Leading Arab singer Rim Banna dies aged 51

Best known for her modern interpretations of traditional Palestinian music and poetry, artist passes away after 9-year cancer battle

Late Palestinian singer Rim Banna performs at Musikk for Gaza in Olso, Norway on September 3, 2014. (CC BY-SA GGAADD
/Wikimedia Commons)
Late Palestinian singer Rim Banna performs at Musikk for Gaza in Olso, Norway on September 3, 2014. (CC BY-SA GGAADD /Wikimedia Commons)

Rim Banna, a prominent Arab singer, songwriter, and composer, died Saturday following a 9-year long battle with breast cancer.

Family members announced on social media that the 51-year-old mother of three died in her hometown of Nazareth in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Though born in Israel, Banna was best known for her contributions to Palestinian music and poetry. In a 2006 interview with a German-Arabic newspaper, Banna said she wanted to strengthen Palestinian identity and cultural memory with her music.

“A part of our work consists of collecting traditional Palestinian texts without melodies. So that the texts do not get lost, we try to compose melodies for them that are modern, yet inspired by traditional Palestinian music,” she told the Qantara website.

Banna first gained fame in the 1990s after releasing a contemporary album of traditional Palestinian children’s songs that had largely been forgotten.

In the following years she released over a dozen albums, many characterized by their Palestinian nationalistic message.

Banna was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. The illness forced her to step away form her music career in 2016. Last week, family members posted on Banna’s official Facebook page that the singer’s health had deteriorated significantly and that she was being hospitalized in a Nazareth hospital.

The news of her death sparked an outpouring of grief on social media among Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.

The chairman of the Knesset’s Joint (Arab) List Ayman Odeh said on Twitter that Banna was “one of the pillars of progressive Palestinian poetry,” and stated that like many others, he was inspired by her music.

Banna is survived by her mother, brother, and three children.

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