Local Wire

Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars

Rock stars often sing of desperation — touring is hell (fans and groupies want of piece of you, sigh), gimme shelter (in a private helicopter), and "you don't have to live like a refugee." Rebellious punk bands sing of disaffected-youth angst and how soul-destroying life in the 'burbs is. Then there's the Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars, whose members convened in an actual refugee camp, and whose possessions total what they could carry while being driven from their homes during Sierra Leone's bloody civil war. These fellows found musical instruments and a busted sound system, then taught themselves to be a band — under those types of circumstances, that's punk rock. The S.L. All Stars don't play punk rock, however — roots reggae is the foundation to which they add West African folk, American blues, and a wee touch of rock 'n' roll. (Dig the stinging Santana/Los Lobos-style guitar solo on "Pat Malonthone.") Their blend of acoustic and electric guitars sparkles, their riddims are deep, and their harmonies reflect a sunny resoluteness to carry on despite deep hurt.
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Mark Keresman