Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars bring message of peace to Black Swamp
Written by DAVID DUPONT Festival Program Editor   
Wednesday, 25 July 2012 12:57
Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars during a performance
Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars started as victims of war. For the past decade they have toured the globe using their music to promote peace.
The All Stars, who performed a joyous rain-soaked set at the 2007 Black Swamp Arts Festival, return this year as one of the Saturday night main stage headliners.
The band was born in turmoil. Civil war broke out in the Sierra Leone in 1991, at the instigation of Liberian strongman Charles Taylor.
Hundreds of thousands of people fled from Sierra Leone, many victims and witnesses to brutal atrocities.
For Reuben Koroma and his wife, Grace, and some friends including Francis John “Franco” Langba and Idrissa “Mallam” Bangura from the refugee camps in Guinea, music provided an outlet in a time of pain. Their music also provided some needed diversion for other refugees. A Canadian relief organization provided them with some beat up amps and guitars and sent them around to lift spirits.
Since 2006 when they released their first album and a film, aired on PBS, documented their experience, Reuben Koroma and friends have been lifting the spirits of listeners around the world.
The band has recently released its third album “Radio Salone” on the Anti- label.
The recording represents a departure from its predecessors. The first “Living Like a Refugee” featured the pared down reggae sounds reflecting the band’s earliest performances. The second  “Rise & Shine” was jazzier, horn-laden reggae.
Now with “Radio Salone” the band goes back to evoke more traditional Sierra Leone sounds. While some of the original reggae groove is evident, the band also provides  healthy sampling of Goombay rhythms. “Everybody who was born in Sierra Leone knows about goombay  music,” Koroma said in a recent telephone interview. “It’s everywhere, the villages, the towns, the cities.”
It’s the soundtrack for daily life and special occasions, he said.
“We want the world to know that goombay music is very, very rhythmic music that people will love.”
The shift to more traditional sounds was a response to what the band learned from audiences. “We see that most of our audience loves African music,” Koroma said. “They love to dance to African music, so we just want to give them what they want.”
The All Stars aim to please, but they also have a message to communicate. “We’re always trying to preach about peace and whatever has to do with maintaining peace is our greatest pleasure,” he said.
Earlier this year the conviction of Charles Taylor was convicted in international court, and prosecuted by Bowling Green State University graduate Brenda Hollis.
“I feel very good about it because I feel justice has been done,” said Koroma. “That will set an example” for others.
When the band played in New York City to a group of dignitaries including former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, it made Koroma feel like the All Stars’ message is getting out.
“To have big people like that appreciate your work is a great blessing,” he said.
Koroma and his cohorts could not have imagined this turn of fortunes back in the refugee camps in Guinea. “When we started this thing it was to have some fun and to make people around us happy,” he said, “Never would we  have thought this would have gone so far. ... It all came by surprise.”
The band that will come to Bowling Green is smaller than the ensemble that visited in 2007. The All Stars, with two original members, tour as a quintet with two guitars, bass, and keyboards. Everyone sings, Koroma said. And before going out they have extensive practice sessions.
“I don’t think anything is missing,” he said.
The smaller band will also be a better fit for the smaller family acoustic stage where the All Stars will play on Saturday before their return to the main stage.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 July 2012 14:52

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