In Session: Bassel Almadani of Bassel & The Supernaturals

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Few things in the world have the ability to cross cultures, impacting a myriad of folks in the same fashion, the way music does. For Bassel Almadani and his band Bassel & The Supernaturals, this is evident nearly every time they perform. First generation Syrian-American, the musician delivers his extremely funky, grooving songs alongside a proud heritage. For him, it’s all about having those much-needed conversations in spaces that normally wouldn’t foster such topics. Through the power of music, Almadani and his band spread not only the powerful message of culture, but the ever-more-needed concept of acceptance, and love.

On June 25th, Bassel & The Supernaturals will be performing at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs. To get your tickets for the event, please click here.

I had a chance to sit down with Almadani prior to the show. What follows is our conversation.

Lucas Garrett: Thank you, Bassel, for taking time tonight to talk to us. How was your show?

Bassel Almadani: It was awesome. We had a blast. We played the Goshen Brewing Company in Goshen, Indiana. It was a perfect evening: weather was so nice; the vibe was really good – super funky and everybody was on the dance floor to close it out.

LG: I hear you’re bringing that show to my neck of the woods.

BA: I am!

LG: Let’s talk about that. On June 25th you’ll be at Caffe Lena.

BA: Yep! We’ll be nearby at Rochester at the International Jazz Festival on Friday, June 23rd. Then, we’ll make our way over to Saratoga to do Caffe Lena on the 25th. Can’t wait.

LG: Have you done a lot of these more intimate shows?

BA: Yes! I really enjoy that type of space. We play a lot of different environments. We’ll do the bigger festivals – the outdoor concert series and stuff like that. When we can do a listening space, I think especially those are something where we can do a storytelling element and open up a little bit more with some of the material that is more story-driven. There’s a different pace to it. It gives you so much room to explore – I love it. It keeps things fresh and I’m looking forward to it.

LG: I had a chance to check out some of your music – it’s great.

BA: Thank you!

LG: I’m hearing a lot of Steely Dan in what you’re doing, and a lot of funk. How did your genre that you play come to be? What made you really get into that music?

BA: So, I’ve been a musician most of my life and have explored various genres over the course of my life and music career. For me, when I moved to Chicago, it was pretty defining. It was a lonely time moving to a new city and trying to build from scratch. I really thought about what I considered to be timelessness in music, as a quality. I started thinking about Stevie Wonder, and Otis Redding, and Etta James… all these incredible artists. Al Green! The list goes on and on and on. To me, the common thread was just their ability to connect emotionally to their music and convey that to their audience. It was more than a show. By the time they came off stage, it felt like you knew them better; you had a conversation. Any genre we would explore going forward needed to have that element: soulful, truthful authenticity to what you’re presenting to the audience. Engage in that way.

The Chicago jazz scene is unbelievable. The soul and funk niches are a small pocket: incredibly versatile. The cats that I started working with in Chicago, we picked up that Steely Dan vibe. Especially, as well, that Stevie Wonder, Jamiroquai-type flavors in there that are comfortable, exciting spaces for us to explore. Lot of different genres with an underlying groove in what we’re doing.

LG: One of the elements about that type of music I love is that people all over enjoy it. You’re able to communicate more with one another.

BA: Yeah, absolutely. Being first generation Syrian-American, and that being an element, of course, to the music and the content, playing this type of music allows us access to spaces where they’re not necessarily meeting a lot of Syrian people, or non-white people, frankly.

We can get into those spaces and play that funky, feel-good music and mix that with groovy, heady music that has darker undertones to it. Open up space for a deeper, more profound conversation that hopefully lends itself to building compassion and empathy in these spaces. Goshen, Indiana, is a great example of that. To have that kind of connection with people that we did tonight makes you remember why you’re doing it.

LG: I wanted to talk to you about your heritage for a bit. When you go into topics like those in your song, “Aleppo,” how do people react? Are they like, “Whoa, what’s that?” Or, are they like, “OK, let’s have that conversation.”

BA: It differs, of course, depending on the space we’re in. I’m telling stories and connecting people to a deeper that’s based on helping to empower people to build a better life for themselves. It’s a message that I think they’re on board with. With “Aleppo,” it’s an upbeat and fun song, and celebrates the heritage of the oldest city on Earth. It’s great to tell that story on stage and connect with people on that. Talk about the food, and hospitality, and these other elements of what it means to be Syrian that are lost with everything that’s going on in this crisis. Of course, you get people that see it as brand-new information and you want to meet people where they’re at. I keep it always in-tune with my personal connection. My family has been impacted in so many with what’s happened and I think it’s important to be able to get out there and talk about it. Amplify their voices, because they’re otherwise not being heard right now. We certainly get a blend of reactions, but it’s almost always positive. Especially that song, “Aleppo,” it’s got such a disco-vibe to it.

LG: You mention the rich culture of Syria, and Aleppo. Does it ever get tiring as a frequent ambassador of that culture, discussing something that is very serious and going on right now, and doing it in a happy, upbeat way?

BA: I mean, yeah. It’s exhausting. It’s a difficult place to be, but it’s also just our reality. It’s a reality of what my family’s been experiencing. I think I have a certain level of guilt every single day. Not guilt that I need to have, but it sits there – it exists. I was born and raised in the U.S. with my immediate family. We were fortunate to be in our situation… how many loved ones have been lost? How many people have been displaced? It’s unbelievable the level of impact. For me, of course it’s exhausting, but it doesn’t matter because, to me, this is the way I can stay connected to a heritage that is right now being threatened for the first time in 5000 years of civilization! The oldest, continuously civilized city on Earth and we’re at that point. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to visit again in our lifetime. You feel like you’re going to lose that bit of your identity. It inspires you to stay connected to it, and that’s a big piece of what’s kept me close to this platform.

I love playing these shows: it’s a funky, feel-good time. It’s great. But there’s a more profound piece that keeps me connected to my heritage. I hope that my ancestors are proud, you know?

LG: Absolutely. So, you’re going to Rochester on June 23rd, Caffe Lena on the 25th, and a bunch of other places. What else are you and the band up to? What’s going on in your musical world?

BA: Bunch of exciting tour dates coming up. The week of July 4th we’ll be in New Hampshire, and Brooklyn, and D.C… that’s an exciting time of the summer kicking in. Come August, we’re being feature in a documentary by PBS. That’s really cool. We’ll be doing a shoot for a few days: they’ll be recording our performance and Chicago, and an intimate performance as well. It’ll be really cool. Now, we have a lot of new material, so it’s just a matter of time before we’re back in the studio, shedding.

LG: Is there anything else, Bassel, you’d like to discuss that I may have missed?

BA: This is our first show in Saratoga Springs, but I did visit the area one time with my voice. I stopped by Hatsational and got a really cool hat that is now on the cover for our album, Smoke and Mirrors. It’s really memorable for me. It’s a soft spot in my heart, so, I’m really excited to come back for this. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I hope people come make it out and check out the music. Twenty-percent of everything we sell goes to humanitarian relief for Syrian refugees through the Karam Foundation.

LG: I want to thank you, again, for taking time out of your night. After a show, no less! Good luck with all your shows and have a great time in Saratoga.

BA: Thank you so much, Lucas, I appreciate it. It’s been a pleasure.

LG: Have a goodnight.

BA: You too. Take care.

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