Bassel & The Supernaturals
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Bassel & The Supernaturals

Chicago, Illinois, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2010 | SELF

Chicago, Illinois, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2010
Band Rock Neo Soul




"Bassel & The Supernaturals Raise Funds For Syria"

Bassel and The Supernaturals Face Syria's Urgent Crisis with Timeless Soul

Syrian-American musician Bassel Almadani translates his grief into soul, funk, and activism; stream his emotional new album
"They stole another story," Bassel Almadani wails in falsetto on "Lost," the lead single from his forthcoming album, Elements with his soul band Bassel and The Supernaturals. "Break off a piece of my soul and bury it underneath the ground." Almadani is a first-generation Syrian-American who lives in Chicago. The song is about his cousin who was killed by a sniper in Aleppo, the Syrian city that became a major battleground in the country's civil war and where the musician spent his summers as a child.

Both of Almadani's parents are from Aleppo and before the crisis almost all of his extended family lived there. Starting in 2012, the city where he once played soccer in the streets with his cousins came under siege, and his grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were now in constant danger. He wanted to do something. His music had always dealt with personal feelings and experiences, and suddenly nothing was more personal than the war in Syria, so he started writing about that. Elements, due out February 24, deals directly with the Syrian crisis, translating Almadani's grief and feelings of helplessness into complex soul and funk compositions full of profound emotion.

Even before he started work on Elements, Almadani was taking his band on the road to universities and churches, in an effort raise awareness about what was happening. It's an experience he describes as empowering. Now, the band is donating twenty percent of the album pre-sales to Karam Foundation, whose work includes aiding children in Syria.

Ahead of the February 24 release of Elements, Almadani got on the phone with Noisey to talk about combining his music with activism and how he discovered music could help people in the United States connect with a war half a world away.

Noisey: How did you get into soul music?
Bassel Almadani: I got into songwriting late in high school and then, when I moved to Columbus, I went hard in the songwriter direction. When I moved to Chicago, I didn't know a lot of people, and there's that inherent loneliness that comes with moving to a new place. I took time to think about what music means to me and listen to a lot of music, and I found myself listening to a lot of Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder. I felt this deep emotional connection to that music. This is music that people consider timeless and I had to study that in the context of the music:

That taught me to write from the soul, less about writing "soul music," but music that is emotionally raw and that tells a story. I feel like it becomes soul music because you feel that emotional connection as you're writing it.

How did activist work become a part of your life as a musician?
Activism had always been deeply rooted within me. I was really active with Amnesty International for a really long time and different community organizations, but it wasn't until things got bad in Syria in 2011 that it found its way into the music.

Only my immediate family, my parents and my brothers, are in the States; my entire extended family was [in Syria]. We were sending money to help them get by and distribute to other families in the area to help them get medicine or food or blankets or whatever they needed, but there's this deeper sense of guilt, like, 'Why am I not there? What am I going to do about this?' That's what really ignited my creative connection to this particular issue, because I was thinking so much about it and I wanted to be a voice for my family and for all these people who have been so affected by it. It went in full-force after the loss of my own cousin in Syria. I started writing music more directly about these issues.

Was it difficult to write about these things or did it help you to cope?
Both, I guess. This is the most difficult album I've ever worked on. As I said, there's this underlying sense of guilt because I'm here and not worried that a missile is going to come and hit me today and my family is experiencing that every moment. I need to find a way to tell their story through my lens. It's been a really heavy experience to try and figure out, 'Is this song telling the story that it needs to tell?' But when you come out the other end, it does feel relieving. It was very difficult, but very therapeutic as well.

Can you tell me about your experience performing to raise awareness about the crisis?
I started reaching out to colleges, human-rights organizations, or Arab-American student organizations and doing events with them. What's beautiful about art and music is that it's universal, especially our type of music, which is very traditionally American. [Bassel and the Supernaturals's] demographic is very diverse, so we were able to bring people of different shapes, sizes and colors together around this issue. They're coming and having a good time and listening to the stories and realizing, 'Hey, now I know a person who is affected by this. I know a Syrian-American person now.'

We've been performing in churches as well, which has been very empowering. I'll be in Wichita, Kansas in March working with a church and bringing people together who maybe have never met a Syrian person in their entire life. The types of conversations that have opened up in these churches has been just unreal, you know, the types of questions that we get and the engagement from people who want to do good and don't have the information. It's been inspiring to know that it's not that people are ignoring the issue.

Do you know anyone who was been affected by the still-contested travel ban and the ban on refugees from Syria? What do you think the repercussions will be?
I don't have anybody that has been affected by this because the vetting process was so extreme before the ban that it was next to impossible for any of my own family members to get here. Now it's just sealed and stamped, there's no chance for them. Half of my family is still in Syria, and the other half has found other places that are more welcoming. They're in Germany, or they're in the Emirates or Egypt.

I just think this is the riskiest move that we could make as a country. From what I understand, extremists use the rhetoric and the footage of certain things Donald Trump has said for recruitment. A message of hate is going to create more issues and targeted attacks like we haven't seen. All it does is reinforce their narrative. We should be coming from a compassionate place in order for people to understand that we care and that we want to be helpful and we're doing the exact opposite right now.

Catch Bassel and The Supernaturals on tour:

February 24 | Chicago, IL @ Logan Square Auditorium with The Maytags, Willy Dynomite, Molehill
March 10 | Lincoln, NE @ Zoo Bar
March 11 | Des Moines, IA @ Wooly's with The Maytags, The Candymakers
March 12 | Wichita, KS @ Awakening Wichita
March 14 | Dallas, TX @ Three Links with Friday's Foolery, CoLab
March 15-17 | Austin, TX @ SXSW
March 18 | Tulsa, OK @ Fassler Hall with Henna Roso
March 19 | Lincoln, NE @ Brewsky's Haymarket - Noisey (Vice)

"A Syrian-American soul singer takes his music to Trump country"

Syrian-American musician Bassel Almadani often travels into the heart of Trump country with what he says is a "humanitarian message."

This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.
Almadani, whose band The Supernaturals is based in Chicago, wants to show the human face of Syria to Americans who, in many cases, have never met a Syrian and encounter the country mainly through violent headlines.

Sometimes, during a pause in the show, he'll tell the audience his memories of visiting relatives in Syria when he was a kid.

"My early memories there are really fantastic," he says. "One of my earliest memories would be going to Syria and trying to speak to my cousins in English and wondering why they couldn't understand what I was saying."

Lately, Almadani has been gigging in churches and colleges in small-town America.

They tend to be intimate environments that yield interesting results. Take, for example, a recent stop in Wichita, Kansas.

"The most honest thing was them just really embracing the fact that the society itself was pretty separated — that they just weren't interacting," he recalls. "There are Syrian and Lebanese communities in their back door. There's a big presence of them actually in the city of Wichita."

One song The Supernaturals always perform is titled "Lost." It was inspired by the death of Almadani's cousin, who was killed trying to escape from Aleppo. This music on this track is "deeply personal," Almadani says. And with this week's news out of Syria, including an apparent Damascus-ordered chemical gas attack and the US missile strikes at an air base near Homs, he says he can't help but have a connection with his relatives still living there. - PRI Public Radio International

"Watch Bassel Almadani Talk Syria, Otis Redding, and How They Connect"

On Thursday, Paste was proud to host Bassel & the Supernaturals in our New York Studio, where the soulful septet treated us to four slinky tracks from their latest album, Elements.

The performance marked the latest installment of our Bands Without Borders series, which showcases minority and at-risk musicians, both in celebration of the diversity that makes our country great, and in defiance of President Trump’s repeated attempts to prevent immigrants from entering the United States.

The Supernaturals are fronted by Bassel Almadani, a first-generation Syrian-American who packs his neo-soul confections full of impassioned lyrics about love, loss and the vivid imagery of an ongoing Syrian civil war that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, with no end in sight.

“Loss is the most raw and vulnerable emotion that we feel as human beings, and it’s something we can all access,” said Almadani. “I think a lot of times people feel like Syria is very distant, and they don’t know how to impact the situation. I think the first step in feeling emotionally connected.”

“I have a lot of family that’s impacted by this crisis,” Almadani said of the ongoing violence in Syria. “My parents were born and raised in Aleppo, Syria. My entire extended family is from Aleppo. Half of them are still there. Half are all around the world at this point.”

Almadani and his ensemble raised over $11,000 during the preorder campaign for Elements, with over $3,000 in donations for humanitarian aid in Syria. A portion of the proceeds went to the Karam Foundation, a Chicago-based nonprofit working to build a better future for Syria, from education programs for Syrian refugee youth, to aid distribution, to funding sustainable development projects for Syrians.

The goal, Almadani said, is to “provide resources for Syrians to steer the direction of their country. I do see this as a longterm issue, and so to be able to invest in a longterm solution is very important.”

Almadani spoke passionately of his own family’s migration from Syria, where the persistent threat of political violence, largely at the hands of president Bashar al-Assad and his autocratic regime, has brought not just death and destruction, but lingering fear and anger that have stretched over decades.

“I remember going to Syria when I was younger, and you’d see pictures of the president pasted all over the walls, all over the town, and I’d say, ‘What is this all about?’ And my cousins would say, ‘Dude, don’t even talk about it. Just trust that this is how things need to be.’ I really struggled to wrap my head around that. That fear has existed there, and people having been living in it for a very long time.”

On the surface, there is nothing sad about the music of the Supernaturals, who blend strands of supremely danceable American funk and R&B. But as a kid growing up in Chicago, Almadani could hear the hurt as well as the joy in the music emanating from the speakers all around him.

“More than anything, the power of soul music comes from an emotional connection to that music and to be able to tell a story through your tone, through your body langue, through the words,” he said. “Everything is connected. The whole message is infused. That was really powerful to me, especially when I drilled into Otis Redding when I first moved to Chicago. I heard ‘I’ve Got Dreams,’ and I just couldn’t stop listening. There is a lot of pain in that song, but that’s one thing that makes it timeless.”

After performing the Elements track “Lost,” Almadani explained that the song was inspired by the death of his cousin, who was shot and killed by a sniper while riding a bus in Syria, as well as the dispersion of his extended family.

“That struck me in a very, very deep place,” he said. “With soul music, and needing to feel emotionally connected to the music, I really focused on that concept of loss … Loss is the most raw and vulnerable emotion that we feel as human beings, and it’s something we can all access. I think a lot of times people feel like Syria is very distant, and they don’t know how to impact the situation. I think the first step in feeling emotionally connected, and ‘Lost’ tells that story.”

Watch Bassel & The Supernaturals’ full Paste Studio session above, as well the other entries in our Bands Without Borders series, and check out the nonprofit Karam Foundation here. - Paste Magazine

"Syrian-American Musicians Raise Voices as Homeland Suffers"

DETROIT (AP) — When Samer Saem Eldahr finished university, he was ready to spread his wings and start his career. He planned a month away from home to discover and pursue his craft.

It’s a similar story to many college graduates, with a notable exception: There would be no realistic option to return from Lebanon to his home in Aleppo, Syria, which was descending into war. He left behind his music and art studio containing most of his equipment and paintings.

Five years on, Eldahr has been rebuilding his life and art as a permanent U.S. resident, living in Minneapolis with his wife and a child on the way. Under the name Hello Psychaleppo , he recently completed an album and is playing shows, including one Friday at the Arab American National Museum in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn.

Hello Psychaleppo is among several Syrian-American acts on the road, sharing music and messages about their homeland as the conflict rages on. The Arab museum on Monday will host Amplify Peace, a national tour presented by the Syrian American Medical Society. The concert, which aims to raise money for Syrian relief efforts, includes rapper/poet Omar Offendum, funk and soul outfit Bassel & The Supernaturals and others.

Eldahr combines styles just as he does worlds. He describes his sound as “electro-tarab,” blending electronic music with the ethos of “tarab,” an Arabic word describing music’s emotional, ecstatic effect often associated with traditional artistic forms.

“I tried my best to separate those two worlds, my music and life ... but a certain point they do meet,” he said.

While he describes his art as expressionistic, he believes it incorporates “a certain sentiment of longing.” It’s a theme within his album, “Toyour,” inspired by a book called “The Conference of the Birds” by 12th century Sufi poet Farid ud-Din Attar.

“Birds symbolize lots of stuff — freedom of expression, freedom of movement,” he said. “I believe that kind of relates to our destiny as Syrians. ... We have big questions right now.”

In performance, he uses synthesizers, not traditional Arab instruments, but manipulates them to provide the “microtones” — pitches between those found in Western scales and common in Middle Eastern music — by using an effects machine called a “talk box.”

“I’m trying to find the link between our music memory back home and the new modern tools and what can adapt,” he said.

Bassel Almadani is a first-generation Syrian-American, born and raised in Ohio and now living in Chicago. The Bassel & The Supernaturals frontman helped organize the Amplify Peace tour, whose other stops have included Chicago, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., and New York. He wanted to support the medical society, which he said is doing “substantial” humanitarian work and can help rebuild Syria’s infrastructure.

For Almadani, the war has hit home: A cousin died on a bus a militant fired upon and many relatives have lost their homes. The conflict also has drawn him closer to his heritage: His band has a new song called “Aleppo,” a soulful celebration of his ancestral homeland. He’s proud of the 5,000-year-old city, once a cultural and artistic center with many kinds of musical influences.

“Our music is very multi-faceted,” he said. “It’s just like my own identity is a blend of my Syrian heritage and my Midwestern roots.”

Offendum , a Syrian who was born in Saudi Arabia and came to the U.S. in the mid-1980s as a young boy, also feels deeply connected to his parents’ birthplace. However, he said, the crisis should concern everybody: Some 5 million Syrians have fled their homeland since conflict there erupted in 2011, including his relatives. On his new song, “Years,” he intones, “Speaking about my people and what six years cost them/Syrian bodies strewn ashore/families who’ve lost them.”

“This is the world’s problem, it’s not just a Syrian problem,” he said, adding that the tour aims to connect cultures and he’s proud to be “using hip-hop, rock-and-roll and even traditional music to bridge that gap, make it more relatable for people — more real.”

Hello Psychaleppo’s Eldahr knows art can only go so far to help Syria. Still, he’s proud to represent it and raise awareness of a place to which he longs to return.

“I believe artists ... want to reach places that people don’t reach,” he said. “Sometimes, we just dream big.” - Associated Press

"Trump ‘Travel Ban Bands’ Take to Stage in Texas Capital"

By Jon Herskovitz | AUSTIN, TEXAS

Bands with diaspora from the seven Muslim-majority countries on U.S. President Donald Trump’s original travel ban took to the stage in Austin to build resistance against executive orders critics see as perpetuating bigotry.

For many musicians in the "ContraBanned" showcase that went from Friday night to early Saturday at the South by Southwest music festival, the show put a human face on the countries that have become a focal point of current U.S. politics.

"I understand the travel ban was done with the impression for securing a place of safety for Americans. I feel it is short-sighted and perpetuates the xenophobia that exists in this country," said Bassel Almadani, frontman and vocalist for the soul and funk band of Bassel & The Supernaturals.

Almadani, raised in the U.S. Midwest from parents born in Syria, has relatives who have given up hope on leaving the country ripped apart by a civil war due to Trump's proposed bans.

He has been trying to use his act to raise awareness about the six-year civil war that has set new standards of savagery in its impact on civilians, leaving an estimated half a million people dead.

The Trump administration has said its executive orders are common sense approaches that will protect the American people.

Attention from the bans has opened the door for Almadani to play in places like churches in Kansas where congregants want to learn more.

"For a good five years there, I thought I was pulling teeth to get that conversation moving," Almadani said in an interview.

"It wasn’t until the immigration ban went into place that people became more intent on the issue and more supportive of the cause."

Before the so-called "travel ban bands" took the stage in Texas, the U.S. government said it would appeal against a federal judge's decision that struck down parts of the Trump travel ban on the day it was set to go into effect.

London-based, Iranian born artist Ash Koosha would not attend after trouble securing a visa.

South Sudanese-Canadian artist Emmanuel Jal said the showcase dubbed "music of the banned nations" could change hearts and minds.

"The people who voted for Trump voted out of fear. Let us fight with love because love will win," he said.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Marguerita Choy) - Reuters

"Mix of cultures, styles at SXSW music festival"

One of the world's biggest international music festivals is winding down in the US state of Texas.

The South by Southwest festival (SXSW) showcases talent from dozens of countries, styles and traditions.

Al Jazeera's Rob Reynolds reports from Austin.

Rob Reynolds - Al Jazeera

"Bassel & The Supernaturals: Live with NowThis"

Bassel & The Supernaturals are here from Chicago to play songs and talk about Syria - NowThis

"Musicians From Countries Affected By Trump’s Travel Ban Fight Back At SXSW"

Faarrow and Bassel & The Supernaturals will participate in the show, which will include music ranging from traditional to futuristic.

The day Donald Trump announced his first travel ban, affecting entry into the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries, Bassel Almadani made a sign that read, “My Syrian father delivered 3,000 U.S. babies,” and headed to the airport.

The frontman of the soul group Bassel & The Supernaturals comes from a family of immigrants and wants to honor his heritage through both protest and performance. He’s one of eight artists participating in a South by Southwest show organized to represent each of the countries affected by Trump’s ban.

“I can’t forget the fact that I’m a product of Syrian immigrants. My family would not be in the same circumstance if this ban was in place when they were making the moves that they needed to in order to be here,” Almadani told The Huffington Post.

This isn’t Almadani’s first act of musical protest. In February, he worked with Chicago’s Inner-City Muslim Action Network to organize a show called Refugee Remix. There, he met Libyan-American hip-hop artist Khaled M., who will also perform at SXSW’s Contrabanned show.

The lineup was released on March 8, two days after Trump’s revised travel ban was announced.

“Music has always been a medium for celebrating love and unity, but it is also a powerful vehicle for addressing social and political injustice in a way that builds up communities instead of turning them against one another,” the festival’s site reads.

The show was announced shortly after SXSW issued an invitation letter and performance agreement that was criticized as threatening towards immigrants. The festival has since amended its language and issued an apology.

Now, along with a pop duo from Somalia and Canada, three Iranian performers, and artists from Libya and Iraq, Almadani and his band will play funky soul music from its new album, “Elements,” for attendees in Austin.

“Soul music is effective, when you create that emotional connection to your audience. It creates a personality, especially for an issue that feels so distant for people,” Almadani said. “As someone who was born and raised in the States, and plays a more traditionally American style of music, I feel like I have an ability to have a conversation with a demographic who otherwise maybe isn’t hearing enough of it, or doesn’t have a lot of great resources around this issue.”

While many of Almadani’s songs aim to comment on loss, isolation and recovery more broadly, he’s also written songs directly about his relatives in Syria. His song “Lost” is an ode to his cousin, who was killed by crossfire in Syria.

“That was a really difficult circumstance for me to wrap my head around,” Almadani said. “Especially because I wasn’t there, or able to contribute to anything. It was hard to find a sense of closure or peace through any of it.”

But through his music, he was able to, and he hopes his lyrics resonate with all listeners who have lived through personal loss.

“Lost” is also the name of a 2016 EP released by Faarrow ― Somalian-Canadian sisters Siham and Iman Hashi, who write soulful pop songs featuring African percussion.

“Because of our story, being former refugees, the entire theme of our EP is an underdog story,” Iman told HuffPost. But the sisters want the whole of their identities ― as immigrants, as women, as emphatic fans of pop greats like Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston ― to be communicated in their songs.

“Our mom was playing pop music since we were born. Michael Jackson was our everything. If we weren’t listening to Somali music, we were listening to pop music,” Siham said.

Although their interest and talent was evident from an early age, the duo was discouraged from pursuing a career in music.

“It really wasn’t a possibility in our minds, because the culture that we come from. We just thought it was something that was never going to happen, it was so out of reach,” Siham said. “We’re the black sheep of the family. We’re the only ones who decided to take the musical, artistic route.”

While Siham and Iman avoid overtly political song lyrics ― the band’s upbeat sound is meant to inspire and unite listeners ― their success has provided them with a platform to discuss their politics, and call attention to issues that matter to them, including the drought that is currently ravaging Somalia.

“Everything that’s going on this country, and everything that’s going on in Somalia, it just ― it’s kind of crazy,” Iman said. “What is really the most important thing, to us as humans? We’re preventing people from coming here, that are in such dire situations. And we’re focused on banning them for reasons that aren’t even real. I feel like it’s our duty and responsibility to always talk about it.”

In addition to performances by the participating bands, SXSW’s Contabanned showcase will feature a panel discussion centered on the travel ban. The event is organized by Tamizdat, globalFest, and PRI’s The World. - Huffington Post

"Bassel & The Supernaturals: Live on Daytrotter"

Bassel & the Supernaturals
Live @ Daytrotter
Jan 24, 2017 Horseshack, Davenport, IA - Daytrotter

"Bands from Travel Ban Countries to Perform at SXSW"

AUSTIN, Texas — South by Southwest will present a showcase Friday that organizers say is aimed to use music to unite people.
ContraBanned:#MusicUnites features several bands with artists from Iran, Libya, Somalia and Syria; all countries that were included in President Trump's latest travel ban.

The ban has since been blocked by a federal judge, but the organizer's message remains the same.

Bassel Almadani, lead singer of Bassel and the Supernaturals, is from Syria and plans to perform at the event.

"A lot of family members that are either older or are still in school and need a degree to make a living anywhere else are largely trapped,” says Almadani.

Hip-hop artist Kay Em is also slated to perform. His family is from Libya, and for him, the feeling of exclusion is far too common."Even just for regular immigrants flying with anxiety and fear and having a feeling of not being welcomed is really tough,” says the singer.Online donors raised more than $15,000 to pay for these band's travel expenses.They'll play at the Palm Door on E 6th on Friday night. - CBS Austin

"Global Notes: Bassel And The Supernaturals Raise Funds For Syria"

Bassel & The Supernaturals combines neo-soul and funk to address issues like the war in Syria. The nine-piece ensemble is led by Syrian-American Bassel Almadani.

Their newest release, Elements, is dedicated to tragedies in Almadani’s life, including the murder of his cousin, the destruction of his home and the sudden death of the band’s bassist.

The album is being released through an Indiegogo campaign, and 20 percent of the album's proceeds benefit the Karam Foundation, which provides resources to those affected by the war in Syria. - NPR / WBEZ

"This Chicago Band of Global Citizens Is Raising Money for and Giving a Voice to Syrians"

By James O'Hare| April 27, 2017

Global Citizens of America is a new series that highlights Americans who dedicate their lives to helping people outside the borders of the US. At a time when some world leaders are encouraging people to look inward, Global Citizen knows that only if we look outward, beyond ourselves, can we make the world a better place.
From Woody Guthrie singing about the plight of displaced farmers during the Great Depression, to Ramy Essam providing the soundtrack to the Tahrir Square protests in Egypt during the Arab Spring, to Beyoncé calling for ladies to get in formation, music has been inextricably linked to activism and raising social consciousness.

As the crisis in Syria enters its seventh year, one group is devoting its musical might to raising relief funds and, perhaps more importantly, a voice for the millions caught in the middle of the conflict.

Bassel and the Supernaturals is a funk/soul band based in Chicago, Illinois. While many groups struggle to toe the line between musicianship and mainstream success, Bassel and the Supernaturals is showing what artistry and altruism are all about.
Take Action: Tweet at President Donald Trump to Open US Borders to Syrian Refugees

In addition to music and lyrics that are informative and inspirational, the group donates a fifth of its album and merchandise sales to nonprofits working to help the Syrian people and alleviate the crisis. The group has toured for the past five years, and has been featured at festivals like South By Southwest.
The band’s leader Bassel Almadani, a first-generation Syrian American, spoke with Global Citizen about how the band and its mission formed, his family back in Syria, and how music can make people understand they have the ability make a positive impact:

Global Citizen: Tell me about Bassel and the Supernaturals.

Bassel Almadani: We tour as a seven-piece ensemble. I’ve lived in Chicago for seven years and been a songwriter for longer than that. I was born and raised in Ohio and wrote and performed a lot of music in Ohio. That’s when I moved to Chicago and formed the full ensemble. That’s when it took on its current personality and style. We’ve been hitting the road much more for the last four or five years, coincidentally with the timing of this Syrian crisis really getting out of hand and finding a need to get out there and amplify the voices of over 11 million people who aren’t really being heard at this time. That definitely set a fire to everything that we do.

Did you form the band specifically to help the people of Syria or did it manifest naturally?

Definitely the latter. I’ve been writing music for a long time. I set up my environment in Chicago in a way where I could continue to write and perform and record music, because it’s something I’ve always been passionate about. I worked in more of like an Indie folk realm before I moved to Chicago and took on a different flavor when I came here, because soul music had a particularly deep impact on me. I guess from a place of wanting to write from the soul and having an emotional connection to the music, as things really spun out of control in Syria, it just had always been on my mind and naturally manifested itself into the music and into the message.
Earlier on in the crisis the music itself kind of predated the war, so I was working with colleges and churches and different organizations to get out there and talk about what was happening in Syria but the music itself was soul, funk, kind of from a fun, energetic place. But on our new record that kind of creative message is definitely more in line with the speaking message as well.

As a medium, how is music, and more specifically soul music, unique in terms of raising social awareness?

The whole situation in Syria is so politicized. People get very uncomfortable even thinking about it and that comes from being flooded with what they hear in the news and they don’t know how to process it and how to create their own opinion about what’s going on. Through music, you can remove the discomfort of that political agenda a bit because it’s centered around coming together and telling a story, and creating a personality behind this issue.
Music has been a very powerful medium, especially with this type of music getting into places in the country, you know whether it’s Nebraska or Kansas or Oklahoma, you know where they’re maybe not meeting a lot of Syrian people or Middle Eastern people in general. It’s really important to create a personality for the Syrian person, so they can understand the people who are truly impacted by this. It’s my own family members who I grew up around, and I’m just an Ohio boy.

Soul music has been a particularly powerful channel. Soul music is effective when you have that emotional connection to the music because the audience reads that, in your tone, in your body language, and the colors of the music have to be honest in order for it to be effective. I think it really allows you to get to know your audience and for them to get to know you. When it’s effective you walk away with a deeper sense of connection and I’ve found that to be an incredibly powerful tool, especially in these areas of the country where they can access this type of music but maybe haven’t dived too deeply into the issue around Syria.

Have you been to Syria?

Absolutely, yeah. I used to go frequently growing up. I used to go usually every year or two. My whole family would go for the entire summer; we’d go for a few months. We had a lot of aunts and uncles and cousins there, and my grandparents so every night was a family reunion.

Are you still in contact with your family in Syria?

I am, mostly just over social media and stuff. About half of my extended family is still in Syria, mostly in Aleppo, and the other half are displaced all over the world at this point. Some are in Egypt, some in Saudi Arabia, some in Dubai, some in Germany. Really all over the place.

How has the travel ban affected the band and the way people respond to your message?

I think it’s kind of interesting. I’ve been out there for the last five or six years talking about Syria and people responding on both sides, some willing to embrace that and talk about it and confront it, and a lot of people fear getting political or just the discomfort of the subject. It was kind of easier for them to avoid or be indifferent.
I feel like, in light of the travel ban, it hit home. And I think a lot of people were impacted by that and felt a need to confront their discomfort or their ignorance around these particular subjects when it came to Syria or the Arab Spring in general. I find that a lot people are much more willing to learn about what brought us here and which organizations are assisting this cause, or to learn more about the vetting process and the people who have been impacted by it.

And it created opportunities for us, like SXSW, where we were part of a showcase that featured artists that were from the seven countries targeted by the immigration ban, so naturally we represented Syria as part of that. And that showcase got a ton of national media attention, largely in response to this travel ban. So, to see these conversations moving to a national platform has been incredibly powerful for, not only for the Syrian community, but many of these communities where the refugee crises are getting out of hand. It’s allowing a lot of people to confront their fear and to take it personally. I’ve seen a lot of positive resistance in light of the travel ban.

How much money has the band raised for Syria?

For our new album, “Elements,” we donated $3000 from our pre-order straight to Karam Foundation, a US-based not-for-profit centered around building a better future for Syria. And the pre-order itself raised $11,500. Since then it’s just a lot of one-off benefit events, a few hundred dollars here, a few hundred dollars there, 20% of our merchandise sales. I’m sure we’re around $5000 this year alone. Aside from that, I’m always just donating personally and through my family. It hits very close to home.
It’s pretty unlivable over there right now and just to kind of give a little perspective: growing up, one dollar meant 50 Syrian pounds. Now it’s more like one dollar equals 400 pounds. So the cost of goods has inflated by eight or nine times. Just to get bread is that much more expensive and there’s not much left of it. And most people aren’t able to work anymore because of the conditions. Every dollar you make is now worth an eighth or a ninth of what it used to be. So when we send American dollars for Syrian charity in general, it’s worth so much because it’s still a dollar to us, but it’s worth eight or nine times of what is was worth before.
It could be the difference between a family eating or getting medicine or having blankets to sleep.

Is there anything else people need to know about the band or the Syrian conflict that’s being overlooked?

I always make it a point to say that people should just understand they have the ability to make a positive impact. This is a really intense crisis but there are a lot of organizations in our backyard, right here in the US, not-for-profit orgs, that are doing fantastic work and are perfectly transparent about what they’re doing and to just not shy away from that. This is the time to act.
Karam Foundation is one example, but there’s also the Syrian American Medical Society, there’s the Syrian American Council, and there’s plenty of others.

I urge people to connect to this, and to care. - Global Citizen

"Bands Affected by Trump’s Travel Ban Storm SXSW"

Amid recent critiques about South By Southwest’s contract for international artists and growing tension worldwide about President Trump’s latest executive order to bar entry from six predominantly Muslim countries, the festival will host a showcase Friday night giving a spotlight to artists hailing from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

Called “ContraBanned: #MusicUnites,” the showcase lineup consists of artists from areas affected by Trump’s executive order.

While SXSW announced the showcase on March 8, plans for the event really started on Feb. 20—long before SXSW’s artist contract went viral online on March 2. Matthew Covey of Tamizdat launched a Kickstarter in an effort to raise funds for the event, and got to $18,000.

Because President Trump’s latest executive order was issued on March 6, none of the artists on the showcase will travel from one of the banned countries in question. Instead the organizers curated a diverse lineup from the U.S. and Europe packed with performers no longer living in their home countries.

Lead vocalist of Bassel and the Supernaturals, Bassel Almadani, sees the showcase as an opportunity to raise awareness for a cause dear to his heart—the Syrian refugee crisis.

As a first generation Syrian-American, Almadani sees firsthand how the crisis directly affects his own family, all of whom either live in Aleppo or have become displaced because of war. Almadani told the Daily Dot some of his relatives who began the process to immigrate to the U.S. five years ago have been affected by Trump’s immigration ban. Almadani, however, also sees a silver lining to the order because he thinks it boosts U.S. awareness and inspires citizens to do something.

“Honestly the immigration ban going on to begin with generated a lot of interest, particularly from the other side who are now more likely to speak up and resist these policies and take a stand in alliance with their neighbors,” Almadani said. “Through this immigration ban there are more people making noise, that were part of this showcase through SXSW.”

The lineup is truly diverse, not just geographically, but also musically. Dena El Saffar will open the showcase with a more traditional sound while Mohsen Namjoo merges traditional music with funk. Faarrows music has a more club-friendly feel, and Bassel & the Supernaturals play jazz-funk. Kayem even adds hip-hop to the mix.

Each band, however, shares one major trait: The groups hope to create social awareness and acceptance of their culture in the U.S. through their music.

“The whole underlying social mission of [what] we’re doing as a band—at least for me—is really amplifying the voices of over 10 million Syrian voices that right now aren’t being heard,” Almadani said. “This gives us an opportunity to be heard.”

It’s a mission that SXSW has taken to heart.

“The Executive Order restricting entry to the United States from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen has had a profound impact on the landscape of international communities,” SXSWs Haydon Bagot wrote in a press release. “Music has always been a medium for celebrating love and unity, but it is also a powerful vehicle for addressing social and political injustice in a way that builds up communities instead of turning them against one another.”

The full showcase will feature performances by Ash Koosha (Iran / London UK), Faarrow (Somalia / Toronto CA), Kayem (Libya / Chicago IL), Mamak Khadem (Iran / Los Angeles CA), Mohsen Namjoo (Iran / New York NY), Dena El Saffar (Iraq / Bloomington IN), and Bassel & The Supernaturals (Syria / Chicago IL). - The Daily Dot

"Bassel & The Supernaturals Making Music That Speaks to Issues"

For local singer/songwriter Bassel Almadani, music isn’t simply just a way to entertain people. It also a platform to educate people on important issues and help make the world a better place. One such issue he and his band the Supernaturals care deeply about is the Syrian refugee crisis.

Bassel & The Supernaturals Album Release
With: Molehill, The Maytags, Willy Dynomite
When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 24
Where: Logan Square Auditorium, 2539 N. Kedzie (relocated from Double Door)
Tickets: $12-$15 (21+over)

“When people come to our shows, it’s a fun type of music. We’re playing soul and funk,” says Almadani. “But through soul music, it’s only effective if you have that emotional connection with your audience. Addressing that issue and doing it a little more directly, I think allows us to create a deeper impact with our audience and leave them with a deeper sense of meaning or inspiration to contribute back to this issue.”

Almadani and his bandmates knew they needed to do something and the release of debut full-length album “Elements” provided them with that opening. They launched a pre-order fundraiser for the album with some of the funds (more than $2,600) being donated to local charity the Karam Foundation. Additional funds from merchandise and other means are also being donated.

“Their whole initiative is building a better future surrounding Syria, investing in the families and children that are forced out of their homes,” Almadani says of the foundation. “They give them a sense of normalcy and get them back in schools and get them back on their feet.”

The Syrian crisis hits home personally for Almadani. He is a first-generation Syrian-American with family and friends still living in the war-torn region, several of whom have died or lost their homes.

“I tour around the country frequently and partner with organizations, whether its colleges or churches or other types of organizations, collaborating on performance or speaker/Q&A-type of events to bring light to [the Syrian crisis] and telling stories of what my family has experienced or what brought things to that point.”

The band and Almadani’s heritage allows them to connect to audiences on a deeper level.

“Given our genre is this neo-soul and funk hybrid, our music is more traditionally American and appeals to a lot of people who otherwise have not met anybody [who’s] Syrian-American or connected to this issue in any way,” Almadani says. “Through our music, I’ve found that we’ve created a channel for a lot of people to have that personal connection to that issue and really embrace that identity and cultural connection to this.”

The band also has also seen the community support them following the unexpected death of bassist Mason Cormie, who died last spring.
“Elements” is the band’s final album on which the musician is featured.

Almadani feels the band’s sound on “Elements” is much more dynamic and complex in nature than on their 2013 EP “Dreamer.” That’s because the sound and stories are more complex; nearly 20 musicians are featured on the album, while the live show features nine.

“There are some very deep stories in here,” he says. “And the arrangements have aligned with that, too. There’s crunchier harmonies and thicker horn arrangements and then you have the addition of the woodwinds and strings. We were very intentional about each track and the story it was telling, how it’s shaped and its creation in a way that really told the story.”

The album’s lineup of songs features lyrics about love, loss, and the war in Syria.

“We cannot overpower the natural order of things and we have to learn to accept what we’re handed and to work with that,” Almadani says. “There are hints of physical elements all throughout the album, whether it’s fire and water and earth and sand and wind. We replicated sounds throughout it thematically.”

The band’s show on Feb. 24 was originally slated for the Double Door, where the band has played before and which has since been shuttered, prompting a change of venue to the Logan Square Auditorium.

“Double Door is rich with history, and you can feel it as soon as you step into the building,” Almadani said. “The production quality is also top-notch and we’ve always been treated well by the staff. Rarely do we encounter a staff that maintains as much respect for locals as they do for national acts. Beyond its history, Double Door was the first venue we played in as Bassel and The Supernaturals.

“The venue has been such an important part of Wicker Park for over 20 years, and it’s a symbol for the indie movement that put the neighborhood on the map. Losing the location feels like a nail in the coffin for many that have been frustrated with the changes happening in Wicker Park over the last 5 to 10 years.”

The band is definitely looking forward to releasing more music down the road.

“We’re really drilling into our funky backbone,” says Almadani. “I’m looking forward to some energetic music. Funky protest music that creates change. With the climate that’s there I want to activate our base and get people engaged on a deep level.” - Chicago Sun-Times

"'Banned' musicians with refugee roots unite in Austin"

It was a typically warm March afternoon in Austin — a Friday, and also St. Patrick’s Day. The alley behind the Palm Door club was a welcome oasis from the revelers along Sixth Street already rowdy from cheap green beer. The artists in the ContraBanned showcase had just loaded in their instruments, a variety of music-making devices from electric guitars and brass to rebabs and setars. Most of them had since walked over to the Austin convention center for a panel about the showcase and the thing that prompted it: President Donald Trump’s Jan. 28 travel ban, and this month’s revised version of it.

The showcase at South by Southwest, which The World helped plan, set out to feature artists representing the countries banned by the president’s orders. The idea was to highlight what America would be missing if these voices weren’t allowed into the country.

Dena Elsaffar was on her way over to the panel, too. “I love it when musicians come from other parts of the world to the United States,” she explained to me, “because it opens people’s minds. They get this connection through their heart, and it transcends political rhetoric.”

Dena has watched this play out since she was a girl. Her mother, a 13th-generation American, married an Iraqi émigré, and then steeped herself in that culture. She passed it on to young Dena, who assumed the mantle of Iraqi musical consul.

Elsaffar sees Trump’s travel ban as a spike on a timeline that started with the first Gulf War in 1990. More restrictions based on nationality followed sanctions on Iraq, then 9/11, and the second Gulf War.

Sister duo Faarrow views their activist role a little differently. Along with their family, they fled war in their native Somalia and arrived in Toronto as refugees (or as sister Iman Hashi had emblazoned on her T-shirt, “refu-she”). Now the sisters reside in Los Angeles, so technically they’re not affected by the executive order. But that didn’t dampen their excitement about the ContraBanned showcase.

On stage, they were proud and vocal representatives of their birth country’s people, delivering a scalding and meaningful arrangement of “Ready or Not (Here I Come).” If the Fugees took the Delfonics’ meaning of the song out of the romantic, Faarrow took it deeper into reality.

Bassel Almadani, a Syrian American from Chicago, brought soulful lyrics that recalled Boz Scaggs and Steely Dan, but made you think about the war in Syria, while his band the Supernaturals tossed funk licks between the horns, drums and guitar like a half-court pick-up game of three on three.

Emmanuel Jal, the lanky Sudanese child of war, now based in Toronto, took the role of ContraBanned’s Yoda. He opened his set striding slowly from the back of the tent to the stage, naked from the waist up except for glam mirror bracelets. His body and face were streaked with white war paint, but his words built on his message from the afternoon panel: “The people who voted for Trump voted out of fear. Let us fight with love because love will win.”

You didn’t have to be at the ContraBanned showcase to see how culture humanizes in Austin, the so-called live music capital of the world. Iranian musician Mohsen Namjoo was on the SXSW bill. He’s from Tehran, now living in Brooklyn, and for a number of reasons doesn’t travel back home. (“My family doesn’t want to come to the US,” he laughs, acknowledging that the travel ban’s personal impact is minimal for him.)

And after he presented his set of Persian American modal blues to an attentive audience, he recounted to me: “This is my first time in Austin, and [I] was walking on the street and I was amazed at this diversity of people, of races, of music, you know, and all of them get together just because of one thing: music.”

When I returned to my hotel room around 2:30 a.m., I caught up on the latest headlines, including the apparent unrequited handshake between Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

That idea — “politics demonizes, culture humanizes” — suddenly felt like more than bumper-sticker hyperbole. And the ContraBanned hashtag, #musicunites, felt like it had achieved its goal. - PRI Public Radio International

"Bassel Almadani talks new Supernaturals album and how Syrian war affected his family and his music"

Bassel Almadani is a Syrian-American frontman & lead vocalist for the touring neo-soul & funk ensemble Bassel & The Supernaturals. Riding timeless arrangements, Bassel sings about love, loss, and a war in Syria that has affected millions including Bassel’s own family. Bassel spoke with Jesse and Jill about his new album "Elements," how his identity has informed his music and more.

Check out the new Bassel & The Supernaturals album, Elements: - Vocalo

"At South by Southwest, the stakes were never higher"

What if they gave a music festival and people of certain ethnic backgrounds couldn't get in? It sounds like the subject of a dystopian novel, but the question hovered over the South by Southwest Music Conference as it wrapped up its 31st year Sunday.

The conference itself has always been a welcoming place, with more than one-quarter of the more than 2,200 performers coming from foreign countries. This year, the festival saw performers from China, Somalia, Peru, Ukraine and dozens more countries on stages across Austin playing in front of tens of thousands of registrants from across the music, tech, film and gaming industries.

As singer-guitarist Olivia Scibelli of the Nashville quartet Idle Bloom said of the conference, it is an oasis of "no misogyny, no homophobia, no transphobia, no Islamophobia — it's great we can connect with each other in this space."

But the oasis wasn't quite as diversely populated as it might have been. A number of foreign bands and artists scheduled to play the conference were denied entry to the United States by customs officials, including Italy's Soviet Soviet, members of Egyptian-Canadian hardcore band Massive Scar Era and London-based drummer Yussef Dayes. Though each year of the festival has seen bands turned away at the border because of visa issues, the problem is "magnified ... because of the current political climate," the conference said in an email to registrants. In the past few weeks, the Trump administration has imposed stricter immigration policies targeting Muslim-majority countries, and as the conference was under way Trump proposed to dismantle the National Endowment for the Arts and radically undercut the country's cultural infrastructure.

Against this backdrop — of specific ethnic groups, and art in general, under siege — the stakes never were higher at South by Southwest. It wasn't just about business as usual, the deal-making with agents and labels that typically underpins most of the high-profile showcases. It was about using the stage for something more than just self-promotion.

"If you take one thing away from today," said feminist drummer-rapper Madame Gandhi as her galvanizing set wound down on the conference's opening night, "it's own your story, own your voice." Gandhi's parents are from India, and her performance was about outsiders trying to find their place in an inhospitable world. "The future is female," she declared in one of her anthems, but her steely voice and agitated drumming also conveyed that a long road stretches ahead.

Bassel & The Supernaturals, a Chicago-based band, perform as a part of ContraBanned: #MusicUnites, a showcase featuring musical acts from the six countries under the travel ban, at South by Southwest Music festival in Austin, Texas on Friday, March 17, 2017. (Brittany Sowacke / Chicago Tribune)

That spirit of resilience resonated throughout the ContraBanned showcase Friday at a 6th Street club, a forum for artists representing Muslim-majority countries that are the focal point of the Trump administration travel ban. While St. Patrick's Day revelers roamed the streets outside, singer Bassel Almadani of the Chicago-based indie-funk band Bassel and the Supernaturals was speaking out for his heritage. "I am the product of Syrian parents," he announced soon after stepping on stage. His music was steeped in introspective perspectives on family, ethnicity and the notion of home even as its high-stepping rhythms conveyed a more joyous tone.

Another artist on the ContraBanned lineup, rapper Emmanuel Jal, was a child soldier in Sudan before finding a home in Toronto and forging a career that allowed him to tell his story through music. "My country is still at war and people are dying," he said before his set. "It's a responsibility I cannot run away from."

It was an evening in which the Iranian fusion music of the Mamak Khadem Ensemble brought cheers of recognition, as the singer's ululating voice floated atop a polyrhythmic river that included her finger cymbals. It was a reminder that for some, music is more than just entertainment, it's a lifeline, a connection to a community.

The power of that message chafed against the tone at many of the panels in the Austin Convention Center, in which a "playlist culture" increasingly dominated by a handful of streaming services (notably Spotify and Apple Music) left a troubling aftertaste. Talent scouts spoke of digital data as the new criterion for finding and developing the Next Big Thing, a more reliable way of measuring not only how often fans engage with a particular artist's music but how deeply. "There are plenty of artists who say, 'I do this for me, it's in my soul,'" said SonyATV talent scout Jacob Fain, but those aren't the kinds of artists that will attract corporate dollars. In other words, the musical landscape on the internet — once seen as a means of leveling the playing field between mainstream artists and those on the fringe — is now starting to resemble the old-fashioned music industry in the way corporations use data to empower themselves.

It was particularly dispiriting to hear Nile Rodgers, the co-founder of Chic and the architect of countless hits for artists ranging from Madonna and David Bowie to Duran Duran and Daft Punk, advise artists to associate themselves with corporate sugar daddies. "Our future is going to be with a lot of brands," he said at his keynote address.

Even the biggest-selling artist in Austin, Garth Brooks, had his doubts about the digital future. He recently worked out a deal with Amazon Music Unlimited to make his catalog available online after the failure of his own venture. Brooks, who played a couple of free concerts in Austin over the weekend, framed himself as a reluctant participant in a shifting internet-based culture. He has a master's degree in business, and he was all business as he addressed streaming services that cater to hot-take judgments and short-attention-span listening habits: "How many songs do you love that you didn't love at first?" he asked. How does a listener "discover what you don't already know? ... I fear for new stuff, different-sounding stuff."

The superficiality of streaming services can be countered by direct-to-fan marketing by artists, some executives insisted. The difference between connecting with an artist versus liking a song can be profound, said Martin Goldschmidt, co-founder of the Cooking Vinyl label. Because of the quick-cut nature of streaming, music has "lost that intimacy — direct-to-fan can bring that back because the listener is dealing directly with the artist, not just a track on a playlist."

The erosion of that personal connection, artist manager Benton James warned, could diminish the art even further. "A lot of the digital discussions we're having have so little to do with becoming a better artist," he said. "People in this business have to be careful about not being fulfilled by having (a certain number of) Facebook likes, because being in the business of selling this average product is really fleeting. Everything is about catering to this immediate satisfaction (of the consumer). The danger is we're going to end up with a whole lot of mediocre music that you never want to listen to again."

Fortunately, there was plenty of evidence in the streets and clubs of Austin that the music could be — indeed, had to be — about something more. As Madame Gandhi took the stage, she put into words what many of her fellow music lovers were feeling: "I've been thinking about how I'm supposed to live in a world where our president has zero f---- to give." - Chicago Tribune

"Visa Required"

Afghan interpreters risked their lives to work with the US military. Now a special visa program designed to give them sanctuary in the US is running out of visas.

Also: why one Syrian refugee gave up on his dream of ever coming to America; how one of the oldest restaurants in the US became the place to go for Thai visas; a trio of Italian indie rock musicians get a lesson in US immigration law; and Bassel Almadani shares a song dedicated to his cousin, Aya, who was killed in Syria. - BBC World Service

"SXSW 2017"

Jim and Greg have slight tans, can't possibly eat another bite of BBQ and their ears are still ringing. All signs of a successful trip to Austin, Texas for the South By Southwest Music Conference. Each year Jim and Greg make the trip to catch up on the latest trends and discussions in the music industry. On the show they catch up with Nirvana bassist Krist Novoloselic, weigh-in on Nile Rodgers's keynote presentation and report on the ContraBanned showcase that featured bands representing the nations affected by the Trump administration's travel band. And, of course, they share all the new music they heard. - WBEZ / Sound Opinions

"The 6 Best Things We Saw Friday at SXSW 2017: ‘Contrabanned: #MusicUnites,’ Lana Del Rey, Karen Elson & More"

On Friday, South by Southwest’s marathon weekend of bands and barbecue continued in Austin, Texas, while celebrating music from around the globe. These were the international highlights.

‘Contrabanned’ artists from seven targeted Muslim nations sang their immigrant songs

Immigration tensions dominated South by Southwest news before the fest even began — first due to seemingly controversial (and now amended) wording in SXSW’s booking contract threatening the deportation of any international artists playing nonsanctioned SXSW events, and then when at least a dozen artists (including Italy’s Soviet Soviet, Belgium’s Coely, Chile’s Trementina, and Denmark’s Eloq) were denied entry to the U.S. when attempting to travel to SXSW.

However, Friday’s official “Contrabanned: #MusicUnites” showcase — organized by Tamizdat, a nonprofit that helps musicians with visa problems, and hosted by Chicago-based Muslim comedian Azhar Usman — put a positive and proactive spin on the touchy subject, as performers from each of the seven Muslim countries targeted by President Trump’s initial travel ban came together at Sixth Street’s Palm Door. “If we are going to give voice to global artists, especially artists from often misunderstood and misrepresented Muslim-majority countries, and strengthen diversity in our culture, then we need to make it our mission to use whatever power we have at our disposal — the power of media, the power of capital, and the power of music — to promote diversity, empathy, and understanding,” Tamizdat explained in a statement promoting the event.

Of the varied artists representing Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, two of the standouts were Libyan-American rapper Kayem jamming with Syrian-American neo-soul band Bassel & the Supernaturals, and Emmanuel Jal of South Sudan, a child soldier turned recording artist/peace activist, who fired up the crowd with “My Power,” an anthem he recorded with Nile Rodgers and Chic in 2014. (Sample lyrics: “I tell you I will stand/Freedom fighter am on fire/Pen and paper my desire/Tell the truth, confuse the liar/I take my rights even higher. … The nation is being eaten by the greedy and the cowards.” - Yahoo Music

"Interview: Bassel & The Supernaturals stand up for Syria"

The Chicago neo-soul band's frontman on new record, activism, and playing SXSW

Chicago's music scene is one of the most undeniably woke out there—ask any fan of Chance the Rapper. Neo-soul and funk band Bassel & The Supernaturals are just as steeped in activism; their new record, Elements, came out on February 24th, and was built around the feelings of displacement that come with having personal ties to the conflict in Syria. Frontman and the band's namesake Bassel Almadani has used this heartbreak to craft the band's lyrics: his horn-tinged, danceable music relays these stories in a way that connects to people who want to be more aware and, more importantly, bring impactful change to the situation. Alamadani himself continues organizing; besides donating 20% of the funds from the new record the Karam Foundation, which provides for humanitarian relief in Syria, he will be a part of a special exhibition for SXSW that features bands representing the seven nations affected by Donald J. Trump's Muslim ban.

Popdust recently caught up with Almadani via phone to discuss the upcoming showcase, his new record, and his continued activism in the current political climate.

It's been a few weeks since you released Elements; how are you feeling?

I'm feeling great! We just released it on the 24th and I can't imagine a better way to release it. We kind of navigated venue changes and challenges throughout, but I feel it's kind of representative of the album cycle. It's easy for the experience to get ruined, but it's always brighter on the other side, so I'm very excited about the release.

How did the band get together?

So I moved to Chicago in 2010, I came as a singer-songwriter which was my background. I came to Chicago and I was singing and writing and recording for a while, and met a lot of people who were ready to collaborate and build. The Supernaturals formed in late 2010, and we evolved from there. I met a lot of musicians, collaborated in the city, and fell in with some other incredible musicians and fell into a pocket as the style developed. I shifted away from indie folk music to kind of neo-soul and funk. I gravitated toward that stylistically, and found a good creative bunch of people that had this concrete flow together. A lot of the changes happened with our last EP; a lot of that guys I was working with at the time moved away from Chicago, and then I met sort of the current iteration of this wonderful group of people, and that's who I've been really spending a ton of time with the last three years and working with them for Elements.

Would you say there's a big neo-soul scene in Chicago?

It's definitely very niche, but there's a deep appreciation and talent for neo-soul and funk. I feel like soul and funk in general are just different ways of the same style, so it's more like jazz and rock-infused funk, and different takes on the style. So soul and funk are the backbone and all the vertebrae that create what it is. [Laugh]

A lot of your music is steeped in activism, especially with everything going on in the world now, and Elements is organized around themes of loss and displacement. As a Syrian-American in the current political climate, what does that entail for you as a musician?

I'm very grateful to have a voice for something that's so relevant and personal. This crisis has been going on for five years at this point, and so many voices have gone unheard. A lot of my family has been affected by this, and it's affected a lot of innocent people, so I think being able to have a voice around this issue within a traditionally American style of music has opened up a conversation with a lot of people that I realize are truly interested in helping and connecting with this and don't have the resources or tools to make an impact. Sometimes, all it takes is meeting someone in the same situation to provide some insight or give names of organizations.

It's an interesting time for it, that's actually what we're doing at SXSW. We're playing a showcase that's already getting a lot of attention called "Contrabanned," and it features artists from the diaspora connected to banned countries in the immigration ban; we'll represent Syria. it's sort of standing up for how this immigration ban has affected artists in many of these countries, and committing to artists not already in the U.S. because of visas and stuff. Theres a lot of really interesting dynamics going on, so it's an interesting time to have a voice around this issue.

I find it interesting you mention SXSW, because they've been involved in a recent controversy regarding an immigration policy they put out.

Yeah, it's interesting because I heard from the event organizer that this controversy was happening and that this showcase that we're on is seen as sort of a nod that SXSW does cares about these issues; also, they're sponsoring it. [Laugh] I know they're putting out an official statement today on behalf of this showcase saying that they do care and this is an issue that they're navigating, so my experience has been completely different.

I've seen slam pieces about this controversy, but so far my experience with this controversy has been completely the opposite in the sense that a lot of these restrictions in the SXSW contract are pretty strict, but they're generic. They apply to everybody, so it's not like "you will be deported for this or that," but it seems like they were sort of jumping to an extreme there. It's about doing what you can to not create any conflicts of interest, but that's not really an example that we're pointing to here of artists being kicked out of the festival, and people jumping to conclusions seems to be a little short-sighted.

That's a relief to hear.

Yeah, I was surprised about that. I like that the organizer reached out to me to say "Oh, this is what's happening and we're representing the good side of this." That's the side I'd like to be on. [Laugh]

After SXSW, what projects are you working on?

We're touring down to SXSW, and on the way back up we have a slew of other tour dates coming. Then we're playing Summer Camp Music Festival in May, and we have some other exciting shows and festivals lined up so we're getting a lot of that in order. We've already started writing new music, getting the creative juices flowing. Lot of exciting projects coming up, but it's really been every day something new and interesting opening up.

This record is a humanitarian message, and a lot of unexplored opportunities are coming to the surface. If we have this conversation tomorrow, it would be a different story.

Follow Bassel & The Supernaturals on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Watch the video for "Sneak You In" below. - Popdust

"Cultural Manifesto / ContraBanned #MusicUnites"

This show is all about ContraBanned #MusicUnites, which is a South by Southwest showcase featuring music from the countries targeted in Donald Trump’s executive order travel ban. I'll be speaking with Tristra Newyear Yeager of the music PR firm Rock Paper Scissors, a co-sponsor of ContraBanned. I'll also talk with two musicians performing at ContraBanned: Dena El Saffar of Salaam, and Bassel Almadani of Bassel & The Supernaturals. Plus music from Yussef Kamaal, Ash Koosha, and Mohsen Namjoo. - WFYI (NPR Indianapolis)

"Band speaks to Syrian crisis through music"


Growing up, Bassel Almadani visited Syria regularly. A first-generation Syrian-American, he still had aunts, uncles and cousins in Aleppo, the largest city in the country.

Now he can’t visit the country that’s been locked in civil war for more than five years.

Half of his extended family is still in Aleppo, while others are displaced.


The pain, chaos and other feelings of the crisis have become a part of Almadani’s music, he said, music he’s bringing to Wichita for a second time.

“What’s beautiful about music and art in general is that ability to sort of remove the tension that maybe political conversations create,” Almadani said in a phone interview. “It allows people to humanize a particular subject into personal life.”

Bassel & the Supernaturals will perform at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Wilke Center at First United Methodist Church, 330 N. Broadway.

The ensemble plays neo-soul funk in the jazz-fusion genre. In between playing music, Almadani speaks about the crisis in Syria.

“Lost,” the lead single off the group’s new album, was inspired by the death of Almadani’s cousin Aya Sabbagh.

Sabbagh was a doctoral student studying biology when, on her way to visit her sister in Turkey, the bus she was on was attacked by a sniper, Almadani said. Sabbagh, in her 20s, was one of the casualties.

“The fury of that circumstance ignited the context for ‘Lost.’ In creating that emotional connection to the listener, the song itself is focused more on loss than this particular event,” Almadani said. “We all experience loss in one way or another.”

A Muslim, Almadani said he grew up in a diverse community surrounded by Jewish, Christian and atheist friends. Much of his energy is focused on interfaith efforts to raise awareness for Syria, he said.

Chris Edmiston, who does community engagement with First United Methodist, said the church wanted to bring Bassel & the Supernaturals back for a second time because of their “phenomenal” musicianship as well as their ability to combine the arts with social awareness.

“We saw this as an opportunity to raise awareness to the growing crisis (in Syria),” Edmiston said over the phone. “When it comes to a highly politicized moment, sometimes as Christians we get wrapped up in the politics of it instead of going back to what our faith calls us to do, which is to care for the widow and the orphan and the refugee and tend for their needs.”

Read more here: - Wichita Eagle

"Bassel & The Supernaturals spotlight Syrian refugee crisis through soul music"

Q&A: Bassel & The Supernaturals spotlight Syrian refugee crisis through soul music

by Zach Visconti | photo courtesy of the band

As many Americans live on streets untainted by the rubble of civil war, it’s easy to take daily comforts for granted. It can feel as though war exists worlds away, even one so relevant as the Syrian crisis. But as the crisis rolls on, many remain ignorant of its reaches and severity.

Syrian-American songwriter Bassel Al-Madani uses soul music as a vessel to carry personal stories to his listeners as a reminder of the state of the Syrian civil war. His band Bassel & The Supernaturals just released a new record, Elements, on February 24th. The band plays soul music filled with hooks and twists. Many of their performances are to people who have little to no experience with the Syrian crisis, offering an approachable take on a highly politicized situation.

The Syrian civil war has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, and in the midst of a continuing conversation about refugees and immigrants from the current presidential administration, the country remains divided about the role of refugees in America. Al-Madani speaks a personal testimony to the issue at shows.

“People say, ‘I don’t know how to feel about this issue because I don’t understand the issue.’” says Al-Madani. “But they’re just looking for some information about it.”

Al-Madani himself is very familiar with the Syrian Crisis. His cousin, while living in war-torn Aleppo, was shot down by a sniper. While it would be understandable for any person in that position to buckle, Al-Madani instead uses the energy to write honest songs about tragedy and share the story with audiences around the country.

Before the recent release of the band’s new record, and its Zoo Bar concert this Friday, Al-Madani spoke over the phone about the release and the stories of Syria behind his songwriting.

Hear Nebraska: Are you getting excited for the tour and the release?

Bassel Al-Madani: Absolutely man! It’s been a hell of a lot of work with this album. It’s a big production. We’ve had a couple hurdles to get past, but now the finish line is in sight. A lot of exciting stuff happening around the release, so we’re just getting ready.

HN: You’ve endured quite a bit of tragedy over the past few years. How do you think this comes through in your music?

BA: The music itself is very emotionally rich. It’s really created around the moods generated through these heavy experiences. So you just feel it, not just lyrically, but the stories are being told through the rhythm, through the sound effects and through the chord progressions. There’s a song in there about a fire, and you feel that adrenaline rushing. Or in the song “Lost,” it swings back and forth between the frantic feeling of loss into its eventual resolve. You get a lot of moods that circulate around these stories throughout the record.

HN: Being soul music, the record has a little bit of an upbeat air to it. But you definitely still get a lot of that loss and feel that through the music I think.

BA: We think of soul music as this timeless feel good music, but it’s also the music of some of the most difficult times of our history. It was the way people coped with incredibly difficult circumstances. It’s that emotional connection with the music that really told the story in a relatable way. So I think it really tapped into that level of what soul music is – using it as a channel to tell that story and to create that personality with a lot of people who have never met a Syrian person in their life, and who wouldn’t necessarily understand that struggle otherwise.

HN: I read somewhere that you used to perform indie folk music. Is that true?

BA: Yeah! I was a singer songwriter at that time. Just for context, I grew up playing violin, and I eventually went into drumming. I was just really excited about getting out of the classical scene and playing and writing music, so I just fell in love with indie music because I grew up in a college town. And then I eventually moved to Columbus, Ohio, and there was just a big folk scene in Columbus. It started marrying my worlds together of indie rock and folk, and I got really deep into like Sufjan Stevens, Andrew Bird, and a lot of artists in that vain. So as a singer songwriter, I knew I was only in Columbus for a certain amount of time. It just really appealed to me with my environment and with everything I was listening to to tell that story with just myself and loop pedals and whatever. [Laughs]

I moved to Chicago in 2010, and I guess it was really then that I started to evolve. I just sort of started to progress toward soul music. It wasn’t like this distinct thought, “Now I’m done playing folk.” It was just a natural progression because of that change of environment, and that solitude that comes with moving to a new place as an adult and not knowing anybody. And listening to a shitload of music and trying to figure out, “What do you love about this music? What makes it so timeless and beautiful and rich?” I just kind of got obsessed with Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Al Green. [Soul] kind of found its way to be an effective way to tell stories and translate that emotion into the music.

HN: So when you were a child you and your family lived in Syria, correct?

BA: I was born and raised in the States, but my parents were both born and raised in Aleppo, Syria. So it’s just my immediate family that’s here. I was actually born and raised in Northeast Ohio, but I would travel out [to Aleppo] every year or two and spend two or three months there. I’ve got a ton of uncles, aunts and cousins there. It was a second home.

HN: As an activist, how do you feel the music component benefits your advocacy for the Syrian crisis?

BA: Well what’s beautiful about music is, and just art in general, is that it brings people together around issues that otherwise might completely intimidate them. I feel like a lot of events that I’ve been to, related to Syria or otherwise, are largely preaching to the choir. You’re getting Palestinians, Iraqi, other Syrians, Lebanese, etc. But through music, there’s this really interesting and unique path that has allowed me to get into some other places around the country. So whether it’s Wichita, Kansas, Tulsa, Oklahoma, or Texas, or out East, I’m able to come as a musician with a personal story and not a political agenda, but with a humanitarian focus as someone who was personally affected by this and has a story to tell. I think it allows people to kind of let their guard down a little bit. I’m not there to tell them what’s politically right or wrong. I have my opinions on it, but the humanitarian mission is what we’re centered around, and the lives that are drawn into the middle just like my own family members. So I think music has been this beautiful path for the activism because it kind of removes some of that political tension for people.

HN: I’ve definitely read in other interviews that you perform mainly to people who have no experience with the crisis, but have you met anyone on the road who does have connections to the crisis?

BA: Yeah, I do think it’s pretty well-rounded. Our demographic is very wide in the sense that I do meet a ton of people who aren’t connected to this issue at all. But that doesn’t say that I never run into people who are. A lot of times I’m collaborating with Arab-American student associations or Syrian or Middle Eastern cultural organizations. I’ve also just organically ran into people at our shows who are impacted by this. It’s so funny, last year at a show in Chicago, this guy showed up during setup and soundcheck, and he was kind of just hanging out in the room. I went over and said hello, and was like, “Are you, uh, connected to the production here?” [Laughs] He responded, “No, there’s a guy named Bassel who’s playing in town, and my name’s Bassel, and I’m Syrian.” So I said, “Wait, your name’s Bassel?” I thought he was like messing with me. [Laughs] But his name was Bassel, he’s Syrian, and he moved here when things got really bad with the war. He saw my name out in the paper, and he just came to be present.

Bassel & The Supernaturals stop at Zoo Bar on its “Resist” tour Friday, March 10th. RSVP here. - Hear Nebraska

"Musicians from Countries on Trump’s Travel Ban List Speak Out Ahead of Performance at ContraBanned: #MusicUnites SXSW Showcase"

By Tamara Syed

The South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival has always served as a melting pot of cultural movements and musical talents, but this year’s ContraBanned: #MusicUnites showcase is bound to be an especially resonant and meaningful event. The showcase will feature a slew of musicians representing the seven Muslim-majority countries banned by President Trump’s executive order, with the aim of uniting people and building bridges through music.

The stacked lineup for the March 17 show at Austin’s Palm Door includes Khaled M., a Libyan-American rapper with Chicago roots; Mamak Khadem, a world-renowned trance artist; and Syrian-American soul-funk powerhouse Bassel & the Supernaturals; Atlanta based, Somalia-bred duo Faarrow, who deliver a heavy-hitting blend of hip-hop and pop anthems; Mohsen Namjoo, known as “the Bob Dylan of Iran”; Dena El Saffar, a multi-instrumentalist with Iraqi roots; and the mind-melding electronic soundscapes of Tehran-via-London artist Ash Koosha.

Dubbed one of CNN’s “Most Interesting People,” rapper Khaled M. pointed out that the travel ban has a negative and terrifying affect on U.S.-born citizens as well as foreign nationals. “Trump’s ban affected so many more people than just non-U.S. citizens,” he told Music for Good. “That group suffers the worst of it, but your average citizen doesn’t understand the psychological torture of being in a perpetual state of anxiety and fear.”

Khaled also touched on the underlying propaganda he sees in the executive order. “The ban creates a domino effect of fear that moves on to other marginalized or immigrant communities who worry about being next, considering the established precedent,” he said. Despite this, Khaled hopes that unifying events such as these will help shed a positive light on his Libyan heritage and bring people together. “Despite being subjected to oppression that rivals any other country, Libyans continue to be amongst the most hospitable and friendly people in the world,” he said.

Iranian-American Mamak Khadem, who blends traditional Persian poetry and vocals with cross cultural influences of Indian, Balkan and Indonesian melodies, believes the ban is history repeating itself. “It reminded me of how the Iranian students were treated here in the U.S. during the hostage crisis of 1979,” she said. “Many students were insulted, deported, battered, and threatened. It took many years to forget and forgive those days and finally call myself an Iranian-American.”

Khadem has contributed to the advancement of music on a global scale, having taught classes and workshops in the U.S., Canada, Greece and Ireland. Not surprisingly, she believes musicians play a crucial role in the world of politics. “Music offers a language that is close to people’s hearts rather than their brain,” she said. “Music offers tools to break boundaries that politics has forced on us.”

Syrian-American soul-funk outfit Bassel & The Supernaturals combine uplifting music with captivating lyrics about love and loss, as well as the war in Syria that has directly affected frontman Bassel Almadani’s family.

An outspoken advocate and humanitarian for the current crisis in Syria, Almadani believes the ban has caused unnecessary backlash against Muslim communities. “I am the product of Syrian immigrants, and my father delivered over 4,000 babies in the U.S.,” he said. “He came to the States with a group of other Syrian physicians that dedicated their lives to providing care for their families, and tens of thousands of Americans. The Muslim community has been working diligently since 9/11 to improve the perception of Muslims in the U.S., and Trump’s rhetoric has effectively erased nearly 16 years of progress.”

Although disheartened by recent political rhetoric, Almadani strongly believes that music has the power to influence politics. “Musicians have the ability to personalize issues that otherwise feel distant,” he said. “Creating a personality for an issue such as Syria motivates people to take a humanitarian leap, as they feel more deeply connected to it. Given that change starts with passion, the ability to influence the emotions of our fans is quite possibly the most important tool that exists in challenging a political environment.”

Showcase partners include globalFest, a non-profit that presents world music artists to the American music industry, and Tamizdat, a non-profit cultural support organization that advocates for foreign artists’ mobility issues in the U.S. - Music For Good

"Organizers, Artists Brave Cold to #FightFearBuildPower"

Despite freezing temperatures and strong winds, organizers, activists, artists and committed families gathered near Trump Tower for #FightFearBuildPower: Refugee Remix Rally last Saturday to collectively lift up the voices of refugee and undocumented communities. Commissioner Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia reminded the crowd to stay vigilant against individual acts of oppression, while Fr. Michael Pfleger linked the cold weather to the harsh conditions that asylum-seekers of all backgrounds face on a daily basis while seeking justice and stability for their families.

Inspiring artistic expression accompanied the powerful words of support from various community leaders. Syrian-American vocalist Bassel Almadani, along with his band, The Supernaturals, performed a compelling piece based on his relatives’ experience trying to escape war. Libyan-American rapper Khaled M. shared a piece on the struggles his father faced emigrating to the U.S.

The #FightFearBuildPower event series allows IMAN to continuously connect the narratives of those facing injustice and marginalization, and we urge you to stay connected to the effort by joining the thousands of people nationwide who’ve signed the #FightFearBuildPower Pledge. Thank you to all those who attended the rally, followed the action on social media, helped spread the word throughout your networks and continually keep IMAN’s work in your prayers.

#FightFearBuildPower: Refugee Remix Rally was presented by IMAN, sponsored by Zakat Foundation of America and co-convened by Equal Voice Action Network and the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations (UCCRO), with special support from the Catholic Theological Union.

This entry was posted in News, One Chicago, Organizing & Advocacy by IMAN Staff. Bookmark the permalink. - IMAN Central

"5 Local Bands We're Listening To in February"

Local funk phenoms Bassel & The Supernaturals are blazing new trails with their Elements album pre-sale. Syrian-American band leader Bassel Almadani and his bandmates are donating 20% of album pre-sale proceeds to the Karam Foundation, which provides humanitarian relief in Syria. Great music for a great cause. We can really get behind that. - Do312

"Bassel addresses the Syrian crisis and personal loss on The Supernaturals' new single "Lost""

Jesse Menendez spoke with Bassel Almadani of Bassel & The Supernaturals about their new single "Lost," his identity as a Syrian-American and how the civil war in Syria personally affected him and his family. -

"Bassel & The Supernaturals Debut New Single"

“Sneak You In” is the new single from Chicago-based soul act, Bassel and The Supernaturals. Bassel Almadani is a Syrian- American musician who has dedicated his creative spirit to raising awareness for the current Syrian crisis. With this single, the nine-piece band will launch a pre-order campaign for their forthcoming full-length, Elements. They’ll donate 20% of all merchandise orders to Karam Foundation for humanitarian relief in Syria and incorporate philanthropic incentives in the process, including the option to donate music lessons to underprivileged children and live performances to select charities.

“Soul music has the ability to transcend barriers, allowing access into the hearts & minds of people that could otherwise be impossible to reach . . . our fans have typically had little or no interaction with the conflict prior to meeting us. We’re acting as a source of information in our community, and more importantly as a voice for over 10,000,000 displaced Syrians whose voices have otherwise gone unheard,” said Bassel. - Northern Transmissions

"Chicago Reader: New Single Release"

...On Friday, August 19, local indie-soul group Bassel & the Supernaturals headline Schubas to celebrate the release of their new single, "Lost." The woeful, snaky funk tune was inspired by the devastating losses they've endured—a cousin of front man Bassel Almadani was murdered, and bassist Mason Cormie recently died. The band will donate a portion of the proceeds from "Lost" to Karam Foundation, a Chicago-based nonprofit that provides support to Syrian families. "Lost" will also appear on the group's forthcoming album, Elements, which is due early next year. - Chicago Reader

"CHICAGO TRIBUNE : Bassel & the Supernaturals spotlight Syrian civil war"

Bassel Al-Madani doesn't want audiences to just have a good time getting down at shows. He wants fans to leave Bassel & the Supernaturals shows with a sense of connection and, perhaps, new political awareness. The 25-year-old bandleader of the contemplative indie-funk ensemble is first-generation Syrian-American and has been using the band's shows and releases to benefit humanitarian efforts in war-torn Syria. This week at Lincoln Hall, his band co-headlines a diverse bill that Al-Madani put together to raise money and awareness. He spoke to the Tribune from his home in Logan Square. This is an edited transcript of the conversation.

Q: Can you talk about the evolution of Bassel, the band? How you got to where you are now?

A: I recorded my first album in 2008 in Columbus, Ohio, and then another one in 2010 that was just a singer-songwriter effort. I had been doing that all my life, and once I moved to Chicago in 2010 I immediately formed the group. I was coming off an album release and had a bunch of dates lined up out East, so I had to immerse myself in the scene and get a band together. I had done a music-related internship out here in 2009, so I knew people. So by the time I had moved back here in 2010, things were already in motion. Columbus had a big indie-folk scene, and so that's what I had been doing. Because I had been surrounded by that, it's easy to pick up on. But once I moved to Chicago, there was this whole discovery process, and during that I was thinking about what it is that makes music timeless. Thinking about people like Otis Redding, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye — very few people would ever say they hate that music, because everyone gets that soul connection. Soul has raw emotion, and it really appeals to people. I dug in and started really listening to Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, and bringing what I learned into the mix with the band. Fortunately, I work with guys who are really adaptable players, so we worked that influence right in.

Q: Why did you choose Chicago to launch your career as a musician?

A: Growing up in Ohio, I yearned to be in Chicago. Ohio had a scene where people really stick together in their bubble, stay comfortable. Here, the vibe is very different, because musicians here are from everywhere, all over the world. I am always looking to learn and to meet people, so that really compelled me.

Q: You have had an eventful three years here. How did that play a part in what you have been doing, raising awareness and doing benefits for humanitarian efforts in Syria?

A: Well, my parents are both from Aleppo, I am first-generation Syrian-American. All my aunts and uncles and cousins, they are all trapped in Syria still. I was dealing with my own misfortune going into working on the release of "Dreamer." Five days before we were supposed to go on tour to promote the album, my entire apartment burned down. I was in a strange space, but it really triggered my enthusiasm for life; I have really been blessed. My family deals with a war in Syria where there is no end in sight. My aunt lost her house when the military came in and took it over and told her if she ever came back they would kill her. I had no house, but insurance took care of me, I had a lot to look forward to. My aunt and her family did not know if they would be alive next week. It put a lot in perspective for me. I looked at the album and the shows as the perfect opportunity to spread awareness about what's happening, do the charity piece. Sure, we are raising money, but it would take billions and billions to "fix" that situation. But it's really about making people feel connected to global events. We lack artists who are willing to speak about their cultural identity and connect us to it.

Q: What has reaction been to all of this?

A: It's been well-received, especially for the charitable efforts. It's allowed a lot of conversation and allows me to say I am connected to this thing, and this is important to me. People hear about Syria on the news, and they just become desensitized. It's easy to use music as an escape for all the crap, but this really opens up the conversation about, what are we doing? What can we do to make a difference? A benefit is a way to be doing something, a chance to be learning more, even if it's just this one donation for entertainment.

Twitter @chitribent

When: 8 p.m., Saturday

Where: Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave.

Tickets: $12 (18+ ); - Chicago Tribune

"NPR Live In-Studio Performance : "The Morning Shift" on WBEZ (Chicago)"

Bassel Al-madani is a first generation Syrian American who started out as an indie folk singer in Columbus, Ohio. He got a bit of the soul bug upon arriving in Chicago. But his music is not all about getting down on the dance floor. Bassel & The Supernaturals draw a deep connection between the ongoing chaos in his parents' homeland and his personal experiences growing up in the US.and he tries to raise awareness about the humanitarian crisis in Syria. The band plays a Valentine’s Day show at Double Door but before that, they get the Morning Shift’s toes tapping. - NPR / WBEZ Chicago

"WGN Radio : "The Nick Digilio Show""

Nick Digilio welcomes members of the band Bassel and the Supernaturals for a great conversation and two tremendous jams. They’ll be performing this Saturday at Double Door. The 21 and over show begins at 8:30 p.m.

To download this or any of Nick’s podcast visit our I-Tunes page. Like us on Facebook (/nickdshow) and follow us on Twitter (@nickdshow.) - WGN Radio

"WGN Radio: Outside The Loop"

OTL #513: Guided Meditation VR, Another way to fund CPS, A local Syrian-American sings his heart out.

Mike Stephen chats with Cubicle Ninjas CEO Josh Farkas about transporting yourself to exotic locations without leaving your home via the brand new Guided Meditation VR app, talks with Center for Tax and Budget Accountability executive director Ralph Martire about funding Chicago Public Schools via taxes on services, and checks in with local musician Bassel Almadani about his smooth funky tunes and his experiences as a Syrian-American artist. Meanwhile, we discuss what it’s like running into a genuine “Chi-lebrity.” This week’s local music is provided by the aforementioned Bassel & The Supernaturals. - WGN Radio

"Bassel and The Supernaturals on Live From Studio 10"

Singer / songwriter, Bassel, is on a mission to unite his passion for soul music with his charitable disposition. Fronting his band The Supernaturals, he creates music that is uplifting sonically but is also a platform to spread political awareness of the conflict taking place in Syria.

Live From Studio 10 airs Tuesdays at 8pm CST on Vocalo 90.7 FM (CHI) / 89.5 FM (NWI) and, and features emerging local bands and music artists (with an occasional national act stopping by). One hour of music and interview, all live. The show is hosted by Jesse Menendez, produced by Fyodor Sakhnovski and engineered by Adam Yoffe. Subscribe to the podcast here: - 90.7FM / Vocalo

"WGN Radio : Patti Vasquez"

Bassel and the Supernaturals join WGN Radio in studio for an in-studio performance & interview with late night host Patti Vasquez. - WGN Radio

"NUVO Weekly : Bassel Al-Madani - Midwestern soul, Syrian heart"

Regular readers of this column have probably noticed that I frequently write about the role musicians play in the worldwide struggle for freedom and social justice. There's perhaps no greater struggle in the world today than the brutal conflict currently unfolding in Syria.

Inspired by the Arab Spring movement, Syrian protesters took to the streets in March of 2011 to call for the removal of president Bashar al-Assad. Assad's ruthless, violent crackdown on these non-violent demonstrations quickly escalated into a full-scale civil war. In just two years the war has claimed the lives of over 70,000 Syrians - - half of which are said to be civilians - - and created hundreds of thousands of refugees, who've fled Syria in search of safety in neighboring countries.

Bassel Al-Madani is a Midwest native who is using his music to spread awareness about the devastating tragedy in Syria. Al-Madani, frontman for Bassel and the Supernaturals will be performing two solo shows in Indiana this week.

"I grew up in Ohio. I moved to Chicago about three years ago," says Bassel Al-Madani. Listening to Al-Madani's vintage style Windy City soul-inspired songs, you wouldn't necessarily associate the singer with the Middle East, but his family heritage has kept him closely connected to the Syrian crisis.

"I'm first generation Syrian-American. Both of my parents were born and raised in Aleppo, Syria, which is where a lot of the craziness has been happening during the civil war," says Al-Madani.

While growing up in the Midwest, Al-Madani would make frequent trips to Syria to visit his extended family, "I would go there every other year or so. It's been about five years since I've visited. It's gotten bad over there and now it's extremely dangerous to travel."

"It's directly affecting my family in the Middle East," says Al-Madani wearily. "There are women and children in the streets begging for food and money. There are times when they don't have power. It's just a devastating situation."

But he hasn't let his despair turn into hopelessness.

"It's inspired me not only to try and assist in their situation, but to try to spread awareness here."

"We hear a lot on the news about the crisis, but we don't hear what we can do to help out," says Al-Madani.

And what is he doing to help out?

"We donated the pre-sales of our album to humanitarian efforts in Syria." He's also arranged a series of fundraising concerts with his backing band the Supernaturals, a jazzy, soulful nine-piece ensemble replete with full horn section.

I asked Al-Madani what drew him into the retro soul sound.

"Growing up in Ohio I was doing more indie folk stuff. When I moved to Chicago, I was introduced to the soul, funk and jazz influences. The whole '60s and '70s sound really stuck to me."

That simple freedom of creative expression, which many of us take for granted here, is a luxury that Al-Madani's extended Syrian family doesn't have.

"I haven't been recently enough to directly experience the cultural adjustments to what's going on. But people barely have the resources to get through to the next day, let alone having the ability to focus on their musicianship or artistry. At this point I think a lot of people are just scared to express themselves. When you speak out against what's going on, you're putting yourself on the line."

If you would like to make a donation to support humanitarian aid in Syria, Al-Madani recommends The International Committee of the Red Cross or Avaaz.

"Avaaz is doing amazing work inside Syria. They're getting inside to some of the areas where the need is most crucial."

Or you can make a contribution in person: Al-Madani will be performing this week at Rachel's Cafe in Bloomington on Thursday, March 7 and Lazy Daze Coffee House in Indianapolis on Friday, March 8 - Nuvo Weekly

"TVD Recommends: Bassel and the Supernaturals’ Syria Benefit and vinyl release show at the Empty Bottle, 2/28"

Chicago soul, jazz and rock group, Bassel and the Supernaturals will be officially releasing their new 12” vinyl, Dreamer, at the Empty Bottle tomorrow to coincide with the band’s “Save Syria” Benefit.

In Chicago by way of Northeast Ohio, front-man and Syrian-American, Bassel Almadani, has had family among the millions affected by the intense civil war in Syria. Half of the proceeds from tomorrow’s show will be directed to Avaaz and ICRC – organizations directly assisting families within Syria’s borders by providing food, blankets, water, and support.

Dreamer, engineered at Hinge Studios in Chicago, is an independent release funded by a previous presale campaign organized by the group. Along with the release itself, the campaign helped to fund the album’s recording as well as a three-week US tour and an already sizable charity donation to Syria.

Though the benefit has been organized by Bassel and is focused around Dreamer’s release, the headliner for tomorrow’s show will be Chicago hip-hop, funk, jazz, and soul outfit, Sidewalk Chalk. I’ve recommended the eclectic group here before, so this time I think that I’ll let the music speak for itself. Take a look/listen to the recently released music video for “Birds of a Feather” from the band’s debut full-length, Corner Store, and see for yourself why Sidewalk Chalk is a name that you’ll want to remember.

Jumping back into Bassel, the five track album, Dreamer, is available on 12” vinyl as a pre-order through the group’s online store before it gets its official release tomorrow. If you can’t make it to the show to grab your copy, the pre-order is currently running $12.99 with an instant digital download of two of the album’s tracks.


Advertise Me
Messages Pt. II
Blind Man, Climbing
Distracting Imagery
My Woes

The 21+ benefit show happens tomorrow night, 2/28, at the Empty Bottle (1035 N Western Ave), with Carbon Tigers taking the stage at 9:30 PM. Bassel and the Supernaturals will follow with the release of Dreamer, and Sidewalk Chalk will round out the night with their headlining spot. Tickets are just $10 for a good cause and can be picked up online through Ticketweb or at the door before the show. RSVP to the event on Facebook, here. - The Vinyl District

"Columbus Dispatch : LOCAL LIMELIGHT | Bassel & the Supernaturals"

He earned a business degree from Ohio State University, but Bassel Al-Madani didn’t leave his musical dreams behind.

He continued the pursuit, releasing a full-length recording upon his 2010 graduation — and throwing a party at Used Kids Records — before moving to Chicago, where he adopted a soulful sound and a band dubbed the Supernaturals.

The busy 23-year-old will return to Columbus on Friday to promote his new effort, the aptly named Dreamer.

Q What does your music sound like?

A Rock with ’60s-style soul, jazz and funk. My older material (before 2011) was more folk-influenced, so it’s safe to say Chicago has got a hold on me.

Q By day, you’re a retail analyst. How do you manage that and music?

A It’s a difficult balance, but it’s been going well.

The most challenging part is aligning my schedule with up to eight other members. But we love playing music together and will continue to find ways to make it work.

Q Who inspires you?

A Otis Redding, Etta James, the Temptations, Fitz & the Tantrums, Raphael Saadiq and Ben l’O ncle Soul — extremely talented artists and groups that don’t overcomplicate their music.

Q What are the greatest differences between performing in Chicago and in central Ohio?

A Chicago is way larger. There is a ton of talent . . ., which can feel intimidating at first. But it’s also located in the Midwest, so everyone is incredibly friendly and enthusiastic about the arts.

Wherever you are, it’s just as important to get out there, perform and talk to everyone and their mother.

— Kevin Joy - Columbus Dispatch

"The Music Vox Radio Interview : "Bassel discusses soul music and his Syrian background""

Chicago folk soul musician and leader of the band The Supernaturals, Bassel, joined Jesse Menendez on The MusicVox to talk about his passion for soul music, burning apartments, and how his Syrian heritage influences his songwriting.

The MusicVox airs weekdays 4-6 PM on 90.7 FM (CHI) / 89.5 (NWI) / - 90.7FM / Vocalo

"Morning AMp Radio Interview : "Live Music Benefits for Syria""

Bassel Al-Madani of Bassel and the Supernaturals joined the AMp again with hosts Brian Babylon and Molly Adams as he talked about the organizing being done state-side for the refugees of the Syrian conflict. Turns out one thing you can do is enjoy some music at a benefit show with Bassel and Psalm One on Saturday. If you are interested in attending the benefit, or would like more information on the show, visit the Lincoln Hall web site! - 90.7FM / Vocalo

"Vocalo Radio Segment : "Bassel and the Supernaturals are Saving Syria""

“We’re hearing on a daily basis just how bad it is. Just no access to clean water, or without electricity for up to 10-12 hours of the day. Conditions are just miserable and a lot of the the financial support that’s been going over to Syria hasn’t gone directly into the most desperate areas within Syria. More of the financial support has been in refugee camps outside of the country - so there’s a need directly in the country […] we hear so much on the news about what’s going wrong in the middle east but we don’t hear a lot about what we do to give back or help directly. So I figured this was a good opportunity for me to step up and take direct action. “

-Bassel Al-Madani, organizer and member of the Supernaturals

Bassel and the Supernaturals are playing as part of a Save Syria show Thursday night along with our good friends Sidewalk Chalk. They’re donating a portion of the door and taking more money for charities that are working directly with people in need on the ground in Syria. Bassel stopped by the studio this morning to talk about his role in raising money for the Syrian community. If you are interested in purchasing tickets to this event, visit their website! - 90.7FM / Vocalo

"Dayton City Paper : Playing with Fire"

By Rusty Pate

Bassel Al-Madani sits in his apartment on a seemingly ordinary night. The Kent, Ohio native began recording albums in 2008 and he now finds himself living in Chicago with his latest album, Dreamer, freshly completed with his group, Bassel and the Supernaturals. The band will shortly take to the road, but this night finds Al-Madani lounging at home with his roommate and cat.

A distinctly non-dramatic crackling sound emanates from the unit above. At first, it seems to be nothing, but suddenly, cries and screams can be heard from passersby in the street. A fire has begun on the deck of their neighbors’ apartment, and in a matter of minutes, Al-Madani and his roommate will be in a mad scramble just to get to safety.

“Suddenly, it’s full-fledged panic mode – straight out of a movie scene, smoke is bellowing into the apartment, the cat is freaking out,” Al-Madani said. “Our kitchen is suddenly on fire. It is nuts.”

Three pedestrians burst into the upstairs neighbors’ unit and awaken them as the flames quickly spread. The surreal scene seems light years away from Al-Madani’s humble beginnings back in Kent.

The small college town sits about an hour’s drive from Cleveland. Al-Madani’s said the town offered a wealth of culture, despite the small size. From there, he moved on to Ohio State University. In Columbus, Al-Madani hooked up with Ahmed Gallab of Yeasayer and Of Montreal to record his self-titled first professional EP.
“He’s always kind of been my big brother and was there helping me a lot in Columbus with a lot of my initial musical endeavors,” Al-Madani said.

After a second EP in 2009, work began on his first long player, Submerged, in 2010. While he has developed into a singer/songwriter, his childhood instruments were drums and violin. He began building Submerged from the ground up, bringing in Columbus musicians to help flesh out the sound.

“It was more of an indie-folk type of effort. I did that right before I graduated from [Ohio State]. I toured for about four weeks in the summer of 2010 to support it,” Al-Madani said.

After graduating from Ohio State, he made the move to the Windy City. While the Columbus indie-folk scene allowed him to begin to find himself as an artist, he always wanted to find a group of musicians to create a fuller sound.

“I always knew I was moving away from Columbus eventually,” Al-Madani said. “It takes a lot of time and energy to get people on board for a project. As soon as I knew I was going to be moving to Chicago, I wanted to dive into Chicago, meet a group of people and create a really solid energy.”

That group ended up forming from the ranks of Northwestern University’s Jazz scene. Al-Madani also began to expand his personal sound, drawing on more expressive influences. Otis Redding, Al Green and Chess Records acts became the linchpin that held together a myriad of converging styles.

While Columbus certainly represented a step up from the small-town life of Kent, Chicago brought the full-spectrum of big city life. Al-Madani approached it as a challenge and a chance to reinvent his musical direction.
“There’s a lot of room to breathe,” Al-Madani said. “You can play every single night of the week here in Chicago and you’re always playing to a brand new crowd. There are always new opportunities to explore.”

The transition from singer/songwriter to bandleader came with its own set of pressures. Opening up songs to discussion, change and transformation by the members of his band was vastly different from his days as a one-man crew.

“There’s definitely a challenge involved with letting go of certain components of your music,” Al-Madani said. “When you create a good energy with everybody, they want to help the vision come to life.”

The road band differs slightly from the studio configuration. With one member in medical school, it makes it tough to get away. The lineup for the Dayton show includes Bassel Al-Madani on lead vocals and guitar, Phil Anderson on keyboards and vocals, Zach Puller on guitar and sax, Swen Hendrickson on bass and Cameron LeCrone on drums.

The fire happened just days before the group embarked on a 12-city tour. Al-Madani finds himself dealing with insurance adjusters, living on his brother’s couch and starting almost completely from scratch. Still, he remains ever optimistic and upbeat. After all, moving somewhere should be relatively pain-free this time around.

“Moving out sucks, man – I don’t have to clean shit,” Al-Madani said. “You just throw all of it away and start over. It’s like a cleansing process. I’m looking forward to just getting the hell out of here for the next few weeks.” - Dayton City Paper

"Chicago band Bassel and the Supernaturals using music to entertain, provide understanding"


Bassel and the Supernaturals frontman Bassel Almadani believes that music should do more than just entertain.

Almadani, who is Syrian-American, also believes that music should be used to help provide empathy and understanding, especially about what is happening in war-torn Syria. Almadani and his band will perform May 15 at House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, as part of the venue's annual "Local Brews, Local Grooves" event.

I had the chance to talk to Almadani about the band's activities.

Q - Great talking to you. The band will be playing as part of "Local Brews, Local Grooves" on May 15, your birthday, no less. Are you looking forward to the gig? What do you think about the concept behind the event?

We are incredibly excited!! House of Blues is a legendary venue, and I've been looking forward to performing there with my group ever since I moved to Chicago in 2010.

On top of the fact that it's a gorgeous room, we've been offered the opportunity to co-headline an event that is centered around Chicago's culture and robust music scene. On my birthday too! Could a guy ask for a better birthday gift?

As for the concept, it's truly phenomenal. House of Blues and Live Nation have a rich history of working with top-notch acts from all over the world.

"Local Brews Local Grooves" allows them to integrate Chicago's homegrown talent into one of their biggest parties of the entire year. We are truly honored to be part of an event that puts the spotlight on our own city.

Q - I'm sure you've heard the band's music described in many ways. How would you describe the band's music? What would you like for people to get out of your music?

Combine Steve Wonder, Allen Stone, and Steely Dan's "Aja" to land in our general ballpark. Our music is contemplative, soulful, and dynamic. The stories are both emotionally saturated and accessible.

My goals vary depending on the setting, but my intention is to give the paint brush to our audience to create their own portrait.

Q - I understand your next album will address the ongoing conflict in Syria. Describe what people should expect from the album and how you were inspired to write songs for the album.

Going off of my last comment, I believe that the most effective way to bring our listeners closer to the Syrian crisis is to help them personalize the emotions that Syrians are facing on a daily basis.

By telling stories of love, loss, helplessness, and ambition, we are able to humanize the Syrian population. In a time where the war in Syria has become no more to most Americans than an occasional headline, it is more crucial than ever to put a face to the crisis.

The Syrian people need a voice now more than they have at any point since the beginning of the Syrian Revolution in 2011. This is what has inspired me to write and share stories related to the conflict.

Q - What made you want to relocate to Chicago from Ohio? What do you think of Chicago's music scene and how do you think the band fits into it?

I had my sights set on moving into a bigger scene with greater resources and challenges, and Chicago was the natural choice for me since my brother already lived here and I had a corporate job lined up that would allow me to reinvest directly into the project. Moving to Chicago without being attached to a community allowed me to dig deep for a sound that I could identify with, and I gradually shifted into the world of soul-jazz.

I quickly fell in with incredible musicians that exemplified these styles, found a niche, and contributed to a community of artists supporting other artists.

Q - The music business continues to change. How have you tried to keep up with the changing nature of the music business?

That's a fact! Of course there's no recipe, so our method is pretty simple: Be innovative, create a memorable live experience, and put our noses to the grindstone.

The deeper our connection is to the music when we're performing, the stronger the connection will be for the listener. Soul music is transparent, and it's easy to see through the bullshit.

That being said, I've also made a bigger effort to collaborate with universities and charity organizations across the country on humanitarian seminars in addition to our performances. Given my cultural background and connection the crisis in Syria, this has been a significant opportunity for me to connect directly with audiences seeking more information in a laid-back and accessible environment.

Q - What are the band's short-term and long-term goals?

On the short-term, we're genuinely looking forward to finishing the new record. We've been working diligently on this material for the last couple years, and it's beyond exciting to see it all coming to fruition.

On the long-term, we're excited to release the new record and to build off of the momentum. We've seen a lot of success over the last few years in Chicago and on the road, and we're planning to expand our influence.

There's a big and beautiful world out there, and we're ready to explore it so that we can inspire ourselves to keep writing and recording.

On both the short and long term, I plan to continue providing a voice for the Syrian people in any way that I can. I will continue to host humanitarian seminars, charity events, and fundraisers for as long as the crisis in Syria continues. - The Total Scene

"Chicago RedEye : Festival of Joyous Rebellion offers music, food and "real time social action""

Social justice, live music, food trucks… and everything in between.

The first-ever Festival of Joyous Rebellion will take place on Saturday, September 7, from 12 to 6 P.M. at 810 N. Milwaukee Avenue. The festival, which is organized by the National People’s Action Campaign (NPAC), offers a little bit of everything.


Several of the headlining musical acts will also be working to spread a message of social justice, including soul, funk and jazz ensemble Bassel and the Supernaturals, a group that is headed by first-generation Syrian-American Bassel Al-Madani. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune last month, Al-Madani, a resident of Logan Square, spoke about his family members in Syria, many of whom are still trapped in the war-ravaged country, and his goals to spread awareness through his music.

“It's really about making people feel connected to global events,” Al-Madani told the Tribune. “We lack artists who are willing to speak about their cultural identity and connect us to it.” - RedEye

"Hot Band Boys : Recap - Bassel & The Supernaturals"

"Bassel & The Supernaturals, based out of Chicago, brought their soulful spunk to Dayton, Ohio over the weekend. According to the foursquare check in, they were the main event...I watched Bassel and company give the bar a show worth talking about. His folksy-rock feel pleased the fun-loving crowd. Folks from all walks of life watched, danced, cheered and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. The band seemed to be really thrilled to be there performing and really gave it their all." - Thomas Ridenour - Hot Band Boys


Still working on that hot first release.



Bassel & The Supernaturals combines neo-soul and funk with captivating lyrics about love, loss, and a war in Syria that has affected Bassel Almadani’s family along with 10,000,000 others. 

The soulful Syrian-American vocalist and his ensemble raised over $11,000 during the preorder campaign for their full-length album, Elements (2017), with over $3,000 in donations for humanitarian aid in Syria. They were also featured in the nationally-acclaimed SXSW showcase ContraBanned: #MusicUnites featuring artists from the diaspora of the countries targeted by the travel ban. 

In addition to performing in clubs and festivals across the nation, Bassel partners with universities and charity organizations nationwide to host seminars, workshops, and benefit concerts drawing attention to the crisis in Syria.

"Bassel Almadani doesn't want audiences to just have a good time getting down at shows. He wants fans to leave Bassel & the Supernaturals shows with a sense of connection and, perhaps, new political awareness. The bandleader of the contemplative indie-funk ensemble is first-generation Syrian-American and has been using the band's shows and releases to benefit humanitarian efforts in war-torn Syria." - Jessica Hopper

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Syrian Heart. Chicago Soul.
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Elements (2017)

Watch: Lost | Sneak You In
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