I Love All Music! - Six Questions with the Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars

SLRAS by Kisha Bari
Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars are celebrating their 10th anniversary and the release of their newest album, Libation, with an encore performance in Washington, DC. The late Hunter S. Thompson wrote, "On some nights I still believe that a car with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio". He may have never heard the All Stars, but he captured the spirit of their music perfectly.

I had the pleasure of chatting with Ruben Koroma, the band's leader, about his music and musical inspirations, the band's humanitarian efforts, and about how far Sierra Leone has come since the country's civil war ended.

Your band does an impressive amount of humanitarian with organizations like Schools for Salone, the International Rescue Committee, & the World Food Program. What are your goals for the humanitarian work that you do?

We have been collaborating with NGOs who are trying to help the conditions in our country, and trying to raise money to rehabilitate schools. We come from a refugee situation, and we have always been very committed to NGOs doing humanitarian exercises in Africa and elsewhere in the world.

How are the conditions in Sierra Leone currently?

The situation in Sierra Leone is better than the former. It's better than the fear, it's better than the trouble. Sierra Leone is stable now. Since 2002, we have had peace in our country. Recently, we've had something very fearful in our country with Ebola. It's like salt added in a wound, and it's affecting the whole region - Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia. All our family members are there.

You’ve recorded albums in New Orleans, Brooklyn, and Vermont. Where would you like to record next? Are there any producers you’d like to work with?

The place I'm excited to record our next album is Jamaica. I really want to record a few of my reggae songs in Jamaica, to get that Jamaican feeling.

You explore musical styles from Sierra Leone and other parts of Africa. Are there any musical styles that interest you you haven’t explored yet?

Reggae music has held my attention since I was a young guy. My father loved it, too. It was the music of the day when I was growing up. My father was a traditional musician. He played the hand drum. I love the drums' kick, the bass, the rhythms, contemporary stuff. We still have the African rhythms to portray - high life, gumbe, baskeda. Different beats. We create more choices for our listeners out there.

Besides your father, who were some of your other musical influences?

Bob Marley. Franco [Ed. note: Fran├žois Luambo Makiadi]. I love Teddy Pendergrass, I love Michael Jackson, Madonna, Lady Gaga. I love all music! My biggest heroes were Bob Marley and Franco. 

Sierra Leone has come a long way since the civil war ended. The country ran its own election in 2012, and the government setup an anti-corruption task force. What do you see as the country's most pressing political need?

I think Sierra Leone is politically stable at the moment. The majority of the people feel very good about the activeness of the government right now. There are aspirations to broaden the roads throughout the length and breadth of Sierra Leone. People see it as a step to bigger developments, to improving electricity and infrastructure. [The government is] Creating a free healthcare [system] for pregnant women, for lactating mothers and children under 5. Many things are going on, and the majority of the people are optimistic that good things are happening in Sierra Leone. 

If you didn't catch their spirited set at Artisphere in May, you have no excuse to miss their show at the Black Cat next Friday. Doors open at 9pm, and tickets are $20. Opening for the All Stars is Harper Simon, the musical and physical successor to his father Paul.

I'll leave you with the track 'Gbaenyama' from Libation