Rim Banna
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Rim Banna


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Between October 3 and 7, I was part of a wide-ranging celebration of Palestinian arts and culture in Milano, Italy.

The Philastiniat festival of Palestinian film, literature, theatre, folklore, music, dance and poetry opened in various locations in Milan to the enthusiastic reception of the city officials, the Palestinian community and their European friends and families.

Distinguished guests ranged from writers Suad Amiry and Salman Natur, film directors Michel Khleifi, photographer Rula Halawani, singer-activist Rim Banna, poet Zuhair Abu Shayeb, writer-journalist Akram Musallam and poets Nasr Jamil and Asmaa Azaizeh, and many others.

At the heart of the festival, which included performances, poetry readings and film series, was also a tribute to the late Palestinian scholar and public intellectual Edward W Said (1935-203).

A conference on Said was held on October 5 at Palazzo Marino - Sala Alessi - Piazza Della Scala - right across from the historic Scala opera house. Younger and more senior scholars from various universities in Italy exchanged ideas on the significance of Edward Said's legacy.

The panelists included: Wasim Dahmash (Università degli Studi di Cagliari), Paolo Branca (Università Cattolica, Milano), Marco Gatto (Università della Calabria), Mauro Pala (Università di Cagliari) and Mariantonietta Saracino (Università Sapienza, Roma).

Rim Banna

Particularly memorable in this event was the featuring of Palestinian singer Rim Banna in the very last night of Philastiniat. Born (1966) and raised in Nazareth, and educated in the Higher Music Conservatory in Moscow, Rim Banna is a Palestinian singer and composer who was initially celebrated for her endearing renditions of old Palestinian folk songs.

"In songs like 'Sarah', Rim Banna transforms the brutal murder of young Palestinian children by Israeli army or their obscene settlers into unforgettable ballad, contemporary folksongs of her people."

She has now emerged as a major voice in Palestinian music of resistance, giving melodic interpretations to the suffering of her people and their defiant hopes and aspirations. In pain and suffering, defiance and struggle, confidence and pride, Palestine sings in Rim Banna.

Listening to Rim Banna (here is a sample from her album "Maraya' al-Ruh" - The Mirrors of My Soul) is an experience in living through the trials and tribulations of Palestinians, as their newborns are sung to by the lullabies of their resistance, their youngsters are point blank shot dead by Israeli soldiers and settlers alike, and as their heroes are loved and admired for their resistance.

Rim Banna sings love songs for towering Palestinian men and women, bearing witness to their people's struggles, raising and protecting their children against a vicious killing machine that has occupied their homeland - and the result is the creation of a repertoire of folkloric and contemporary songs that have now blended into each other to become the common staple of Palestinian lives and resistances.

From her renditions of Palestinian lullabies to her lovingly flirtatious "Mash'al", to her "Tayr Hawa" - Fly Love, Rim Banna's ballads of Palestine have become integral to her people's stories of struggles and resistance.

In beautiful and yet heart-wrenching songs like "Sarah", Rim Banna transforms the brutal murder of young Palestinian children by Israeli army or their obscene settlers into unforgettable ballad, contemporary folksongs of her people.

As in the cases with jazz, blues, or ragtime, Rim Banna's ballads derive their power from their deep-rooted connections to her people's struggles.

Listening to and watching Rim Banna perform, you can hear Umm Kulthum in Egypt, Edith Piaf in France, Joan Baez in the US, or Mercedes Sosa in Argentina. In her voice and in her songs, she has wed the stories of her people to defiant joys of people around the globe. It is as if it has been the fate of Palestinians in their heart and soul to travel around the world and in the best and the most beautiful everywhere, find a way to tell and share their stories.

They say that the United States is the most powerful country on planet earth and when the Israeli Prime Minister goes to the US congress to deliver yet another vulgar and inane speech, there are so many standing ovations for him by the even more vulgar and inane members of the US congress that they probably spent more time on their feet applauding their Israeli benefactor than seating on their chairs thinking of their duties to the people who had elected them.

But what has AIPAC really bought for Israel with such obscene display of power - turning the democratic institution of a nation into the Joker-Jack-in-the-Box of a bankrupt ideology - when with one single, beautiful and powerful song, Rim Banna can make the whole wo - Aljazeera

Palestinian singer-songwriter Rim Banna has performed in recent years in Tunis and Egypt, where the the Arab Spring began and where artists took a crucial role in the collective struggle to topple down repressive regimes and politicians. In her tours she sensed the rebellious spirit and wanted to trace its origins in Arabic poetry. Banna chose "Arabic Mystic poems from ancient to modern times, performed in the age of rebellion" of Tunisian, Palestinian, Iraqi and Persian and Andalusian writers in the hope that the ecstatic spirit of freedom and human camaraderie will shine where the light of freedom has not shone yet.

Banna wrote the music for all the poems and was assisted by Norwegian pianist Bugge Wesseltoft who arranged the songs and produced the album. The poems were recorded in Banna's home town (Nazareth), Tunis, Oslo and London with international cast of Palestinian, Tunisian, Indian and Norwegian musicians. Wesseltoft decided wisely to embrace the warm and suggestive vocals of Banna with intimate yet nuanced soundscapes that emphasize her charismatic delivery and the evocative messages of the poems, all sung in Arabic (translations to English are in the liner notes).

Wesseltoft's arrangements reference the great heritage of Arab music but frame it in modern textures that include samples and nu-jazz rhythmic layers. On "The Absent One," by Palestinian poet Rashed Hussein, that describes the disturbing feelings of the Palestinian refugees (and begins with the memorable line: "God became a refugee, sir..."), the emotional reading of the poem is encompassed by gentle fretting on the Arabic kanoon by Palestinian Osama Bishara coupled with an ethereal rhythmic pattern, woven by Wesseltoft and guitarist Eivind Aarset. The same approach is kept also on "The Hymn of the Rain," where the arrangement highlights the impressionistic oud playing of Palestinian Rasmis Kassis and the oriental cello of Tunisian Kays Zarrouk, or on the poem of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, "The Trace of the Butterfly." Wesseltoft's meditative solo piano playing accompanies Banna's moving reading of the Egyptian sufi poet poem Ibn Al-Faredh, "Supply Me With an Excess of Love."

The angry poem "Don't Increase His Agony" by Iraqi revolutionary and Marxist poet Bader Shaker al-Sayyab, who inspired many modern Arab poets, receives a different treatment. Banna collaborates with Tunisian rapper MR. KAZ and their vocals are rooted in cyclical rhythmic beats created by Wesseltoft and Aarset. Banna is joined on "Astonished By You And Me" by the revolutionary Persian Sufi poet Mansur al-Hallaj and by Tunisian singers Riredh Larousse and Haythem Guediri. Their singing of the chorus turns this hopeful poem into an inspiring hymn about the strength and inspiration that is part of any innocent belief. Banna delivers the text of Tunisian political freedom fighter Amara Omrani, "The Free Man," that was written while he was tortured in the prison, as a rebellious call that draws a clear line between villainous regimes and freedom seeking people. She concludes with the hopeful poem of Andalusian poet and philosopher Ibn Arabi that promises that "the sun of love had appeared in ourselves," accompanied by a reserved piano playing of Wesseltoft.

Beautiful and inspiring.

Track Listing: The Absent One; The Hymn of the Rain; Supply Me With an Excess of Love; The Trace of the Butterfly; The Taste of Love; Don't Increase His Agony; Stranger In the Gulf; Astonished By You And Me; Two Kinds of Love; My Heart Tells Me; The Free Man; The Sun of Love.

Personnel: Rim Banna: vocals; Bugge Wesseltoft: piano, keyboards, percussion; Osama Bishara: kanoon; Kays Zarrouk: oriental cello; Jihed Khmiri: Tunisian percussion; Mohamed Ben Salha: kawala, ney, Tunisian gasba; Eivind Aarset: guitars; Shirkant Shriram: fretless electric bass; Riedh Larousse: chorus (8); Haythem Guediri: chorus (8); MR. KAZ: rap (6). - All About Jazz


Rim Banna's discography on Kirkelig kulturverksted:

Revelation of Ecstasy and Rebellion
Seasons of Violet
The Mirror of My Soul

Participates on:
Lullabies from the Axis of Evil
Songs Across Walls of Separation



Throughout the "Arab Spring", Rim Banna, the best-known voice of Palestine, has seen how the music she has created over the last ten years has become part of the revolution's "soundtrack". She has toured and held concerts in several of the countries where artists have mobilized the masses to overthrow regimes and presidents, especially in Tunisia and Egypt, where she has had many performances. Now Rim has searched back into the Pan-Arabic cultural heritage and composed her own music for classical Arabic poetry, which through time and space reflects the revolutionary spirit that permeates the atmosphere of the audiences she meets on a daily basis. The result is a fantastic new album, "Revelation of Ecstasy and Rebellion" which was released on 14 January, the second anniversary of the "Arab Spring".
A number of new musicians join Rim on her new album, including some Norwegians, including Eivind Aarseth, who plays guitars, as he has done on all the three preceding Rim Banna records, and Bugge Wesseltoft (piano, keyboards and programming), who has produced and arranged the album. He has put together a band that also includes Jihed Khmiri (percussion), Kays Zorrouk (oriental cello) and Mohamed Ben Salha (flute), from Tunis, and Ossama Bishara (kanoon) and Ramsis Kassis (oud) from Palestine. Indian-British Shrikant Shriram plays bass.
The new production has for the most part been recorded and produced in Norway (by Martin Abrahamsen and Bugge Wesseltoft), but some of the songs were recorded in Nazareth in Palestine and in the Ennejma Ezzahra palace in Tunis. Tunisian rapper Mr Kaz is also featured on one of the tracks. The record has been funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and "Fond for Lyd og Bilde" (the Audio and Visual Fund).

"Beautiful, rebellious and in every sense worth listening to" - Dagsavisen
"Her best album ever" - Vårtland
"Beautiful and inspiring" - All About Jazz