Bassel Almadani, the singer who fronts the Chicago-based soul/funk/R&B group Bassel & the Supernaturals, has deep ties to Northeast Ohio. Born and raised in Kent, he blossomed as a songwriter here, where he regularly attended shows at the Grog Shop
“I was really engaged in music in Northeast Ohio,” says Almadani via phone from his Chicago home. He brings the band to the Grog Shop at 8 p.m. on July 20 to play a benefit concert for the Syrian-American Medical Society. The local group the Admirables will also perform. “I used to go to the Grog Shop every weekend. I’m really nostalgic for the venue. I’m a big fan of the venue.”
After moving to Chicago a few years, he started listening to the music of Otis Redding, Al Green, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder; their “emotionally saturated” music inspired him to put together his own damn band.
“That music taught me to tell a story through music and to be emotionally connected to the music in that way,” he says.
As a first-generation Syrian-American — his parents were born and raised in Aleppo — he’s particularly troubled by the crisis happening in the country.
“Our family has been deeply impacted,” he says. “As it started to get out of control, I needed to find ways to connect to this and use my voice to people connect back to this and be as loud as I could. As the crisis got out of hand in 2011 and 2012, I was getting out there and performing at colleges and churches. Since then is when I dove deeper into writing around things that relate to loss and love and all these things happening in Syria.”
Almadani says he doesn’t a clear-cut resolution happening soon in Syria because it’s such an “intense situation.”
And yet, he’s still hopeful.
“There are so many steps that can be taken to make a positive difference,” he says. “I’m out there advocating for positive change. The Syrian-American Medical Society is arguably the heaviest hitting organization in terms of humanitarian relief.”
“Lost,” the lead single from the band’s latest album, Elements
, reflects his feelings about the Syrian situation. With its soulful vocals and jazzy horns, it sounds like a track from another era.
“’Lost’ is inspired out of a personal loss within my family from Syria,” says Almadani. My cousin, who was a young PhD student in microbiology, was on a bus to visit her sister in Turkey and a sniper shot at the bus just as target practice and she was the victim and that deeply impacted my family. I took those feelings of loss and translated them into a universal concept. We all experience loss in some manner.”
The band’s uplifting music will add some levity to the benefit.
“What’s beautiful about all of this is that we have the opportunity as soul funk musicians to create a fun and dynamic environment,” says Almadani. “When people hear about Syria, there’s always this dark cloud around everything. It’s nice to bring people together around the arts to have this conversation and just think about how we can unite and make a positive difference.”