When a brutal civil war broke out in Sierra Leone in 1991, thousands fled to neighboring Guinea, including members of a now-famous musical group called Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars. As VOA's Doug Levine tells us, their music helped heal wounds and lift spirits for those forced into a decade-long exile from their West African homeland.
Call it fate that Sierra Leone musicians Reuben Koroma and Francis Langba first met in Kalia refugee Camp in Guinea. Along with Koroma's wife Grace, the three began making music for their fellow refugees who had witnessed firsthand the atrocities of war. Many had lost their families and others were violently beaten while on the run. This basic band provided some hope to those dreaming of ever returning to a country at peace.
Eventually, Reuben, Grace and Francis settled at Sembakounya Refugee Camp in the remote Guinean countryside where the Refugee All Stars began taking shape. A teenaged rapper known as Black Nature, whose parents were killed in the war, joined the group, as well as Abdul Kamara and Mohammed Bangura, instrumentalists who themselves were innocent victims of rebel attacks.
American filmmakers Zach Niles and Banker White, who first encountered the Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars at Sembakounya in 2002, have since told their story in an award-winning documentary film. They traveled with the band on their first post-war trip back to Freetown, Sierra Leone, where recording an album became reality.
To no surprise, the songs on the group's debut album Living Like A Refugee, such as "Bull To The Weak," spring from their harrowing tales of refugee life; the horrors of war, hunger, and living day-to-day with the painful loss of friends and family.
Despite the tragedy, Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars remain true to their musical roots, bringing hope and inspiration to other innocent people living as refugees throughout the world. The group is currently on tour in the U.S.