LEXINGTON — Bassel Almadani, lead man of the band, Bassel & The Supernaturals, described himself as being between two worlds.
The son of Syrian immigrants to the United States in 1970s, he was born in Ohio and grew up there. A large number of his extended family still lived Syria, mainly, Aleppo. His summers were spent visiting Syria and his family.
This all changed with the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2011. Unrest in Syria was part of the wider wave of 2011 Arab Spring protests. Discontent had festered against the Syria government, particularly against President Bashar al-Assad. Protests calling for his removal were violently suppressed which led to armed conflict.
The conflict is not a simple two sided fight. The main belligerents are the Syrian government and its Armed Forces, a loose alliance of mainly Sunni opposition rebel groups, the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, ISIL, or ISIS and countries providing support to various factions, such as Russia, Turkey and the United States.
ISIS, despite winning territory in the central part of Syria, has been mainly pushed out. Most of the central and southern portions of the country are under the Syrian government’s control, with the northeastern part of the country under opposition control.
The fighting has led to a humanitarian and refugee crisis which has affected 10 million Syrian people, nearly 6 million are interracially displaced. These families and people, traumatized by the war and hoping to escape the violence, have faced backlash as they attempt to resettle abroad.
Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic voted no in 2015 to help resettle 120,000 refugees. In 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order which suspended any further resettlement of Syrian refugees into the United States indefinitely. This has been the subject of active court cases.
According to the Refugee Processing Center, 3,024 Syrian refugees were accepted into the United States in 2017, during the first quarter of 2018, only 11 were accepted.
This crisis and the backlash against these immigrants is a driving force behind Bassel & The Supernaturals’ music and message.
“My family has been directly impacted in so many ways through the war Almadani said, “I have the privilege of being here in the states with my immediate family. A progressive immigration policy allowed them to succeed.”
Almadani’s family immigrated to the United States in the 1970s and his father started a physicians practice. “My father delivered over 4,000 American babies through his practice,” he said. Almadani pointed to his father’s success as the example of what immigrants are capable of.
Even being a citizen himself by birth Almadani and his family faced bigotry after the terrorist attacks of Sept.11, 2001. Almadani said he couldn’t fully understand the situation, as he was an American and had grown up among the people now harassing him.
After spending his early years in Ohio Almadani moved to Chicago in 2010. He had grown up playing the violin, learning the drums and eventually becoming a singer and songwriter. His move to Chicago prompted, “A lot of soul searching,” he said, and led him to the community which would help see the start of the band, Bassel and the Supernaturals.
Political advocacy would be the wrong word to describe the message of Bassel and the Supernaturals. Almadani described their music as more, “culturally driven,” he said.
“We want to build compassion and empathy by being able to share our experiences and the humanity in these stories,” he said, “We are all living a human experience together. I like to think of myself as a cultural advocate.”
Almadani said this message and story is easily shared through music. “Music can make these spaces where we can have a conversation. Our music is rooted in soul and funk, which is effective to creating a message and reinforces it.”
Creating access to other people and experiences is another goal of the music of the Supernaturals, Almadani said. “It creates a connection.”
“Everyone listens to music,” Almadani said, he added he was inspired to channel this message through his music. “It isn’t politically driven, I did not choose to be Syrian, this is not a political issue to me,” he said referring to the personal nature of the conflict and its effects on his family.
Bassel & The Supernaturals formed in 2010 in Chicago and have toured the United States and Canada, playing 50 to 60 shows a year. “Everyone is juggling different projects or prospective jobs,” Almadani said of his band members, “We came together to heal and to amplify peace, it’s a constant drive.”
The band’s first full length album, “Elements,” was released in 2017. Almadani said 20 percent of their merchandise proceeds go to humanitarian relief through the Karam Foundation which helps aid Syrian students.
The band’s latest album,” Smoke & Mirrors,” will be released on May 31, 2019. “This new album is coming from a different angle, a different perspective,” Almadani said.
Almadani helped to co-produce the the multi-genre humanitarian tour, Amplify Peace, in collaboration with other Arab-American artists who have also been impacted by the Syrian Civil War. During this tour the band performed at the John F. Kennedy Center and the Arab American National Museum.
Their tours are not just regulated to concert halls, Bassel & The Supernaturals have played in churches, colleges and cultural centers to help create connections, spread awareness and educate people about immigrants experiences. These performances often feature lectures, interactive workshops and question and answer sessions, he said.
When asked about the response to the band’s music and message, Almadani said, “It’s been beautiful and very reinforcing. I believe people are inherently good and so many want to form these different bonds. People are looking for ways to contribute to a positive solution to the situation. Yet we are still funky musicians. So many people are trying to figure this out. It’s what makes this country beautiful.”
“At the end of the day I want people to keep their ears and hearts open,” Almadani said, “People can be paralyzed about lack of knowledge on a topic, the more we can open ourselves to the people around us, the more it will lead to understanding.”
Bassel & The Supernaturals will be in Lexington on Friday, March 29. They will perform at Lexington High School in the afternoon and play at the First United Methodist Church at 7 p.m.