Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars bring their joyful, uplifting world music sounds to The Mainstay in Rock Hall, Maryland on Wednesday March 15, 2017 at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $25 in advance and $30 at the door; admission with a student ID is 20 in advance and $25 at the door. Information and advance ticket sales are available at the Mainstay’s website http://www.mainstayrockhall.org and reservations to pay at the door can be made by calling 410-639-9133.
This engagement of The Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars is funded through the Mid Atlantic Tours program of Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation with support from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Mainstay Executive Director Rory Trainor says, “This is a very special concert and we are grateful for the MAAF funding and for their support from the NEA that make it possible for this world-renowned band to put a pin on the map for Rock Hall. With the help of their grant, this show that would seem unlikely for our little community, is now a reality.”
Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars have risen from the ashes of war to bring songs of hope, faith and joy to people around the world. Formed in a West African refugee camp, they were the subject of an acclaimed 2005 documentary and have since have performed on some of the world’s most prestigious stages and matured into one of Africa’s top touring and recording bands.
The band is a potent example of the redeeming power of music and the ability of the human spirit to persevere through unimaginable hardship and emerge with optimism intact. They also now play an important role as spokespersons for the ever-increasing millions of refugees worldwide.
In addition to performing their instantly appealing music on stages worldwide, the All Stars have released four of the most acclaimed world music albums of the last decade. On their most recent recording, Libation, the band made a concerted effort to mine the riches of Sierra Leonean folklore, basing their songs on the highlife, maringa and palm wine styles that the band members listened to in their youth but which are not heard as often today, as well as baskeda and gumbe, the Sierra Leonean relatives of reggae and soukous respectively.
The recording embodies the contagious joy, optimism in the face of struggle and love for their fellow man that has earned the All Stars a devoted following across the globe.
Throughout the 1990s, the West African country of Sierra Leone was wracked with a bloody, horrifying war that forced millions to flee their homes. The musicians that would eventually form Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars are all originally from Freetown, the capital city, and were forced to leave after violent rebel attacks. Most of those that left the country made their way into neighboring Guinea, some ending up in refugee camps and others struggling to fend for themselves in the capital city of Conakry.
Ruben Koroma and his wife Grace had left Sierra Leone in 1997 and found themselves in the Kalia refugee camp near the border with Sierra Leone. When it became clear they would not be heading back to their homeland anytime soon, they joined up with guitarist Francis John Langba (aka Franco), and bassist Idrissa Bangura (aka Mallam), other musicians in the camp whom they had known before the war, to entertain their fellow refugees. After a Canadian relief agency donated two beat up electric guitars, a single microphone and a meager sound system, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars were born.
American filmmakers Zach Niles and Banker White encountered the band in the Sembakounya Camp, and were so inspired by their story they ended up following them for three years as they moved from camp to camp, bringing much needed joy to fellow refugees with their heartfelt performances.
The resulting film that documented this moving saga, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, was a critical success, and introduced the world to the personalities and dramatic stories behind the band, not to mention their instantly appealing music. “As harrowing as these personal tales may be,” wrote The New York Times, “the music buoying them is uplifting.” Newsweek raved, “It’s as easy to fall in love with these guys as it was with the Buena Vista Social Club.”
Eventually, the war in Sierra Leone came to an end, and over time the All Stars returned to Freetown, where they met other returning musicians who joined the band’s rotating membership. It was there in the tin-roofed shacks of Freetown’s ghettos that Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars recorded the tracks that became, along with unplugged recordings made in the refugee camps, the basis for their debut album, Living Like a Refugee, which was released on the label Anti in 2006.
The movie, album and eventual U.S. tours helped expand their following, and soon the band found itself playing in front of enraptured audiences of tens of thousands at New York’s Central Park Summer Stage, Japan’s Fuji Rock Festival and the revered Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. They appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, contributed a song to the Blood Diamond film soundtrack, participated in the U2 tribute album In the Name of Love: Africa Celebrates U2, and earned praise and backing from Sir Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Ice Cube, Angelina Jolie and others inspired by their life-affirming story and captivating music.
The senseless deaths and illnesses of friends and family, including some of the band’s original members, and the slimming hope for great change in their country as a result of peace, has only strengthened the resolve of Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars to do what they can to turn their country around. Their weapon in this struggle is music, and their message, while offering critique and condemnation of wrongdoing, remains positive and hopeful. Optimism in the face of obstacles, and the eternal hope for a better future motivates their lives and music.
“It’s been a long struggle out of the war, out of miserable conditions,” notes Koroma, “We try to bring out sensitive issues that are affecting the world. It is all of our responsibility that the masses are suffering. We bring our positive messages into the world so we can expect a positive change in the world. And, most importantly, bring about peace.”
The Mainstay (Home of Musical Magic) is the friendly informal storefront performing arts center on Rock Hall’s old time Main Street. It is a 501(c)(3), nonprofit dedicated to the arts, serving Rock Hall, MD and the surrounding region. It is committed to presenting local, regional and national level talent, at a reasonable price, in an almost perfect acoustic setting. Wine, beer, sodas and snacks are available at the bar.
The Mainstay is supported by ticket sales, fundraising including donations from friends and audience members and an operating grant from the Maryland State Arts Council.
The Mainstay now sells advance tickets online through Instant Seats. Information and advance ticket sales are available on the Mainstay’s website http://www.mainstayrockhall.org. Follow the Buy Tickets link to buy tickets at the advance price. If you would rather pay at the door, you can still make a reservation by calling 410-639-9133.
Upcoming Mainstay performances include:
March 18 Zoe & Cloyd
March 20 Mainstay Monday: Joe Holt welcomes Brad Chaires on vocals
March 25 Chuck Redd and the Bucket Brothers
March 27 Maistay Monday: Joe Holt welcomes John Ewart, sax and Mike McShane, drums
March 31 The High and Wides