Rim Banna (8 December 1966 – 24 March 2018) was a notable Palestinian singer, composer, arranger, and activist who was most known for her modern interpretations of traditional Palestinian songs and poetry.1 The daughter of women’s rights activist and poet Zuhaira Sabbagh, she celebrated her life with songs of freedom, reaffirmation of her Palestinian identity, and protest songs for human rights and justice. In a 2006 interview with a German-Arabic newspaper, Banna said she wanted “to strengthen Palestinian identity and cultural memory with her music.”2

Banna was born in Nazareth, where she graduated from Nazareth Baptist School. In 1991, she graduated from the High Institute for Music in Moscow, one of the world's most demanding conservatory environments, where she met her husband, Ukrainian guitarist Leonid Alexeyenko. They married in 2001 and divorced in 2010. She lived with her three children in Nazareth, where she died on Mar. 24, 2018 after a long struggle with breast cancer.

From 1985 until 2014, she produced 11 albums. Her early works contained traditional Palestinian children's songs that were on the verge of being forgotten, which gained her popularity in Palestine. Besides writing her own songs, her works also included songs by prominent Palestinian poets, such as Mahmoud Darwish, Samih al-Qasem and her mother, Zuhaira Sabbagh.3 She was also careful in choosing material that fit her voice and blended traditional Palestinian poems with modern singing styles. As she put it:

“Oriental singing techniques are mostly ornamental… But my voice is more two dimensional, thicker. I try to write songs that fit my voice. I want to create something new in every respect. And that includes bringing people elsewhere closer to the music and soul of the Palestinians.”4

Her song “This Was Not My Story” (2006), from a poem by Zuhaira Sabbagh, stands out as a deep, genuine song that reflects on the Nakba (catastrophe) of the Palestinian people, their fate, and their unwavering belief that they were not destined to be uprooted from their native land:

This was not my story 
since the beginning of time 
since my first songs 
this was not my story 
since the time of first passion 
when Anat was roving through my valleys and my mountains 
blazing the earth 
who’s waiting patiently 
for the drops of heavenly water 
glazing the earth with love 
growth and peace 
My story turned to be in my tent 
beyond the borders 
transmitted by the hills 
And I am opening a window 
toward Palestine 
and fifty years of waiting 
The wind is carrying for me 
breathe of air full of moaning and defeating.5

Banna’s fame reached across the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Arab world, and the international arena. Her songs were played in the sound track of various movies and television series, in addition to documentaries about the Palestinian national struggle. She performed in Syria in 2009, in Tunisia in 2011, and in Lebanon in 2012. On the international level, Banna's popularity in Europe began after Norwegian music producer Erik Hillestad invited her to participate in the production of the album ‘The Lullabies from the Axis of Evil” (2003), along with Norwegian singer Kari Bremnes, with whom she performed a duet.

The album, aimed at sending “a musical antiwar message” to U.S. President Bush from female singers in Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Norway, North Korea, Syria, Cuba, and Afghanistan who sing traditional lullabies from their lands in duet form with English-language performers whose translation allows the songs to reach a Western audience. According to a review by Chris Nickson from the AllMusic website: “The idea is excellent -- giving a human face to those countries labeled by George W. Bush as ’the axis of evil’ in his 2002 speech.” The controversy is that many artists who were approached declined to participate out of fear of being boycotted by the music industry. The Bush administration responded by blacklisting the distributor Valley Entertainment and Kirkelig Kulturverksted, the Norwegian record company.

In her album “The Mirrors of My Soul” she sang to the iconic Palestinian child hero Fares Odeh and Sarah, two young Palestinians whose lives were cut short by Israeli soldiers:

“The butterfly will carry you to the back of a cloud 
The gazelle will run with you to a hollow of sycamore 
The scent of bread will take you, a martyr, to the embrace of your 
The star said to him, “Bring me to the courtyard of my house” 
“Take me to the mattress of my slumber” 
Sleepiness climbed up my sides 
And settled in my head.6

In 2013, she released the album “Revelation of Ecstasy and Rebellion,”7 which presented another dazzling side of her character with a poem by the sufi poet Ibn al-Farid8 “Increase -- by my excessive love”9:

Increase — by my excessive love — my wonder for Thee 
And have mercy for this infinitesimal being that was scorched by 
Thine love 
And if I were to give an askance of genuinely seeing Thee, acknowledge 
my request 
And do not let my answer be: you will not see 
Love is indeed life, and so die by it earnestly 
For it is your right to die and be excused 
Tell that to those who have stepped forth before and after me 
And those who have trodden upon my woes indeed understand 
And I have been in the sole company of the Beloved 
And between us 
is a secret, more delicate than a fleeting breeze 
Should you fixate your attention upon the goodness of His face (face 
here does not mean in the physical sense, but more of a realized 
you will find that He is the quintessence of all good Rim Banna will be deeply missed, with her delicate yet rebellious voice, her sincere profound sentiments, and her sensitive character which matured over the years to reflect the multilayered complexities of the 
Palestinian national identity.



5 Translated:

7 Revelation of Ecstasy and Rebellion (2013, Kirkelig Kulturverksted), Produced by Bugge Wesseltoft 
8 Wikipedia: `Umar ibn `Alī ibn al-Fārid (22 March 1181 – 1234): was an Arab poet, writer, philosopher 
9 Poem translated by Ghadeer Alsabah, was found on YouTube website.