Refugee All Stars remember their roots as they start to hit the big time
LONDON, United Kingdom, December 5 (UNHCR) - The Refugee All Stars are in great demand these days, but the group of Sierra Leonean musicians had not forgotten their pasts when they kicked off a small European tour in London this week.
"We're at our happiest when we're performing in front of a crowd. Our goal is not just to entertain, but also to educate. We want to tell people our story and the story of other millions of refugees around the world," lead vocalist Reuben M. Koroma told UNHCR before Monday's concert at the Carling Academy Islington.
That same night the group's appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show, a bellwether for success in the entertainment world, was aired. They played a song from their new CD and discussed their flight from the bloody conflict in Sierra Leone, which only ended in 2002.
The Refugee All Stars have also recently supported the legendary American rockers, Aerosmith, while another of their songs - "Ankala" - is featured in the Leonardo di Caprio movie, "Blood Diamond," which opens later this week. A documentary about the group - formally known as Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars - continues to pick up awards and pack in audiences in Europe and America.
Monday's concert was an opportunity to bask in the music - an African version of reggae and rap - and remember the millions of refugees who still suffer as the All Stars once did. The audience of around 100 people danced in the aisles during most of the energetic two-hour set, the first London gig for the band formed in a refugee camp in Guinea in the late 1990s.
Through the music, the seven touring members of the band shared their harrowing journey - from fleeing persecution to living in camps and finally going back home. They also wanted to share a message of global peace - and to show support for UNHCR's Ninemillion.org campaign.
UNHCR staff were present at the concert to help raise awareness of the campaign, which aims to give refugee children greater access to education and sports programmes. The agency volunteers distributed magazines and postcards, and collected donations. Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars are strong supporters of the campaign, which was launched last June with backing from UNHCR corporate partners, Microsoft and Nike.
Ninemillion.org is UNHCR's entry point to the public at large as it creates an emotional connection between the world and refugees. The campaign is about putting a face on real people: the refugee children. The campaign is UNHCR's first initiative to raise awareness for the refugee cause via the web.
The Refugee All Stars announced on November 9 that they were committing themselves to helping the campaign. The band will use their new album, "Living like a Refugee," and the documentary to raise awareness and funds.
"In the refugee camps we found the most traumatised youth - those who had lost family, had been maimed, or had been taken as child combatants - and we focused on helping them," Koroma said in November. "In addition to music and theatre, we had the greatest success in helping them achieve a sense of normalcy through sports and basic schooling."
He said the band hoped that "Ninemillion.org can expand on these efforts to reach the millions of youth still in need."
Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars play in Amsterdam on Tuesday; Gent in Belgium on Wednesday; Paris on Thursday and Rennes in France on Friday.
By Karen Wagstaff in London, UK