Monday, August 13, 2012

Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars bring their music with a cause to Toronto Jazz Fest (video)

Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars bring their music with a cause to Toronto Jazz Fest (video)

28 June 2012 No Comments

Photo: Zach Smith
By Anya Wassenberg
Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars
July 1, 2012 at Nathan Phillips Square
Opening for Tower of Power at TD Toronto Jazz Festival
Big Fat Dog, the latest video single from their recent release, Radio Salone, is a single with a purpose for Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars. In partnership The World Food Program USA and Cumbancha, their record company, proceeds will be used to raise awareness of global hunger.

Specifically, funds raised will go to help the nine million people in eight countries of the Sahel region of West Africa who are currently at risk. The food crisis is the result of drought and conflict in the region, which includes Mali where 300,000 people have fled their homes due to internal conflicts. Food prices have risen, exacerbating the situation. The song is about the disparity between rich and poor and the video was recorded in Freetown, Sierra Leone with a trippy and upbeat Caribbean/Afrobeat sound that’s typical of the group.

The name of the band is a truism; these are people who know something about being hungry. Sierra Leone was wracked by a bloody civil war between 1991 and 2002. Millions of people became refugees in neighbouring Guinea.

In 1997, it was in a refugee camp near the border with Sierra Leone that Ruben and Grace Koroma met up with fellow musicians who’d also fled their homes in Freetown. The Koromas, along with guitarist Francis John Langba and bassist Idrissa Bangura, began to play for their fellow refugees with guitars and other equipment donated by a Canadian relief agency.

They continued to play together as the group shuffled from refugee camp to refugee camp and the war dragged on. They returned to Freetown after the war finally ended, and the group’s membership became a fluctuating roster of musicians who were then returning to the city’s ghettos.

In 2006, the band released their first album, Living Like A Refugee, consisting of tracks actually recorded during the years spent in refugee camps, along with other songs recorded after their return to Freetown.
An American-made documentary helped put them into the international spotlight, contrasting the stark and difficult circumstances of their lives with the irresistibly positive vibes of the music. Even when their lyrics speak frankly of the difficulties still facing their region of the world, the music is bouncy and optimistic.

Radio Salone, their third release, is a tribute to the huge role that radio plays in Africa in both exposing and spreading musical styles and, on a personal level, providing an escape from and a lifeline to the outside world during the refugee years.

Salone means “Sierra Leone” in their native language of Krio, one of the five languages featured on the release (including English). The album was recorded on vintage analog equipment in a Brooklyn studio and the music follows the theme with a nod to the old school sounds of classic reggae and soul, melodic Soukous guitar lines, tribal chants and exuberant West African funk. A thick horn section and churchy organ add to the musical layers. It’s an accomplished album showing a musical maturity that’s taken them far beyond their origins.

Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars are currently on a world tour to promote the new album and will hit Toronto on July 1 to open the closing concert of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival.

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