2007 Best Music Poll Winners

World Music

Sierra Leone Refugee All-Stars

Sierra Leone’s Refugee All-Stars started out as the subjects of a documentary film and wound up a world-music phenomenon. In 2002, the fledgling combo was scratching out reggae and palm-wine songs on acoustic guitars to entertain fellow refugees, sorry and traumatized in crowded camps in Guinea. In the film, they go electric, tour the camps, return to Freetown, Sierra Leone, where they meet old musician friends and record an album, and then go back to the camps with the message that, in fact, you can go home again. By the time the film rolled out in 2005, the band had polished their tuneful, passionate reggae, palm- wine, and gumbe numbers into a road-ready stage act, and produced a fine 17-track CD — Living Like a Refugee (Anti-) — that spans this entire, unlikely history. With their film and story as an attention-grabbing prologue, the band toured widely in 2006, winning over audiences with rough-hewn roots grooves, sweet vocal harmonies led by Reuben Koroma, and scratchy raps from the band’s youngest member, Black Nature. The Refugee All-Stars’ best songs deliver transcendent, hard-won authenticity. Can that sustain now that life is good? Either way, 2006 was the year it all came together for this, the first Sierra Leonean band ever to make waves in America.

— Banning Eyre


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