip-hop publication HipHopDX in a recent interview. "But we can’t ever have that stance because that’s who we are."
Poetic Pilgrimage is the subject of a new short documentary from Al Jazeera English. The film explores how the duo engages with various cultures and challenges "a plethora of dearly held convictions from all sides of the cultural spectrum," filmmaker Mette Reitzel wrote in Al Jazeera earlier this month.