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Refugee band launches debut album in Freetown


Refugee band launches debut album in Freetown

Discovered while in exile in Guinea, the Refugee All Stars band has gone back to Sierra Leone to launch its debut album, "Livin' Like a Refugee". All but one of the band members have returned home to restart their lives.
11 June 2004
Returnee rhapsody – the Refugee All Stars band performing on the streets of Freetown.

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, June 11 (UNHCR) - After years of living in harmony in Guinea's camps, a group of six Sierra Leonean refugees has returned to their homeland to launch their debut album on Friday.

The album, "Livin' Like a Refugee", will be officially launched at Paddy's Beach Bar in Aberdeen, Freetown, on Friday evening. But Sierra Leoneans got a preview when the band, Refugee All Stars, gave a street performance in front of UNHCR's office on Thursday.

"I feel very spiritual at the moment," beamed band leader Reuben Koroma during Thursday's pre-launch show. "Performing in Sierra Leone is something that I missed and I've got it back again. It is like finding a lost son."

Koroma is one of six band members - including Efuah Grace, Francis John Langba, Abdul Rahim Kamara, Alhaji Jeffrey Kamara (aka "Black Nature") and Mohammed Bangura - who were discovered while in exile in Guinea.

In the summer of 2002, three musicians from North America - Zach Niles, Banker White and Chris Velan, founders of SodaSoap Productions - visited camps for Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea with UNHCR staff member Alphonse Munyaneza, and were awed by the role music played in the camps.

They found that while music emanated from all corners of the camps, very few refugees actually owned instruments. Their search finally ended when they walked into a hut in Sembakounya camp and heard an impromptu version of "Livin' Like a Refugee". Equipped with little more than 2 guitars, the six band members bonded immediately with their guests.

The visiting musicians found that the band's music helped the other residents of the camp get through memories of their traumatic experiences while fleeing Sierra Leone.

"The Refugee All Stars have a story that we can relate to, music that we can dance to. They bring a human touch to all refugee crises reported on in the west," said Niles, whose SodaSoap Productions ended up producing the "Livin' Like a Refugee" album, with all the songs written in exile.

Together, they have been promoting the new album for the past two weeks. After Friday's launch in Freetown, they will move on to the interior of the country. The album will be on sale as of July 1 at Proceeds will help the band to rent a studio where they can continue to record their music.

A documentary on the lives of the band members will be released later this year. All but one of them have returned to Sierra Leone to restart their lives.

UNHCR estimates that by the end of June when the voluntary repatriation programme ends, an estimated 300,000 refugees would have returned to Sierra Leone - mostly from neighbouring Liberia and Guinea. The repatriation started at the beginning of 2001.