Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars – Rise & Shine

January 01, 1970



There’s no question that the Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars have
an inspiring backstory. With their hometown of Freetown
under siege by rebel forces, its members fled Sierra
Leone and ended up in a refugee camp in West
Africa. There, under very difficult circumstances, band leaders
Reuben Koroma and Francis Lamgba met and began making music together, at first
as solace for themselves and their fellow refugees. As they went on, they
gathered members – Koroma’s wife Grace, an orphaned teenage rapper named Black
Nature, and two members — Abdulrahim Kamara (Arahim) and Mohamed Bangura
(Medo) – who had lost limbs in the war. A team of filmmakers — Banker White
and Zach Niles and Canadian singer-songwriter Chris Velan – discovered the band
and made a documentary about them, following them from camp to camp, as they
made their music. In 2004, the group was able to return to Freetown and recorded its first album Living Like a Refugee with UNHCR funding.
Now, six years later, the collective is back with another, more elaborately
produced effort.


The whole triumph-over-adversity narrative makes it
difficult to review Rise & Shine.
Quibble that a good half the tracks are warmed-over reggae, and you sound
churlish, dismissive even of the band members’ tremendous courage and personal
history. Yet the music has little tension or drama in it. It slouches along on
in an upbeat twitching slink, with lyrics about nuclear disarmament, poverty
and empowering the disempowered. The more upbeat tracks — “Tamagbondorsu (The
Rich Mock The Poor)”  — have an
infectious, lilt and sway to them.  “Oruwiebie
/ Magazine Bobo Medley” with its hand-pounded percussion and call-and-response
vocals is wonderfully shadowy and raw. And “Bute Vange,” a track laid down live
at a Japanese festival, is powerful too, its layered vocals and mesmerizing
rhythms combining into something hallucinatory and mystical. Yet much of the
rest – “Bend Down the Corner, “Living Stone” and “Jah Mercy” – has an
overpolished, over-good-time gloss to it, which is disappointing and dull.


“Bute Vange”
“Tamagbondorsu (The Rich Mock the Poor)” JENNIFER KELLY






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