Updated January 2008
Near the turn of the 21st century, rebel forces attacked Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone, forcing a panicked mass exodus to neighboring countries. Among the thousands who fled were musicians and future band mates Reuben Koroma and Francis Lamgba (Franco) who connected in a refugee camp in Guinea, West Africa. Along with Reubens wife Grace they began making music for their fellow refugees, providing a welcome distraction to life in the camps. Safety in the Kalia camp quickly disintegrated, however, when it came under attack from the Guinean army and citizenry. The refugees in this camp were evacuated and relocated to a camp set deep in the remote Guinean countryside. It was here that, thanks to a Canadian refugee aid organization, the developing band was able to acquire the rusted-out sound system and beat up electric guitars that helped officially launch the group.
It was also in this camp that American documentary filmmakers Banker White and Zach Niles along with Canadian singer-songwriter Chris Velan encountered the group, which by that point also included Black Nature, a teenaged orphan with a gift for rap, as well as Abdulrahim Kamara (Arahim) and Mohamed Bangura (Medo), both of whom had had limbs amputated by the rebels. The first-time filmmakers followed the band for three years as they moved from camp to camp. While filming, the United Nations sponsored a trip for the group to return to Freetown so they could see for themselves that the war was indeed over and safe for thousands of refugees to return home. As part of the trip, the UNHCR offered the band the opportunity to make their first studio recordings, which led to leader Reuben Koroma uniting the core group from the refugee camp with his former band mates, The Emperors, many of whom had remained in Freetown during the war. Together they recorded their debut album as Sierra Leones Refugee All Stars. The current touring lineup features members of both entities.
Now Sierra Leones Refugee All Stars tour the world spreading their message of peace and love in a "can't help but dance" show that fans from all musical backgrounds can enjoy. With a spirited fusion of traditional West African music, roots reggae and rhythmic traditional folk, Sierra Leones Refugee All Stars craft music that transforms and uplifts.
ALBUM - Living Like A Refugee
Produced by Chris Velan, Living Like A Refugee was recorded throughout the production of the Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars film, between August 2002 and October 2005. Each song is an original composition written during their years in exile and taken as a whole the album serves as a musical document of the band's incredible journey. The album features field recordings from the refugee camps in Guinea as well as studio efforts at Sam Jones' Island Studios in Freetown. While each of the stories in these songs is told from the band's personal experience, Sierra Leones Refugee All Stars messages of hope, healing and peace are truly universal.
Backed by the likes of Keith Richards, Sir Paul McCartney, Ice Cube, Angelina Jolie and executive producers Steve Bing and Shelley Lazar - the resulting documentary film, Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars, has won thirteen major awards as of this writing, including the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the AFI Film Festival 2005, the Audience Favorite Award at the Miami Film Festival 2006, the Filmmaker's Award for Social Change and the Emerging Pictures Audience Award (bestowed on the winner by voting audiences in eleven cities) at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2006, Best of the Fest at the Human Rights Watch Film Fest and the Impact of Music Award at the Nashville Film Fest. Sustaining hope in a landscape dominated by rage and loss is at the core of this heartbreaking yet life-affirming story. The documentary recently aired on PBS nationwide on the Independent Documentary Film Series, Point of View (P.O.V.) and was officially released on DVD via Netflix and its distribution arm Red Envelope Entertainment.
And while the film has conquered the hearts of festival goers (including Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry, who told Billboard, "I was just so overwhelmed by the movie and the message of hope they're carrying. Their music is so buoyant and joyful."), it is the music and live performances of Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars that are now winning over legions of new fans. Lauded for their infectious sound and engaging concerts, the All Stars are, as Don Heckman of the Los Angeles Times says, "establishing an identity based as much on skill, imagination and charisma as on their undeniably touching story."
TOURING HIGHLIGHTS & COLLABORATIONS
Only recently having emerged from refugee status themselves, Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars have already begun helping others still in need through their work with Amnesty International, the United Nations ninemillion.org campaign, the ONE campaign, Witness and numerous others in the U.S. and internationally, speaking out for peace and against the insanity of war while calling attention to issues in Africa and the plight of refugees throughout the world.
Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars have now played on five continents since their documentary began screening at film festivals last year and the release of their ANTI- debut CD, Living Like A Refugee in September 2006. Their touring highlights range from performances at The Kennedy Center, Save the Children's 75th Anniversary Benefit (honoring former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush as well as Melinda Gates), the Hollywood Bowl, headlining at Central Park Summerstage, a post screening Q&A in New York City with fellow Sierra Leonean and best selling author Ishmael Beah, to stand-out appearances at festivals as diverse as the Montreal Jazz Festival, the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan, Chicagos African Festival of the Arts, Transmusicales Festival in France, the Winnipeg Folk Festival, Scotlands T in the Park, Bonnaroo and the Oxegen Festival in Ireland. Their most recent summer tour follows a successful cross-country tour of Australia, playing the countrys famed East & West Coast Blues & Roots Festivals and two performances at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
In the past year, the group has appeared on Oprah Winfrey, CBS' Sunday Morning, CNN, and NPR's "Talk of the Nation." Their music was featured in the five-time Academy Award-nominated film Blood Diamond starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and they were joined onstage in Nashville by new friends Joe Perry and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, who later asked Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars to open for them at the Mohegan Sun Arena in CT. The All Stars are included along with R.E.M., U2, Green Day and others on the hit CD, Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur released in June. This double disc benefit compilation of John Lennon songs features Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars collaborating with Aerosmith on Give Peace A Chance." The All Stars are also joined by Joe Perry on a cover version of U2s Seconds for the compilation CD, In The Name Of Love: Africa Celebrates U2, set for release April 1st, 2008. A portion of the albums proceeds will directly benefit The Global Fund and features 12 artists each representing a different region of Africa.
Championed by The New York Times, critic Stephen Holden wrote, As harrowing as these personal tales may be, the music buoying them is uplifting. The cliché bears repeating: music heals and creates community. Born in the midst of a violent, decade-long civil war, Sierra Leones Refugee All Stars have found a place of refuge through music, a sense of purpose and a source of power. The band has seen the worst that this world can offer - yet, through their unflinching spirit and joyful sound they celebrate the best in all of us, and thankfully, they are now sharing their message and uplifting music throughout the world.
Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars will return to North America in 2008 for a tour of the U.S. and Canada from January 23 - March 7.