This spring, the Palestinian singer Rim Banna died, after having lived with a breast cancer diagnose for nine years. She passed away in Nazareth, the city where she was born. She was 51. Banna was known for her interpretations of Palestinian music and poetry. She collected traditional texts and gave them new melodies. It was an attempt at giving something to share and to hope for to a people living under extreme duress. She became a hero through her work. The Palestinian National Authority issued her a diplomatic passport which enabled her to perform all over the arab world – something very few Palestinian artists get to do. Rim Banna played in front of packed audiences in cities like Cairo, Tunis and Beirut. She never got to visit Gaza – the closest she got was concerts broadcast by video. But she played the West Bank.
Throughout her career, Banna moved from folk songs and lullabies to experimental, electronic soundscapes. On her last album, produced by Checkpoint 303, one of her vocal cords was damaged by the cancer treatment. A unique, beautiful singing voice had changed into something else, a haunting voice reciting poetry over disquieting, beautiful soundscapes. The cancer became a personal metaphor for the occupation of her people. Politics and art was inseparable until the end. In many ways, her own career mirrored the Israel-Palestine conflict. The first time she rose to fame was during the first intifada, and ever since, her name was mentioned more and more each time the conflict intensified.
Rim Banna had special ties to Norway. She featured on “Lullabies from the Axis of Evil”, a controversial collection of lullabies that Erik Hillestad and the record label Kirkelig Kulturverksted put together in 2002, before the Iraq war. Together with the norwegian star Kari Bremnes, she sung “This Never Ending Night”. The cooperation with Hillestad continued. She worked with many norwegian musicians, among them Bugge Wesseltoft. He produced “Revelation of Ecstasy and Rebellion” from 2013 and he also played on her last record, “Voice of Resistance”, released this year, where Banna wrote 14 of the 15 lyrics.
The choice to open this years festival with a musical homage to Rim Banna feels natural for several reason. Her musical legacy alone is reason enough. The connection to the norwegian music scene is also something we wish to highlight. But Rim Banna was first and foremorst a freedom singer – she lent her voice to the palestinian people, their dreams of self determination. We are far from that dream in 2018, 70 years after the arab-israeli war. And it is not a music festivals role to find ways out of the wilderness, to announce winners or to redraw the map. What we can do, in a year where we have chosen freedom as the overarching topic, is to lift up those who sing about a better world. The artists ordinary people turn to in their struggle for a better deal. Rim Banna was all of this. She showed how painful struggle can become great art, until her last breath.
Checkpoint 303 (TN/PS)
Bugge Wesseltoft (NO)
Kari Bremnes (NO)
Ministry of Dub-key (PS)
Tania Saleh (LB)
Maryam Saleh (EG)
Solveig Slettahjell (NO)
Marthe Valle (NO)