Considering the sheer volume of music we're exposed to on a daily basis, it's easy to forget that songs can be more than a distraction or a catchy beat. For Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars, music was less a pastime and more an anchor, a tool used to stay hopeful during exile in Guinea during the Sierra Leone Civil War of the 1990s. The band's sound is one forged in Freetown, where songwriter Reuben Koroma came of age, blending the rhythmic and harmonic sensibilities of baskeda, an early ancestor of reggae, with West African funk, rap, and rock. Rise & Shine, the group's latest album, was recorded entirely in Freetown, unlike its predecessor, which featured some songs recorded live while the members of the band were still in refugee camps. Unlike the kind of music you may expect from men who've seen their families killed and homes destroyed, the Refugee All Stars make joyful, vibrant music, uplifting without being sanctimonious or preachy. It's a powerful reminder that music can serve a higher purpose than providing the soundtrack to car ads and can manage to be exciting and fun, to boot.
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