Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars Living Like a Refugee

In case you didn’t have a chance to see the film, the basic story of the Refugee All Stars is this: six men, living in war-torn West Africa, meet up in a refugee camp. They all had musical careers back in Freetown, Sierra Leone. In the midst of all the terror and uncertainty, they formed a band, and used their music to keep them together and sane, and bring something to their fellow refugees. These men are real, and the music they produced in the three years that they were followed by the documentarians, moving from camp to camp and eventually back home, is collected in this album, Living like a Refugee. Of course, a project like this is inspiring — the triumph of art in the face of impossible odds, but there is also something vaguely macabre about the music. In the traditions of great West African music, most of the tunes are very danceable. But the words conflict with the happy signals that the notes send. Songs like "Bull to the Weak,” which describes the rampant hunger in the camps is also a bouncy guitar bop, or "Weapon Conflict,” which talks about everyone who gets caught in the crossfire of the fighting of the big elephants, those in power, has a organ backup and call and response that makes you want to sway along. They sing songs of celebration, but of what? These are people that were left with next to nothing. However, in a place where survival is chancy, just living is something to celebrate. And that may be the most inspiring part — that it became more than survival. It was really life. (Epitaph)