THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
A Unique & Passionate Musical Perspective Comes to Midland Center for the Arts February 9th
Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, National Music, Artist Feature, From Issue 941 By: Robert E Martin
02nd February, 2023 0
Bassel & The Supernaturals are a musical synthesis of different perspectives centered upon the ongoing tensions between East & West that tells the story of Bassel Almadani's experience as a first generation Syrian-American using soulful melodies, funk inspired rhythms, and captivating lyrics regarding love, loss, and the war in Syria.
Deeply inspired by artists such as Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye, Bassel uses the stage as a vehicle to engage audiences in over 100 different cities across North America and will be performing at the Midland Center for the Arts in a special show on February 9th. They have performed in over 300 concerts between 2016-2019 on stages that also include the John F. Kennedy Center, Summerfest, and Millennium Park, while supporting internationally touring artists such as Youssou N'Dour, Brother Ali, Aesop Rock, Emancipator, The Dandy Warhols, Sinkane, and many others.
Upon returning from a service trip to Istanbul in September 2019 working with displaced Syrians, they eleased their full-length album, Smoke & Mirrors, in April 2020. "Stepping Back in Time" was featured on Spotify's official "All Funked Up" playlist and recently surpassed 500,000 streams. The band also collaborated with TedX Talks as well on their music video for “Calculated Love” featuring Chicago’s resilient youth in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Regarding the style of his music and ability to market it to worldwide audiences, as one not familiar with Syrian music immediately this listener was surprised to hear so many Motown and Philadelphia Sound R&B influences propelling the lyrical and vocal narratives of his material.
“I would describe our music more in the Soul, Funk, and Jazz realm,” confirms Bassel. “There’s a groovy backbone through and through that takes a ride through various genres, and there’s definitely a story element within both the music and the performance, which is where I get to really talk about my connection to Syria and what my family has been experiencing over there since the beginning of this war.”
“The music itself is not Syrian, but the message behind it is,” he continues. “We fuse different elements of Middle Easter music through as well with various soloists, so that element is definitely included; but what really drives me as a songwriter is what I consider ‘timeless music.’ And that’s what drew me to a Soul/Funk style. I’ve always found that to be an effective way to tell a story and capture more of the narrative.”
To better understand what he is striving for as a songwriter and within his musical performances, one needs to know that while both his parents were born and raised in Syria, Bassel himself grew up in Northeast Ohio and is a first generation Syrian-American.
“Once a year I would travel from Northeast Ohio to see my family in Syria and would view the landscape in flashes whenever I went over there,” he continues. “Usually we stop somewhere different along the way, which gave me a really neat lens growing up in that environment and also growing up in a college town.”
Bassel says growing up in the town where Kent State is located and then going to Ohio State in Columbus drew him into music and served as a gateway for him. “I got started in music at a young age and grew up laying violin, then wa a drummer for a long time, and got into songwriting more in high school. While going to college at Ohio State I developed an Indie-Folk style and played guitar, started touring, and began learning the nature of what I wanted to pursue.”
“I knew after graduating from college I was going to move to either New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles and moved to Chicago just when the bad recession of 2010 hit,” notes Bassel. “I started laying down roots and collaborating with other artists in Chicago, which is where it all came together. After living there for 10 years I moved to Cleveland about an hour from where I grew up. Ultimately, my music is a collaborative experience and working with different musicians and voices helps add more flavor to the mix. The band changes over time, but there’s a regional network of musicians that I work with.”
Back in 2019-20 Bassel was part of a year-long fellowship with the Inner City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) including an Artist & Community Residency and Annual Retreat for artists working at the intersection of culture, social justice and community. He led workshops with Syrian refugees at the Karam House in Istanbul, Turkey to inspire passion through creative expression as a vehicle for emotional healing.
“This gave me a first-hand opportunity with work and deal with refugees at different educational and native centers where I would work with different sets of students each week and experience how inspired these students were to progress and forage through their war-torn country with integrity, where life is difficult but they all have a renewed chance to set up a better future for themselves, understanding that this future is probably not going to be in Syria, simply because of all the disconnection being fostered between the people living there, frankly.”
When asked about his biggest concerns as a Syrian citizen about all the political instability that has been generated in that country through foreign involvement and nation building, Bassel laments the ramifications of these policies and how deep we are into it.
“The war started in 2011 so there’s been over a decade of wreckage that is still happening,” he reflects. “The most concerning issue right now is the hyper-inflation and gateways that creates to displace people and resources through super-imposed sanctions, which the people of the country are trying to find ways around. These policies give power and influence to defined people and everyone else is caught in the middle while costs spin out of control.”
“Everything the Syrian people have is worth 10 times less than before the war just in terms of currency valuation, but goods themselves are scare so the whole scenario is unsustainable both for Syria and the United States - that’s my main concern. There’s no winners the way this is ultimately played out. I wish I had a political solution, but I don’t. We need to start by finding a way to agree on how to best advance the welfare of the Syrian people first and foremost. Indeed, one of the things we’ll be doing at the show is featuring a whole new batch of homemade soaps made by refugee women from Damascus that will be available for purchase.”
“This is why topically my music covers a wide spectrum because the important thing about music is that it’s a vehicle,” states Bassel. “Many of my songs are about personal loss and love and what’s going on in Syria and my perspective of being here while those things are happening there. We cover a lot of ground, but my newest material touches moe on what it’s like to be a father, seeing as I have an 8-year old daughter now. So I try to strive to create music that connects people to something. Even though I’m a guy from Northeast Ohio, I happened to be impacted by this terrible issue that a lot of people really don’t about.”
So at this juncture of his career, what is the most challenging component for Bassel in terms of moving forward? “The most challenging component is that we have fashioned this niche of music that we perform that is deeply personal and not really mainstream,” he reflects. “We’re not doing the Lady Gaga thing but have had some good opportunities from traveling. We were an official showcase band at the South by Southwest Festival and got a lot of international attention back in 2017, right around the time of the travel ban that Trump put into place. But even though my music is deeply personal, I shout the message behind it as loudly as I can.”
Tickets for Bassel & the Supernaturals February 9th performance at Midland Center for the Arts can be purchased by clicking this link.
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THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)