This article was first published on Middle East Eye
Fifty-one years might seem too short of a life for anyone, but for an exceptional artist like Rim Banna it is a thousand splendid years. With a proud smile, Rim left this ugly world leaving our hearts aching so hard.
I remember Rim from her early days when she used to perform in political events in Nazareth, our city, and I remember her performing in the evenings of Nazareth Voluntary Camps in the late 1980s.
These were political volunteering camps that gathered Palestinians from across historic Palestine. They were an alternative to the Israeli government policies of discrimination and oppression. Rim was there. I was a kid, but she was then already a legend to me.
Right from the beginning Rim chose her own way. She chose to be an artist of principles and set an example of inspiration. She chose values over profit and authenticity over fame. A humble and modest musician and singer, who dedicated her life to what she believed in, her voice was rare in a world of “celebrities” and stardom.
She was an active musician with 13 albums. She wrote, composed and sang, but also sang poems for prominent Palestinian poets like Tawfik Zayyad, Samih Alqassem, Mahmoud Darwish and others, including poems for her mother, Zahira Sabbag.
Crystal clear positions
She sang for freedom, revolution, political prisoners and much more. She specialised in children’s songs, something that distinguished her remarkably. With three children’s albums, she has revived traditional children’s lullabies and, through them, became present in every Palestinian house and every child’s memories.
Rim fought and worked until the end. Two months before she passed away, she flew to Sweden to work on her new album, due out this spring.
She fearlessly expressed her support for the revolutions across the Arab world, and while this may have been the obvious position, it was not when it comes to Syria.
But Rim was one of the very few fearless voices of artists and musicians in our times who had a loud and clear voice in standing by the Syrian people against the tyranny of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
She did not stammer for a second. Her position was crystal clear all along: stand with the oppressed against the oppressor.
Those who knew the challenges Rim had to face in her life appreciate a million times over her steadfastness and ability to transfer hope, optimism and strength.
A single mother struggling with life to raise her three children, she did so with dignity and pride, even as she fought cancer and other chronic health issues that erupted in the last decade, including losing her voice and hence the ability to do what she was most passionate about.
As a friend, Rim was always available, even in the toughest moments of her life. She liked voice messages more than written texts, even at times when her voice was betraying her.
To everyone, she was always easy to reach, there were no barriers, no “high profile” masks and no ego. When she went quiet, we all knew that something was wrong.
She let everyone enter her life through her thoughts and photos on her active social media accounts. She shared her fears, her feelings, her wisdom and her optimism.
When she was not travelling, Rim would share almost every day a beautiful photo from her beautiful house in the old city of Nazareth.
Somehow there is a common line connecting her home, her body and her heart. Her house has a collection of items and beautiful accessories from all across the world, like her heart which has built friendships and relations across borders and barriers.
Her photos have always transmitted colours; a view of a sunset from a window; her plants and flowers; her own handmade accessories and crocheted items. We had lots of conversations about photos, and she would start telling me about all the apps that she used and make me feel so ignorant. I told her once, I think if you weren’t a musician you would make a wonderful photographer, and we laughed.
In her family’s announcement they wrote: “She passed with a completion of her national duties towards her Palestinian people and all the people facing injustices.” This is Rim, this is the legacy she has left behind, and this is how she’d like to be remembered: an artist of principles and values.
Three weeks before she passed away, she said goodbye, in her own way: “Life is beautiful and death is like history, a fake episode.”
Rest in power and peace dear Rim. You will always be remembered as an extraordinary woman and friend. Your legacy will remain forever with us.