Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars formed, as their name suggests, when its members were living in a camp for displaced persons in Guinea, having fled the decade-long civil war in their home country. Writing and performing gave the band and its audience a way to escape their gloomy confines, to imagine a better future, and the band's music treats painful material with an improbably upbeat touch. In a 2005 documentary, the band toured several camps in U.N. Land Cruisers, traveling dusty and dangerous roads to bring a ramshackle party to countrymen in dire need of some good times.
Since then, things have improved, both for Sierra Leone and for its All Stars. They are no longer refugees, for one thing, though the band has not given up its name. The members of the band returned to Freetown in 2004, and nowadays the only thing that takes them away from home is touring, which has kept them busy since the release of 2010's Rise & Shine, recorded in post-Katrina New Orleans. The band also just released an EP of remixes by DJ Logic, ramping up the band's inherent bass and groove.
Band leader Reuben Koroma checked in with the Advocate by phone from the West Coast leg of a summer tour that brings them to Collinsville this Wednesday, before taking them to Europe. Along the way, the band will open for Dispatch at Colorado's Red Rocks Amphitheatre, their first time in that storied venue. The band is looking forward to it: “We like the big crowds,” said Koroma. A recent Facebook post included photos of the band against the trunks of giant redwoods. “Those giant trees are very hard to see,” Koroma said. “We really admire the trees. It's something very amazing for us.”
Sierra Leone's Refugee All StarsMay 25, Bridge Street Live, 41 Bridge St., Collinsville, (860) 693-9762, 41bridgestreet.com
These moments of wonder and reflection are important to Koroma, who is the band's songwriter. “I always write songs after a big meditation … I think of something, then I sit down and write. I grab the guitar and strum it. That's my process.”
Reflecting on the changes in the band's circumstances, Koroma said, “We used to live on grassroots. But now everyone has a good place to live, and life is improving. Freetown is calm, there's no cause to fear again. We just have to be thankful for what is happening to us.” When not touring, the band has a regular gig in Freetown, playing Reggae Night every Thursday in a local nightclub, which brings out many of Freetown's expats as well as locals. The band hasn't been able to find time to perform outside of Freetown in Sierra Leone — they are usually only home for a couple of months at a time. But reflecting the growing sense of stability in the country, Koroma said they hoped to get “out to the provinces” later this year.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun