Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars – Radio Salone

January 01, 1970


The shorthand usually offered for Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars is
“African reggae band.” On Radio
, the sextet’s third studio album, that designation is about
one-third right. The group is adept
at various classic Jamaican forms, from Marley-style anthems (“Reggae
Sounds the Message”) and bass-heavy dub (“Work It Brighter”) to
jumpy, playful ska (“Big Fat Dog”). But this album also features
brightly chiming Afropop romps, as well as Goombay chants in the traditional
mode — or nearly traditional, since electric-guitar riffs are sometimes woven
discreetly between the drums and voices.

The band’s story, told in a 2005 documentary, travels from war-ravaged Sierra Leone to temporary refuges in Guinea and eventually to the U.S. Radio Salone was recorded in Brooklyn, but it’s no crossover move. In fact, Nigerian
highlife and Congolese soukous are more prominent here than on previous All
Stars releases, providing such exuberant highlights as “Kali” and
“Gbara Case.”

For American listeners, the album’s reggae tracks offer the advantage of being
in English. Aside from the well-known Arabic phrase that’s the hook of
“A’salamalecheim,” one of the album’s four drum-driven “Goombay
interludes,” most of the songs’ myriad other languages require printed
translations. But the guitars, voices and percussion never do. They banter
joyously, sounding a message that’s irresistible whatever the lyrics might say.

DOWNLOAD: “Gbara Case,”
“”Kali,” “Work It Brighter” MARK JENKINS

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