This is Allie Sopoca, from Arlington Heights, Illinois. We met Allie while watching Bassel and the Supernaturals play a Funk set in the sunshine. When asked who her favorite artists were, she mentioned that she loved Jam Bands, especially Umphrey’s McGee. When asked what made her happy, she answered Twisted Tea above all 😉 We asked her if she had a random fact to share, but she had absolutely nothing to report. “Nothing, can that be my random fact?”
This is Grace Elizabeth Meyer, from Northbrook, Illinois. Grace stayed in our campsite during the entire SCAMP weekend. She is also a talented illustrator. When asked who her favorite artist was, she answered Brandon Boyd. Many things make Grace happy, including honest relationships, music, bringing people together, friends, and realism. She had a particularly interesting random fact, “One of my blue eyes has a splotch of brown in it.”
We met Kayla and Brandy by the Electronic Stage at SCAMP, during the sunset on the first evening. They said they were both from Peoria, Illinois. When asked what made them happy, they both answered the positive energy out in the world, people, and excellent vibes. Their random fact, apparently Octopuses have their d*** on their noses??
This is Amanda & George, from Washington, DC. They were particularly fond of the band Disco Biscuits. When asked what made them happy Amanda responded love and light. George, looking towards her, responded “This girl right here.” 🙂 For both of their random facts, they decided to share some advice. Amanda said, “Everyone’s doing the best they can with what they know.” George responded, “Put your head where your heart is.”
This is Racha from the QUAD CITIES. Above all, his favorite artist is Donald Glover. Simply being alive makes him happy. His random fact, everybody is entitled to their own happiness. He is also sporting a mean looking leopard cape.
This is Jessica from down south, namely Burban, Alabama. A fan of electronic music, here favorite artist is Pretty Lights. Friends and getting to know new faces make her the happiest. Her fact was truly random, ” Lennie is a d***, but I have a pet dinosaur!”
This is Saundra, hailing from Baltimore, Maryland. A slightly older attendee, age 60, she was attending the festival with her daughter. She mentioned that her daughter was more in touch with the artists of the time than herself, but she did say that she enjoyed Moe. Quite a few things make Saundra happy, some of which include time traveling, listening to music with her daughter, new experiences, and pushing her comfort zone “…because, well, I’m 60 years old…” When asked to share a random fact, she was very insightful. “While I’m here, I see many progressive young people fighting the same fights that I pushed for when I was their age. It makes it difficult because it seems like we haven’t made as much progress, almost as if my generation has failed.”
This couple was enjoying a very tasty looking Sub. They declined to comment, but did wish to tell our readers that sandwiches make most everyone happy.
This couple traveled all the way from Humboldt County, California to set up a booth and sell their wares. While the man was a California native, his wife was from Japan. They enjoyed many of the full bands and travel to many festivals to sell crystals, jewelry, incense, and other goods. Their random fact, it was their soon to be child’s first festival!
This man was a food vendor selling delicious and nontraditional comfort-food egg rolls. While he was busy on the job and didn’t have much time to converse, he posed with his hand puppet for a picture.
This is Emily from CHITOWN. She is into some great bands and female artists, including Primus, Björk, Grimes, and FKA Twigs. When asked what makes her happy, she said making music. Her artist name is Carlile, and she also mentioned that she would be playing at 11:30PM on the bus stage the following day. Her random fact, Dogs are better than people!
This is Reyna Won from Ann Arbor, Michigan. She is also a WNUR member and a Northwestern Student! She will be our active Apprenticeship Director this year for the Streetbeat program. We took this picture while jamming to a 7 piece band on the grass. Rey didn’t have a favorite artist per say, but loved all of the music we had heard that day. When asked what makes her happy, she said “the hooper to my left.” Her random fact, “Use your imagination!”
This dude is named Jared Militello, from Detroit, Michigan. His favorite artists are Space Jesus, Yhetti, and Bassnectar. When asked what made him happy he replied, “Money and women, but only right away, maybe not in like five years.
Seeing some great DJs with people I haven’t met yet. Us all coming together”.
He also said he wasn’t present so he’d rather not mention a random fact, but wanted to assure us that he had plenty of facts should we ask in the future.
This is Lucas Parker from Cincinnati, Ohio. I was amazed by his musical ability, particularly with his instrument of choice. Lucas plays the saw. When asked about his favorite artist, he said that he loves Electric Orange Peel, and he also mentioned that he did their album art. A man of many talents, he mentioned that singing, and the creative energy to make things ultimately brings him the most happiness. He also offered us a number of random facts, firstly, that the curves in the saw make the tone and change the pitch. Lastly, RoRoRo Your Boat is his favorite song.
This is Maxwell Edison from Plainfield, Illinois. His favorite group is Eoto, because he loves the live improve and dynamic they have when they perform. Sharing his passion for music and seeing how it effects others gives him happiness. His random fact? Tipping handpan players is good for your health. 😉
Our last encounter was with Patrick from Chicago, Illinois. He painted in the middle of a field during a performance, by the outskirts of the crowd. Patrick gave us one of his favorite visual artists, the Polish Surrealist Zdzisław Beksiński. Animals and good food make Patrick happy. A very relevant fact that he shared, the first drawings he ever made were of DINOSAURS. :O
This past memorial day weekend, the WNUR Media Team scurried over to Summer Camp Music Festival in Chillicothe, IL. The festival itself was Neverland; a tent city of over 20,000, buried in the forest and along park grounds. Stages featured music across genres, including jam bands, techno, and powwow. Over the course of three days, festival goers developed a rich informal economy and community dynamic. The weekend was filled with craftspeople, many of whom sold, traded, or bartered their wares. Beyond these informal creatives, the stage acts were equally captivating.
Our team had the privilege of interviewing the lead singer, Bassel, of Bassel and the Supernaturals. Bassel, a first generation Syrian American, engages and raises awareness for the Syrian refugee crisis. As an activist, spokesperson, and artist, Bassel plays an important role in creating a dialogue about the problems facing Syrians, both within and outside of the states. This interview provides a lens for his message, which is also highlighted in the band’s 2017 album, Elements. The group gave an outstanding performance at SCAMP, and successfully conveyed their mission. The ensemble directly contributes to The Karam Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to providing a better future for Syria. Donations are accepted here.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Marc: Alright great! So first can you tell us a little about yourself and your band. Where are you guys from?
Bassel: Yes, we’re Bassel and the Supernaturals. I’m Bassel Almadani, and we’re based in Chicago. We’re a 7 piece neo-soul funk ensemble. I’m first generation Syrian American, and we are all some really funky dudes, and we’re at Summer Camp today.
Marc: Thats awesome. How did you meet the members of your band, and are they also Syrian American?
Bassel: They are not Syrian American, but a lot of them are connected to this issue in some way or another. We met through the music scene. I went to Chicago 7 years ago as a songwriter, and been in Chicago performing, getting out there, touring, meeting artists pretty consistently… and met my drummer through Loyola music scene. I met my guitarist through the DePaul scene, and that sort of expanded and I met a lot of musicians between both those schools and my whole funk network just kind of rapidly expanded from there.
Marc: That’s great, so the collegiate scene had a pretty large impact in meeting different artists, and getting out there, at least in Chicago?
Bassel: From the get go, from the get go forsure. And then as I started playing out more often, I really became apart of the soul funk family in Chicago, which is very closely knit. Whether it’s band mates that play in other soul and funk projects, or we all work with each other and sort of become a big collaborative network.
Marc: That’s awesome, and you mentioned there’s a full length album that was recently released in 2017 called Elements? Can you describe your process and some of the trials and tribulations of creating the album, the nature of it, how has it been?
Bassel: We released the album in February, so earlier this year, and it’s full length is Elements, and it was over 2 years in the making. It started tracking in february of 2015. There’s a lot of layers to it, there’s a lot of musicians involved, well beyond our rhythm section, we had a full piece horn section, auxillary percussion, backup vocals, strings, and woodwinds. We really went in and added a lot of textures on to this album. Then earlier this, I guess last year, a little over a year ago, our bassist on the album passed away, like really unexpectedly. He was from the DePaul music scene and was an unbelievably funky dude. And that just kinda put a pause on things as we recalibrated, and we really dug in, and made sure this album sounded as good as it could possibly be, to do diligence to his amazing talent. So we finally released the album in february, and did a pre-order campaign behind the album; donated 3,000 dollars to the Karam Foundation for humanitarian aid in Syria. So ya we had this whole crowd funding campaign going on in December, and we did the donation and then essentially released the album in february, and then hit the road in march. We did a handful of tour dates, we went to South By Southwest, and it’s just been really picking up speed since then.
Marc: So it sounds like the album has been very politically impactful, actually receiving help from donations for the Syrian refugee crisis, and sonically it sounds very interesting. What do you think the message of the album has really been about in general? Contextually what do you talk about within it, motivations of it?
Bassel: Ya well the concept of Elements, there’s a literal component to it, where there’s references to Water and Fire and Earth and the all connect to stories that also relate to these elements. But what brings it all together is that natural order of the world and being above and beyond something that is within our control. Which I believe is a fundamental learning, as it relates to Syria. There are some things that we cannot control related to this, but we have to adapt, and we can’t ignore this crisis that is happening in our backyard, that has been affecting my family members. Even though it does seem beyond anything that one person can have a huge impact on, we have to adapt and we have to stay noisey around this issue and stay connected to this, in a deep way. So ya it definitely relates to Syria in that way, but it also above and beyond that, the circumstance with our Bassist, or just all the obstacles that we’ve experienced in the making of this record.
Marc: You said NOISEY, and actually, I heard you were premiered on NOISEY as well as VICE, and a number of other news outlets. So I’m wondering what is the role that the news and media, and Universities as well, from what it sounds like, what roles have they played in the dissemination of your message?
Bassel: Well last year in particular it played a much bigger role. One thing I didn’t mention after the album was released and we went to South by Southwest, the showcase that we were involved with at South by Southwest was called Contraband, and it featured artists from the countries targeted by the immigration ban. So we represented Syria as part of that showcase. So that led to a lot of national press. We had writers following us for a few days, Al Jazeera… they were coming out of the woodwork, which was really beautiful to see. I’ve been out there talking about Syria for over 6 years because I’m very personally connected to this issue, and I think a lot of people were nervous to get near it, or didn’t want to get political. Even though all these innocent people are dragged into the middle of this issue, and the way that their lives have all been affected, it felt like this political issue that people didn’t want to get near. So it took a lot of connecting with people, getting to know people, and creating collaborations from a trusting place. Not coming in with some message of how people should think. So I think once the election came, and that issue came home, and we had the refugee ban that came to place, I think people felt a need, an urgency, to become connected to this issue, and to make a positive impact. So I think at that point is when something like this showcase at South by Southwest opened up for us as this opportunity, to have this voice on a national platform, and to know that people are hearing and caring about it. So that was, that was really beautiful, and I feel like, particularly since the election, finding people who are more connected to this issue, more student organizations that are seeking us out for performances or speakers, or Q and A engagements, cultural centers and churches, a lot of people that feel like they’ve been sitting around too long and need to act now.
Marc: Yes, that actually leads me perfectly to my last question. Obviously we are a student, University, and community funded radio station. What is the best way for listeners, and people just generalized, to move forward and make an impact on this problem, this crisis? What do you think is the most direct way?
Bassel: I think more than anything, finding a way to stay connected, through experiences like this. I don’t know if, have you guys met a Syrian person before? I always like to ask that…
(Our Media Team shook our heads no)
Bassel: Yes, so I think a lot of times people that I’ve talked to haven’t met a Syrian person, so it feels like an issue that’s super far away. Now when you hear about things in the news, or you hear about a charity organization, you can make a personal connection to that, and it’s a very significant impact. So I think just staying connected to it, and you know being able to personalize that, is a really important step. Engage and go to festivals, you know whatever it is. But above and beyond that there are some amazing organizations in the US that are doing fantastic work, and some right in our backyard. There’s one close to Chicago, in Evanston, called Karam foundation. That’s where we’ve donated a lot of the proceeds from our pre-order and we’re working to consistently donate proceeds from our merchandise, it goes to Karam foundation. Their whole mission centers around building a better future for Syria by empowering children and families, getting them back into schools, providing them with care, transportation to get them to these schools, helping them get back on their feet so they can steer their own futures.
Marc: So it’s a very direct, tangible way to impact.
Bassel: Yes, and there are others, there’s a few other organizations right here in the US. There’s the Syrian American Medical Society, Syrian American Council, and then there’s a lot of others that are doing amazing work, whether it’s for refugees in the states, for refugees right on the border between Syria, Jordan, and Turkey, or refugees inside of syria, that are doing policy work and advocacy. I think just identifying the way that you want to help and seeking out the organizations that are doing that work to really compound the effectiveness of the work they’re doing.
Marc: Ya, we’re all excited to one, see your show at 4 PM, and two, hopefully help spread your message.
Bassel: Thank you brotha, hope it doesn’t stay too muddy!
Earlier this year, thanks to the efforts of the NU administrative team and Weinberg Senior Andrew Kaplowitz, Cuban rap duo Obsesíon was able to make it to Northwestern’s campus on a travel visa. The group discussed the nature of their work at a WNUR Streetbeat weekly meeting.
The student DJs learned firsthand about the impact that the group’s socially conscious hip-hop has had in their native country, as well as the trials and tribulations of their endeavors. Alexey, one half of the urban duo, sat after the presentation and indulged us with a personal interview.
Alexey: My name is Alexey or “el tipo este” [that guy over there]. I am a part of the hip hop group Obsesión. My partner is Magia. We are from Cuba, “cubanisimo” [we are very Cuban]. In June, we will complete our twenty-first year as a group – something that makes us very proud. More so than the videos or special productions, just being together for so long is what’s most important.
Our group was created as a result of the hip hop from the late-80s and 90s. At the same time, we have learned a lot from underground libraries, from books where we could read about things that weren’t necessarily taught in school. Also, from the people – those that are in the know or who were there.
Our biggest influences, are the rapper, from Puerto Rico, Vico C who broke the “taboo” that if you do salsa, you had to sing in Spanish and if you do rap, it had to be in English. He started to break out and many people in Cuba started to realized – “I am going to do this because this guy did it.”
And there are the classics: RUN DMC, Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Public Enemy.
Marc: Can you speak a little more about these underground libraries?
Alexey: Yeah sure, it’s simple… It’s strange, it’s strange. I started to become interested in the history of my country starting from a book like, for example, the autobiography of Malcolm X.
People say “Why do you have to read an American book to understand Cuba?” And it’s because I felt similarities with my history, and similarities that don’t exist in our schooling system, it’s a good system, but there are many information gaps. You have to search for that outside information.
I feel the black children in Cuba grow up with low self esteem or feel marginalized because there aren’t, the history they learn, the patterns to follow or people to look up to – there aren’t many. And the media doesn’t help any either. There, they offer information like in the telenovelas — the soap operas in Cuba are what people see the most, they’re classic — black people don’t have roles or if they do they’re playing infamous roles or slaves — which is part of the history, yes, but look, we have done so much otherwise.
I have a daughter, she’s three years old, and we say there needs to be an equilibrium between what she learns in school and this. I have a responsibility for her self esteem and to support her situation.
There are many people, academics and intellectuals that have demonstrated an interest in hip hop. But you see, academic discourses exist at a very high, conceptual level, that in Cuba is very far away from what is happening in reality. So the hip hop movement does a lot to bring together those ideas and we learn from their point of view as well. This type of interaction has benefited us both.
Marc: what is the difference between an artist in Cuba vs, for example, if you were in a capitalist country…?
Alexey: Well, I think I can speak more of the similarities than the differences. In the sense that, if you lose passion, you’re out. You have to have a mindset of sacrifice – if you think that ‘tomorrow I am going to triumph’, then you have to put in the effort to do so. It’s a career that requires more constant effort than any other.
I think that you have to have a greater purpose. Say someone does it with the dream of being successful, in other careers, you can do that, but with this, you have to have it in your head that hip hop is not a genre if you want to be in magazines, or be mentioned a lot, this level of success is in other sectors.
In both places, sacrifice is sacrifice. You have to be focused in what you want to be and make it happen. This is why I can talk more about the similarities. The differences are contextual, but in the end, passion applies no matter what.
Marc: What has been the most impactful thing you feel you’ve done through your music?
Alexey: Show the people, we are beautiful the way we are. That we have a very beautiful history. We have a marvelous culture. That you don’t have to fit into any model the standards teach us. That is you want to express yourself a certain way or shout then that is good because that is who we are. We have to be proud for how we are.
We have a song called “Los Pelos” [the hairs]. It talks about how our hair is pretty the way it is. Cuban women would straighten their hair or change it to be pretty. And this song came out, and many people, many women started wearing their hair natural, “super afro” and this made me very proud.
Marc: Do you have a message you’d like to bring to the States and to your listeners here?
Alexey: Be careful with the media. It’s horrible. Including, be careful with things that called themselves modernization or civilization, and new technology – because that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in being human.
I’ve heard the words here a lot, acceptance and tolerance, I think, what is more valuable is respect. I don’t hope that you accept me for entering this place, “I can tolerate you”, I think that it is more valuable to respect me, you have to respect me, in the same way I have to respect you.
Respect implies many things, a level of thought that allows you to see diversity as a goal. In this way, I will be a person, when I have your respect.
I’m glad you’ve asked me these questions, you’ve given me a lot to think about. Normally people ask me things like “What is rap to you” but not as many questions that make me look within and ask myself serious questions.
Marc: Do you want to give a shout out to other Cuban artists, with a positive message like yourselves?
Alexey: Ooh, with positive messages…. La Reina y La Real, El Padrino, [old school artists]. It’s great because there are many artists taking off that are great. El Lagarto, he’s very good. El Mesiga – lots of good people. There you have it.
On Friday April 28, the Copernicus Center in Chicago held the aptly named LUNAR TIDE music festival. A collection of bass-heavy sets, the astral Ott, merchandise vendors and live art more than justified the term “festival” for this single-night indoor event. With artists such as Yheti, the Whiddler, Exmag, Ott, Truth, and Caspa, Lunar Tide provided deep reverberations throughout the historic venue.