Lucid Culture


Concert Review: Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars at Highline Ballroom, NYC 4/14/10

Highline Ballroom was about as full as it could get without taking the tables down. Conspicuously absent was the Sierra Leonian posse: this was a Coachella crowd that had come to dance and didn’t stop til Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars finally called it a night. Maybe there is actually an upside to Vampire Weekend – the idea of Vampire Weekend, anyway – considering how much this audience enjoyed the real thing. The nine-piece group’s long set followed the same trajectory as their superb new album Rise & Shine, alternating cheerily hypnotic three-chord afrobeat jams with anthemic, often magisterial roots reggae. Interestingly, their reggae numbers are more melodically captivating, although the dancers seemed to feel just the opposite. Whichever way you look it at, it was a party. “In Africa, people throw money on us,” boasted singer Reuben M. Koroma, something that takes on considerably greater significance in a place where there’s so little of it.

At their most ecstatic, they had three electric guitars going; at their most dizzyingly rhythmic, one of the guitarists would become a third percussionist. With nimbly intricate drums, slinkily melodic bass, occasional keyboards and joyous vocal harmonies, they’d draw the songs out for as long as ten minutes at a clip, often breaking the reggae numbers down to just the drums and some bass or guitar for a lo-fi dub vibe. The version of the bouncily suggestive Bend Down de Corner on the new album is acoustic, almost mento: here they cranked it up and gave it a late 60s style rocksteady groove, one of the Les Paul players taking over lead vocals and doing a credible Bob Marley evocation. One of several antiwar numbers gave the other Les Paul player the chance to feel his way through a focus-shifting, sunbaked solo, part desert blues, part woozy psychedelia. Many of the other reggae numbers’ harmonies had a carefree Israel Vibration feel, particularly a fervently extended version of the sufferah’s anthem Jah Mercy. Koroma explained that he was looking forward to the day when Jah returns to earth because “Human sense is not enough,” perhaps understandable considering how much war he and the band had to live through. At the end, they brought the opening act, high-spirited hip-hop crew Bajah & the Dry Eye Crew up onstage to cheerlead some call-and-response with the audience through a seemingly endless afrobeat jam. The crowd didn’t want to let them go, but there was an eight AM flight to catch. Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars’ US tour continues; the remainder of the dates are here.

April 17, 2010 - Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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