Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Refugee All Stars bring African beat

After waiting through an hourlong delay because of electrical glitches, a Peace Park crowd of more than 300 burst into dance as the African rhythms erupted from Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars on Friday night.

Reuben Koroma, left, and Efuah Grace perform with Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars during the Roots ’N Blues ’N BBQ Festival on Friday at Peace Park. The band was formed in refugee camps in West Africa.

"We have a gift for you," band founder Reuben Koroma shouted. "African music!"

Audience members danced and clapped throughout the All Stars’ high-energy show, blending traditional West African music, reggae and hip-hop in their performance for the Roots ’N Blues ’N BBQ Festival.

Koroma said the group’s songs were a celebration, making it hard to believe the band was formed in refugee camps in West Africa’s Guinea by people forced from their Freetown homes after rebels took over the Sierra Leone city. A documentary about the group was featured at this year’s True/False Film Festival. The band had been invited to attend but was unable to travel to the United States at that time.

The lively beats of bongos, bass and maracas kept the crowd dancing even as the group sang of hardships in refugee camps. One tune featured an appearance by Mariatu Kargbo, a young woman whose hands were severed by a rebel group.

Koroma, 43, took time to talk to the Tribune before the show about his group.

Q: Could you talk a little bit about how the band formed?

Koroma: That was way back when I was forced to quit my country. That was, well, in 1997. I just thought that it’s very important for a musical group in the camp because I think musical entertainment will help the people, you know?

Q: What did you think it would do for people?

Koroma: During that time in the refugee camps, people had psychologically affected because of what has happened to them. Most of them (lost) their family members. They miss their county, separated from beloved ones and all those things. It was like a psychological problem, everyone’s mind was worried, that was not addressed. Music helped them relax their minds. Instead of thinking of what has happened to them, if they listened to our music, it relaxed their mind. It reduced their trouble.

Q: How did being in the band help the members?

Koroma: I can say, you know, making music was treatment for me. At first when I came to the camp, I was like a crazy person. I was not normal, you know, because of what has happened to me. When I decided to start playing music, you know, it’s like my life was reformed. When I play music, I seem to forget most of the things that have happened. It’s like it helped me. And then I was doing it to help myself. But all the people found pleasure. They came around us to relax their minds. That’s how we saw music would be a treatment.

Q: What do you hope to bring to this audience?

Koroma: Everywhere we go, it’s the same objective: to bring joy.

Refugee All Stars bring African beat