Palestinian vocalist Rim Banna passed away on March 24, 2018 after a decade-long battle with cancer, only 51 years old. A month later the Norwegian label Kirkelig Kulturverksted released Banna’s last album, «Voice of Resistance – صوت المقاومة», an apt title for an artist who was a courageous political activist, a cultural icon who stood up against the brutal Israeli oppression and occupation and refused any kind of relationship with the occupiers. «Voice of Resistance – صوت المقاومة» is also an apt title for an album that offers Banna’s inspiring artistic and even political will, a defiant call for struggle against all forms of injustice.
Banna began working on this album in 2015 after she was told by her doctors that her vocal cords were partially paralyzed and that she would not be able to sing anymore. But nothing could silence Banna. She, her producer Erik Hillestad and Tunisian sound designer SC MoCha, from the electronic activist collective Checkpoint 303, decided to use Banna’s medical files (PET – Positron Emission Tomography – and X-ray images) as the basic sound sources for this albums. These files were converted into electronic beats, Banna recited over these ambient beats and later on pianist Bugge Wesseltoft (who played on Banna’s «Revelation of Ecstasy and Rebellion», Kirkelig Kulturverksted, 2014), added his own improvisations. Thus, «Voice of Resistance – صوت المقاومة» became a concept album, a sonic diary of Banna’s personal struggle with the sickness that robbed her singing voice and a fearless call to resist all evils and all tyrants.
Banna’s commanding voice, her poetic, compassionate images and the inevitable sense of urgency, given her medical situation, charge this album with a powerful, emotional spirit. The ethereal sonic envelope of Checkpoint 303 and the lyrical piano ruminations of Wesseltoft stress even further the strength of her spoken words. The personal insights of her struggle with her sickness are interwoven with her political struggles, and vice versa, as she is fully aware of being an icon and symbol. She refuses to surrender to the «language of silence» – literally – as «her singing turned to silence». She chooses to stand up and resist, «like a rose in a battle field», oblivious of her pains, «hiding one thousand revolutions in her braids». Her personal battle, as well as of the Palestinian people, never stops, as she chants on «Deadly Music»: «I go on pushing the vocal cords continuously / until they embrace the poem / And cure the sickness / By their moaning». She later compares the sickness of her body’s cells to the evils of occupation and promises on «I Don’t Care»: «my forehead will be lifted high by the chant / Definitely like the rising sun / And I’ll keep rejecting / And I’ll always be in resistance». She adds on «The Last Cord»: «My voice will be sharp / as the edge of the sword at the throat of tyrants».
Banna is painfully sober about her own fragile situation but do not lose hope. She knows that even «if i stumble on my road / I will dream about the roses along my road». She is certain that no one can silence her call. «… If my soul is taken / my songs will be sung in the public squares / Like the blazing sun that never fades away». And she states bravely on «This Is My voice» that she do not seeks mercy: «Don’t ask the birds to whom they sing / After the slaughtering of their babies».
What a great loss.
Rim Banna (v), Checkpoint 303 (prog, data sonifications, g); Bugge Wesseltoft (p)