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Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars at The Cedar

23 Sep

The Cedar Cultural Center is always the place to go if you are looking for the world at your doorstep. They are currently in the middle of their annual Global Roots festival and this Sunday, as part of the West Africa/West Bank series the Cedar hosts Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars. The All Stars have one of those unbelievable backstories of music transcending dire human situations. With Sierra Leone in the grips of civil war for most of the 1990s, singer Reuben M. Koroma and his wife Gracefound themselves moving between refugee camps in Guinea when he met up with guitarist Francis John Langba and bassist Idriss Bangura, musicians he had known back home. Deciding that the camps needed entertainment, they settled together at the Sembakounya Refugee Camp, they put out a call for musicians and with a couple guitars and a PA system donated by Canadian relief workers, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars were born. They recorded their first album, Living Like A Refugee, in the shantytowns of Freetown and was released in 2006 on Anti-, along with a documentary, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars. The immediate and uplifting success of those projects lead to touring the world, sharing stages with acts like Aerosmith and Mavis Staples and while on tour in 2009, they laid down their follow-up record, Rise & Shine, with Steve Berlin (member of Los Lobos, producer of Alec Ousworth and others) at Piety Street Studios in New Orleans. Rise & Shine blends traditional African rhythms with reggae, rock and roll and Motown horns and while the single “Living Stone” has been in heavy radio rotation locally, the full and vibrant record and live show promises a whole new and uplifting world experience. CakeIn15 caught up with Koroma to talk about the band, touch on the past, and look to the future.

CakeIn15: It seems that there is so much history that we could talk about, both in general and your specific experiences, but what do you think is important for people to know about your life and work?

Reuben M Koroma: What I want people to know is as musicians we express ourselves through music. According to what we saw in our country we think that we don’t want that to be repeated. We are also conscious that war can never solve problems, we have seen war for many years and we have seen the ugly consequences. So what we want people to take from our music, we always talk about peace and we want people to make peace wherever they are.

C15: You recorded Rise & Shine with Steve Berlin in New Orleans. How was your experience with him?

RMK: It was a really new experience and a very positive experience for me. Yeah, a very important experience, totally different, because the studio is different. Back home, we have mini-studios, we don’t have great studios there, you know, so the studio is one of the differences. Steve Berlin is a very creative man. Very, very creative. When we introduced our songs to him, he really suggested, made a lot of decisions, trying to just create in our songs something that he is looking for. After everything, when I listen to the songs, I think, “This is surely a creative man.” He is very simple, approachable, he is always ready to consult the people he works with.

C15: Has the way that Rise & Shine was recorded changed the way that you perform your songs live or write?

RMK: Yes. Because, formerly, we don’t involve the trombone player, but in the recording we have one trombone player and in our former album, we don’t really have a horn section. Here we have a saxophone, a trumpet, we didn’t get a horn section but in this new album, the songs are really beautified by the horns, the trombone, and then the sound itself is really heavy, and clean.

C15: There are songs in English that are very easy for a Western audience to grasp and others in the native Krio language of Sierra Leone. How do you choose which language to write in?

RMK: Well, you know, we think in many languages. We think in our ethnic groups. We think in English, so these are the languages we sing in, since the beginning of our first album. We try to introduce the Krio traditional, traditional rock that we have in Sierra Leone, try to play our passion of the different types of rhythms, national rhythms, in our own way.

C15: Many of your songs in Krio have English subtitles that are fairly direct, but what is the song “Goat Smoke Pipe” about?

RMK: Well, “Goat Smoke Pipe” is about, you know, it is about scarcity of basic needs. Like, the goat is an animal, the goat doesn’t smoke pipe, it doesn’t at all, that’s not the normal thing, the normal food is grass. So we have the goat and we have a cow and the normal food for a cow is grass, is not cassava. So, a cow chew a cassava, there must be shortage of the grass. This implies of what was happening in our country. The rich people, some of the food shops have been reserved for rich people, you know, a poor man can’t have the money and buy food, like meat, simple food like rice, it was really difficult. That’s the meaning of the song.

Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars – Rise & Shine Preview from Cumbancha on Vimeo.

C15: Thing have changes with you, how has touring changed life for you?

RMK: It has really exposed me to different parts of the world and meet different people, you know, and learn different things. Then, it influenced because formerly, when I think about my past situation, the difference is great. Now, I have my own place, I can do all the things and there have been a lot of improvements for the members of the band, everyone is living the average, not too down, not too up. [Laughs] Yeah, we are not rich but we are so happy because our lives have changed, we think, for better things, for positive things. We meet different people, respect different people, you know, we groove with rock stars like Aerosmith. It makes us feel like we are a little bit up there. Back home in our country people respect us, people feel we’re celebrities, so I think that life has really improved.

C15: What is your greatest hope for country?

RMK: My greatest source of hope for my country is when corruption is kicked out of that country. That’s my greatest hope. Because it is the corruption that is holding our people down. If corruption is kicked out of Sierra Leone, I believe that we have a lot of minerals, we have gold, we have bauxite, we have iron ore, you know, we have timber, all those things. And the country is really small, the population is about 5 million and of there is no corruption, I believe we should be efficient.

C15: With your newfound respect and position in Sierra Leone, do you ever think about getting into politics yourself?

RKM: Sometimes, if, I don’t know, but if people get to listen to my songs, or to the group’s songs, I’m sorry, if you listen to the lyrics, it has to do with politics. The thing about the people, the people’s plight, I think there are people out there who are responsible to solve the problem. If they listen to the music and they realize this; I have to do it artistically.

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  1. Tweets that mention Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars at The Cedar | Cake In 15 -- Topsy.com - September 24, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by CakeIn15, Carl Atiya Swanson. Carl Atiya Swanson said: RT @CakeIn15: Need uplift? Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars have you covered this Sunday @TheCedar. Interview here: http://tinyurl.com/36x4tg4 […]

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