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For Bassel Almadani, sharing his experience as a first-generation Syrian American involves more than just talking to people. For a start, you can dance to it.
That’s because he’s the frontman for Bassel & The Supernaturals. The band blends his soulful melodies and funk-inspired rhythms into a jazzy stew that features lyrics regarding love, loss, and even the war in Syria.

If that sounds an unlikely combination of elements, you’re not wrong, but even a brief listen reveals how well it works. The audience at Milliken Auditorium will be able to judge for itself when the band performs March 19 at Dennos Museum Center.

The Beats of the Business
Almadani began playing violin at 10 before shifting to drums a few years later. Then he picked up a guitar and began writing his own songs. He continued his academic studies as well, graduating with a BA before studying business at the Ohio State University, eventually earning graduate degrees there in both logistics management and international business.

Those degrees have served him well when it comes to building a broad-based career. “It’s drilled into you when young, you’ve got to put your head down, work your ass off,” Almadani says. “Most music institutions don’t fight against that [singular] approach. They don’t teach you how to create a brand, seize opportunities, make a living.”

The layered approach to his music career became even more important when the pandemic shuttered venues and cut off performing for virtually all musicians. Almadani says the shutdown gave him a chance to step back and take stock. “Writing, rehearsing, touring—it’s endless and it’s vicious. I recalibrated my life, what I want to do with family, friendships, music.”

To Syria, with Love
Speaking of family, though Almadani was born and raised in the U.S., many of his relatives, including his parents, are from Aleppo, Syria. Bassel & the Supernaturals works closely with organizations to build awareness of and empathy for Syrian refugees through events, residences, and donating a portion of its proceeds to foundations and charities.

“The music is going to be phenomenal,” he says of the upcoming show. “And there’s a deeper layer to our engagement. The stories are deep and personal, connected to my advocacy work. Above and beyond the music is an opportunity for advocacy.”

In this pursuit, Almadani has collaborated with the Syrian American Medical Society, Intercultural Music Production, and several Arab-American artists. He’s outspoken about his heritage and how negative stereotypes impact us all, using music to connect to anyone with ears open to listen.

Almadani says he has observed and experienced prejudice in his life. “There was a lot of racism (against Arab Americans) in the wake of 9/11. When Trump was in office, he targeted specific countries, which led to extra negative attention,” he says.

That despite what people from his homeland, among other places, did both abroad and in this country. “People like my father. A doctor, he brought 4,000 babies into this world.”

As an example of what he’s gone through, Almadani relates a story about meeting a woman at a church in Wichita, Kansas. She came up to him and agreed that Syrian refugees needed to be welcomed. “They really deserve a better place—just not here,” she told him.

“It’s tough. It hits you in the gut,” Almadani says.

Almadani admits he was afforded a privilege others were not as a result of simply growing up in the U.S. He says he didn’t do anything to earn it or deserve it, telling the Toledo City Paper, “Songwriting has been a way for me to lift up (my family’s) voice and to help me stay connected with my cultural DNA, at a time when I feel it’s threatened.”

Being able to combine advocacy for all people, no matter their race or ethnic heritage, with music that moves people is Almadani’s passion. “It’s Syrian beat with Midwest soul,” he says of his musical approach. “We’re bringing grooves, a fresh sound: R&B, jazz, lots of flavors. You’ll find yourself tapping your toes and thinking deeply about the context.”

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