Let’s take a look at Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars’ latest record, Radio Salone, which is out today on Cumbancha. For those who aren’t familiar with this group, the band name tells the story of how this ensemble came together. In the 1990s, war spread throughout Sierra Leone and millions were forced out of their homes. The musicians that make up the group are originally from Freetown. They had to seek refuge in neighboring Guinea or try to fend for themselves in the capital city of Conakry as violent clashes surrounded them. Ruben Koroma and his wife Grace left Sierra Leone in 1997 and when it became clear they wouldn’t be returning to their home anytime soon, they joined up with guitarist Francis John Langba (aka Franco), bassist Idrissa Bangura (aka Mallam) and other musicians in the camp whom they had known before the war, to entertain their fellow refugees. After a Canadian relief agency donated a couple of beat up electric guitars, a microphone and a budget sound system, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars were formed.
“It’s been a long struggle out of the war, out of miserable conditions. 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.” – Ruben Koroma
Since the band’s inception, they have been the subject of a moving documentary and have recorded several albums. For Radio Salone, the group recorded at Dunham Studios, an affiliate of Daptone Records, in Brooklyn. They utilized the vintage, analog gear with producer Victor Axelrod (aka Ticklah) adding his warm touch to the record. Producer and keyboardist Axelrod has worked with Amy Winehouse, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Antibalas and Easy Star All-Stars to name a few acts. The band’s vision for the album was to return to the sounds they heard on the radio in Sierra Leone in their younger years. Old school reggae, funky African grooves and deep tribal chants find their way onto this record. The title of the album, Radio Salone, means “Radio Sierra Leone” in the native language of Krio, which is one of six languages heard on the new record. The radio theme reminds listeners that in the past the radio, not TV or the internet, was the only way to hear music and news from abroad. Especially during the brutal war in Sierra Leone, the radio was a way to escape the harsh reality of the conflict as well as a way to stay in touch with the outside world. Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars will embark on a global tour this year, so stay tuned and be sure to witness this amazing band live. The group is nice enough to post their album on bandcamp, so you can go there to stream and purchase the LP/CD/Digital version of the record, or hit your local record store and tell them you want Radio Salone today. Listen to the album stream above and you will be hooked.