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 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars – Rise & Shine

Feel-good story of the year: Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars have emerged from the refugee camps there with a genuinely inspiring, indomitably high-spirited album that literally transcends the horror they’ve collectively experienced. Their cause is peace, unsurprisingly considering what they’ve been through. They’re a terrific roots reggae band, although this new cd intersperses the reggae tracks among a traditional peacemaking chant and a handful of circular, jangly afropop numbers sung in a vivid English patois along with several African languages including Mandingo and Mende. Recorded both in Sierra Leone and New Orleans, with the Bonerama Horns’ sly brass livening three tracks, the songs bring a striking global social awareness to the party: it’s good-time music, but it’s also rooted in the here and now. This isn’t just a good party album, it’s an important one.

The first of the reggae tracks, Global Threat has frequent lead singer Reuben M. Koroma smartly making the connection between global warming and global violence in a fervent rasp similar to Apple Gabriel of Israel Vibration, the band grooving behind him with a slinky, dark vintage Black Uhuru feel capped by an ominously careening trombone solo from Trombone Shorty. They follow that with a hypnotic traditional call-and-response chant over simple percussion. Translation: “Mr. Banker I do not know, do not know what you have done to someone but people hate you.” Living Stone follows, a defiant, triumphant, wickedly catchy upbeat reggae song with the feel of an Israel Vibration classic featuring some sweet soul guitar from Augusrine Kobina Valcarcel. “We are the Rolling Stones,” Koroma triumphantly declares: in their corner of the world, maybe they are.

Jah Mercy does double duty as hymn and sufferah’s litany of injustices; the fast reggae shuffle Jah Come Down aptly revisits the Burning Spear classic Slavery Days for the teens. The acoustic reggae number Bend Down the Corner is a come-on to a pretty woman; the afropop tune Goat Smoke Pipe, sung in Krio (a pidgin English variant) offers a savagely satirical look at food shortages, cows discovering cassava while the goat smokes his pipe to keep hunger at bay. With the trombones going full tilt, the upbeat GBRR Man (Trouble) sounds like Toots & the Maytals. The album closes with a slap at religious hypocrisy, Watching All Your Ways, an all-acoustic reggae song recorded outdoors while the band was sitting around a campfire in Canada. The album’s out on Cumbancha; Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars play the Highline Ballroom on April 14 at around ten (popular African hip-hop group Bajah and the Dry Eye Crew, featuring terrific baritone sax player Paula Henderson, open the show around 9), advance tickets very highly recommended since the show will sell out.

April 12, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment