Refugee All Stars - from Sierra Leone to New Orleans and back

Audio 12:48
Zach Smith

Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars are back with a second album, Rise & Shine. It’s a collection of traditional west African music and reggae, recorded together with New Orleans musicians. The band extends its interests beyond music with a new project, “We Own TV”, training young Sierra Leoneans in documentary making.


Four years after the successful documentary and first album Living like a refugee, the Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars  present an album they first recorded in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, before heading for New Orleans and Piety street studios for a finishing touch orchestrated by producer, Steve Berlin. 

“New Orleans was the ideal place to finish the album because we are musicians who really like to record live, not like others who record just with computers," explains Reuben Koroma, the lead singer who set up the band. "Then, there are so many good instrumentalists in New Orleans, like Troy 'Trombone Shorty' Andrews and the Bonerama Horns.”

R Koroma

He feels that the music of New Orleans contains a lot of African elements like the way they “blow their horns” which has “some kind of African feeling”.

The band was set up around 1998 when the band was living in a refugee camp in Guinea Conakry, after having fled Sierra Leone’s civil war which lasted between 1991 and 2002.

This episode of their life is captured in the documentary Living like a refugee made by American film-makers Banker White and Zach Niles. It follows the band over three years, from the Guinean refugee camps back to Sierra Leone, where they finally realise the dream of recording their first studio album.

Where to see the Refugee All Stars in Europe

Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars are touring North America in July and August. They are back in Europe for the end of July

  • 21 July Lavagna Italy
  • 23 July Elba Island, Oltremare Festival,
  • 25 July Womad, Charlton Park UK
  • 30 July Trondheim, Brittania Hall, Norway.

Through the film Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars have been able to launch an international musical career, while drawing the accolades of Keith Richards, Paul McCartney, Ice Cube (one of the executive producers of the film), and Joe Perry.

The band is rather an exception in Sierra Leone’s music scene. Most musicians can hardly earn a living playing music alone.

“We have a lot of very good musicians but most of them do not have the adequate facilities needed," Koroma says. "Most musicians do not have good instruments, there are no good studios for live recording, there are no promoters or publishers willing to spend their money to get professionally recorded music.”

Black Nature, whose real name is Al Haji Jeffery Kamara, is the youngest member of the band. He looks up to Reuben as his mentor, the man who took him under his wing in the refugee camp after he lost his family to the war.

Black Nature now lives in the USA, in San Francisco precisely. Not because he doesn’t like his native Sierra Leone but because the US offers more scope to musicians.

In an attempt to share what life brought his way, Black Nature created We Own TV, a media project to enable young Sierra Leoneans master the technique of film-making and video production to tell their story. A few workshops have already taken place in Sierra Leone and more are expected before the end of the year.


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