The Skirball’s Sunset Concerts—FREE Thursday night performances of the best in American and world music—continue this week with West African band Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars. Each week, SkirBlog will feature a preview of the upcoming performer written by a member of our Programs department. Read about the band, view photos and videos … then make your way here on Thursday to watch the show in our magnificent outdoor courtyard. Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, this Thursday, August 8, at 8:00 p.m.
Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars are a West African band who formed out of the ashes of war and violence during Sierra Leone’s civil war. On the band’s website, co-founder Reuben M. Koroma writes, “We try to bring out sensitive issues that are affecting the world. It is all of our responsibility that the masses are suffering. We bring our positive messages into the world so we can expect a positive change in the world. And, most importantly, bring about peace.”
Upon first hearing Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, I was impressed by their adept musicianship, and moved by their story of perseverance and the positive message of their music. They have devoted themselves deeply to causes such as stopping political violence (through their eponymous documentary, which discusses Sierra Leone’s civil war) and hunger (through their “Big Fat Dog” music video and through their partnership with the World Food Program USA).
The founding members—originally from Freetown, the capital—met at the Kalia refugee camp in Guinea in 1997. They began to make music together using two beat-up electric guitars and a donated microphone to lift the spirits of those living in the camps. The music incorporates a variety of styles—soukous guitar, vintage reggae, West African rhythms, and lyrics in English and four African dialects—to create a unique and exciting sound. Since those humble beginnings, they have become one of the top touring and recording bands from Africa, and have played at New York’s Central Park SummerStage, opened for Aerosmith, and earned the praise of musicians such as Sir Paul McCartney and Keith Richards.
Of Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars’ three albums, my favorite is their latest: Radio Salone. Recorded in New York on vintage analog gear, the album has a distinct retro warmth, akin to the songs that played on the radio during their youth. I highly recommend the track “Remake the World Again.” With a vintage reggae beat and lyrics that lament violence, hunger, and injustice in Africa, the song is a true call to stop violence and oppression. That is the true magic of Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars: even while their music addresses somber topics such as war, famine, and greed, it also contains uplifting, danceable melodies that are accessible and catchy.
If you like reggae, soukous, and West African music, you won’t want to miss this concert! It’s not every day we have the opportunity to watch such high-caliber musicians who are experts of their craft and who also truly embody global activism.
Watch Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars perform “Muloma (Let Us Be United)” live on KEXP: