“If you have a racist friend…”

Rising talent Naomi Pilgrim speaks up.

Photo by Patricia Reyes

Rising singer Naomi Pilgrim can’t stay quiet any longer. Standing up against inequality, the Zimbabwe-born, Sweden-raised young talent commands us to “speak out, speak the truth and don’t let any social injustices pass you by.” Struck by her well-timed cover of Racist Friend, we discussed daydreams, borders and how to spark a change.

Your cover of The Specials’ 1983 single Racist Friend seems extremely relevant. What is it you are hoping to say with this release?

Be kind, fearless and in tune. Speak out, speak truth and don’t let social injustices pass right by you.

What made you choose this song in particular to cover?  

The message. People have always been fighting for equality and now that I am an adult, the responsibility is partly mine. If I want to see change, I better breathe like I do.

Our upcoming print issue is all about Border Politics. How much do you think you are affected by this in day-to-day life?

This is bigger than borders; this is us turning our back on human beings in need. This affects us all. We seem to hold our treasures higher than life itself and if that’s not the ultimate proof of our greed I don’t know what is. It doesn’t add up. I think there’s more to this and I believe it’s the far right on the rise with their fearmongering and propaganda. This too affects us all.

With help from Swedish producer Embee, your cover sounds very different to the original. Where was this creative direction born? What does the new sound say about the song?

Embee just texted me this: “We wanted to take this gem into our current state of Naomi and Embee mind, and try to lift in some influences from the time being. It’s truly a mixture of the harmonies from the original song with flirts on the golden era of hip-hop while passing into some futuristic shit! The beat was built from the ground up, while paying respect to the feel of the earlier recording.”

How important do you think music is in sparking change (especially with regard to racism)?

Music and arts have always been an important tool in sparking change. The power belongs to the people and we hear it being manifested everyday in music regardless of the agenda. Bob Marley did it, Michael Jackson did it, Aretha Franklin did it, Billie Holiday did it, Nina Simone, Miles Davis, Tupac, Bowie and George Michael did it. The list goes on and these are just a few names of people who held it high in the past century.

You were bought up by a Barbadian father and a Swedish mother, and spent your life between the two countries. How do you think this upbringing affected both your sound and your opinion on Border Politics and racism?

Racism is a structure within our system and just like borders, it’s fraud by default. In Sweden it’s at least stretching back to the days of Gustav I and the persecution of the Sami people. People are still facing harassment and oppression today. Surely me being black and exposed to micro-aggressions on a daily basis give me a deeper understanding of racism and how a racist works when projecting (often seamlessly) onto me or onto others. And yes, I feel connected to anyone walking in ‘the same’ shoes as I.

Still, I’m privileged. To me it’s impossible to not talk about these things and this is not about what I want to, but (rather) what I’m obliged to. It doesn’t always have to be through beats and melodies. I have a deep feeling of self when I make music, if I’m heartbroken or happy as in House Of Dreams that’s what I’ll write about. Sweden is progressive as fuck too. Many—if not most—people understand the importance of equality. There is a lot of love spreading, compassion, kindness, realness, community and bright minds over here and for every stuck-up idiot there’s at least a five phoenixes. We grow bigger when we speak out and that’s our superpower.

Tell us what you daydream about!

A life in Zen! I dream about a big house with big windows and a porch overlooking the ocean, with a kick-ass studio on the beach in Barbados. All my friends have an open invitation and we’re liming, drinking rum and just breezing. I’m also dreaming about horses a lot—true story.




Words by Lottie Hodson

Photography: Patricia Reyes

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