Music

Paste Sessions: Bassel Almadani Talks Syria, Otis Redding, and How They Connect

Music Features Bassel & The Supernaturals
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Paste Sessions: Bassel Almadani Talks 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.

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