Music

Bassel and The Supernaturals lay a smooth groove laced with a serious message

Written By Fernando Gonzalez
July 10, 2024 at 7:14 PM

From left, Garrett Folger, Mike Gore, Bassel Almadani, Joe Rangel, Jeremey Poparad of Bassel and The Supernaturals. The band comes to the Dennis C. Moss Cultural Arts Center in Cutler Bay for one show on Friday, July 19. (Photo courtesy of @downtown_design)

The music of Bassel and The Supernaturals, the soul-jazz band appearing at the Dennis C. Moss Cultural Arts Center in Cutler Bay on Friday, July 19, sounds easy on the ear, at once familiar and fresh. The grooves, the horn arrangements, and the singing of frontman Bassel Almadani evoke the sound of classic soul like Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, or Marvin Gaye, but also jazz-pop standouts such as Steely Dan and Jamiroquai. You can’t help tapping your feet to it.

But often, there’s a dark undercurrent to the music, unexpected turns that break the mood, a hint perhaps of the larger message Almadani, a first-generation Syrian American, and his band are bringing to the stage. The themes of the songs are for the most part standard pop fare, love and loss, but then there’s also war, and collateral damage.

Bassel Almadani, a first-generation Syrian-American, says he has a “Syrian heart and a Midwestern soul.” (Photo courtesy of James LaSalle @InfinityPhotos19)

“Syrian heart, Midwestern soul,” is how Almadani puts it. He was born in Kent, Ohio, to Syrian parents, born and raised in Aleppo, a historic city. “There’s a big Arab-American population in northeast Ohio, one of the biggest in the country,” he notes. His father, a doctor, immigrated to the States in the 1970s. Before the war exploded in 2012, “I had a ton of family in Syria. I still have several aunts and uncles there, some cousins. About 20 percent of my family is still there. But it’s definitely not the place that it once was.”

And then personal tragedies brought the war home.  An aunt’s house in Syria was demolished by bombing. A cousin, she was 24, “an innocent girl who was going to go visit her sister in Turkey, somebody shot at the bus, and she was killed. That really changed things for me.”

Almadani earned two business degrees from Ohio State University and moved to Chicago in 2010. He lived there for 12 years and has now resettled near Cleveland. He made music all along, playing different instruments before embarking on songwriting, “indie folk type of music. I was really into Andrew Bird, Sufjan Stevens, Beck, and artists like that. I started taking on a much more groovy, funky, soulful approach after I moved to Chicago.”

Still, he notes, “In the years before the Arab crisis and the Arab Spring of 2011, I was just writing music. I had written a couple of records by that point by the time that the uprising started, but then I started talking about what was going on in Syria at the time because it was new . . .But then the music started to become heavier and darker and inspired by what was happening in Syria and beyond.”

The band Bassel and The Supernaturals are Jeremey Poparad, Bassel Almadani, Lt Headtrip, and Mike Gore. (Photo courtesy of Darnell McAdams)

By the time his album, “Elements,” was released in 2017, “it was saturated not just by what was happening in Syria but the difficulty of the human experience and why we shouldn’t see something like what was happening in Syria as something that is far away when it’s impacting people like me, a guy who grew up in Northeast Ohio. That’s really when the music kind of started to take on a different, tone and energy.”

He offers perspective and makes his case armed with a groove and soulful, smooth delivery.

“Aleppo,” a track on his album “Smoke & Mirrors,” released in 2020, is a good example. For nearly a decade, the city, which includes a UNESCO World Heritage Site and invaluable ancient buildings, was in the news as the place of brutal battles between rebels and the government army.  But Almadani doesn’t dwell on the tragedy. He glides over a high-energy, fast-paced, and lush arrangement. Part of the lyrics are sung in Arabic.

“It’s fun, it’s funky. It feels good. It has a different energy than others on the subject because it celebrates the heritage of one of the oldest cities on earth,” he says. “People have been in Aleppo for 5,000 years. And I like to tell that story from the stage and change the narrative of what people think about when they think about Syria and Aleppo.”

Almadani and his band are spreading their message about the plight of refugees and immigrants well beyond the Syrian community and not only from the stage. In May, he was part of “The Express Way,” a PBS docuseries hosted by Dule Hill that focuses on the transformative power of the arts. Speaking about his need to share his stories, he says “I don’t have the choice to be helpless now. What I do have is a microphone.”

Bassel and The Supernaturals, from left, Lt Headtrip, Herbie Hunkele, Bassel Almadani, Dan Bruce, Mike Gore, and Andru Dennis, are spreading a message about the plight of refugees and immigrants. (Photo courtesy of Darnell McAdams)

He also works with the Karam Foundation whose mission he describes as “centered around building a better future for Syria by empowering Syrians to build a better future for themselves. We donate a chunk of our merchandise proceeds as well.”

Working the Karam Foundation Almadani and his wife went to Istanbul, in 2019 to work with displaced Syrians. They offered workshops on professional development and, his wife’s expertise, the workings of the brain.  “I did a whole series on living through art and art and sustainability in the context of everything they were experiencing. It was a really profound experience for us.”

Still, the music is the message.

“It’s always been music,” he says. “Music brought me through some of the most difficult times and experiences in my life, and then everything happened on a grander scale. It just naturally took on an energy of activism and humanitarianism. But the music has always been the foundation.”

WHAT: Bassel and The Supernaturals with opening act The French Horn Collective

WHERE: Dennis C. Moss Cultural Arts Center, 10950 SW 211 St., Cutler Bay

WHEN: 8 p.m., Friday, July 19

COST:  $35 or $50 VIP table seating

INFORMATION: (786) 573-5300 or mosscenter.org

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music and more. Don’t miss a story at www.artburstmiami.com.

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