Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars
Discography · Bibliography · Similar Music
All the members of Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars lived in or near Sierra Leone's capital city before fleeing Freetown during the country's decade-long civil war. Throughout most of the 1990s, Freetown remained relatively sheltered from the rebel war that had turned much of the West African nation into a bloody battlefield. Near the turn of the 21st century, however, rebels attacked the city and forced a panicked mass exodus to neighboring countries.
Among the thousands who fled were Reuben Koroma and his wife Grace. Reuben and Grace had fared among the best, having fled Freetown in the midst of a rebel attack. In the camps, the couple had one another, but had lost everything else, including contact with family, friends, and the musical life they had known.
Walking through the squalid and dangerous Kalia Camp in Guinea, Reuben found
Francis 'Franco' John Langba, a 'musical brother' from the pre-war music scene
in Freetown. Franco had been separated from his wife and kids and had still not
been able to learn anything of their fate. In camps like Kalia, discovering
someone alive feels like a miracle. But the three took the miracle a step
further by making music for their fellow refugees.
Mohammed Bangura had similarly been forced to watch the murder of his parents, wife, and infant child before having his hand severed.
Alhadji Jeffrey Kamara, called 'Black Nature,' is the youngest of the group. Orphaned by the war and tortured by police in Guinea where he had fled, Black Nature is considered an 'adopted son' by the others.
With the help of a Canadian NGO (CECI) the newly dubbed Refugee All Stars acquired beat-up instruments and a rusted-out sound system and began to play for their fellow refugees, bringing sorely needed hope and relief to a traumatized populace.
At Sembakounya Camp, American documentary filmmakers Banker White and Zach Niles
along with Canadian singer-songwriter Chris Velan encountered Sierra Leone's
Refugee All Stars. The first-time filmmakers, both living in
San Francisco, had
previously had substantial experience in Africa, and were in Guinea looking for
stories that would balance the Western media's focus on the region's violence
with a sense of African society's beauty and resilience. When they were
introduced to the All Stars, Niles and White knew they had found their story.
It was during this trip that the current line-up of the band was cemented and their lifelong dream of recording in a studio was realized. It is in such grace notes - and in the warmth, humor, and searing candor with which the band members bear their personal and collective wounds - as well as in the music they make, that the All Stars express their fierce loyalty to each other and to their people, and indeed to refugees of all the world's terrible conflicts.
They must face the present with courage and the future with hope in order to save their lives. Thus the band's return to a barely reconstructed Island Studios in Freetown, while the devastation and a shaky peace treaty signed in 2002 keep many refugees away, comes as a powerful message of renewal.
On September, 26th 2006, Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars (SLRAS) realized what
once seemed an impossible dream when Anti Records released their
Living Like a Refugee, to wide critical acclaim throughout the world. The
album was recorded with the help of filmmakers Zach Niles and Banker White
throughout the film's production from August 2002 - October 2005.
Enduring the horrors of war ("Kele Mani," "Weapon Conflict"),
facing hunger ("Bull To The Weak"), remembering lost family members ("Ya N'Digba"
was written for bandleader Reuben's mother) and yet still managing to give
thanks ("Compliments For The Peace"). While each of the stories in these songs
is told from the band's personal experience, it is the special gift of Sierra
Leone's Refugee All Stars that the messages they deliver are truly universal.
Taken as a whole the album serves as a musical document of the band's incredible
In 2005 Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars were nominated in the category of 'Best New Artist' at The Sierra Leone music awards and played their hit Soda Soap for a crowd of 15,000 at the National Stadium in Freetown. But that was only the beginning. When both the film and the band were invited to the South by Southwest (SXSW) Music and Film Festival in Austin, Texas in March '06 it was an opportunity the filmmakers couldn't refuse. So once again pushing their credit cards to the max Niles and White brought the entire band to the US.
At SXSW the
band was a huge hit winning over fans and the music industry execs alike. Around
this time, Niles and White realized that to build on this success they needed
help. Calling in music industry veteran, Mike Kappus and his Rosebud Agency to
help book more shows and eventually to manage the band's budding career. A
summer '06 tour took shape and Kappus contacted Anti Records who after seeing
the film and hearing the music agreed to release the album.
In November, 2006 the band opened for Aerosmith at the Mohegan Sun Arena and most recently performed for an international audience at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. They have also been featured on CNN and CNN International, PBS and CBS Sunday Morning, as well as having performed live on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Their sound is also finding new avenues of exposure including a song in the film Blood Diamond and two upcoming humanitarian relief compilations, which they recorded in the studio with Joe Perry and Steven Tyler.
Living Like a Refugee (Anti, 2006)
Rise & Shine (Cumbancha, 2010)
Radio Salone (Cumbancha, 2012)
|DVD: Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars (Docurama, 2007|