Zagreb, 10 June 2011 – On the occasion of the World Refugee Day UNHCR Croatia organized a screening of a documentary film called Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars which will take place at Kino Europa in Zagreb on 16 June. Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars chronicles the band over three years, from Guinean refugee camps back to war-ravaged Sierra Leone where they realize the dream of recording their first studio album. The goal of UNHCR is to raise awareness of the global refugee issue among Croatian public especially to inspire artists (musicians, songwriters, filmmakers, actors, produces) to use their talent to help those that are displaced in dire straits.
Throughout the 1990s, the West African country of Sierra Leone was wracked with a bloody, horrifying war that claimed the lives of countless millions. The attack on Freetown caused a panicked mass exodus with thousands of civilians fleeing the region and eventually making their way into neighboring Guinea, some ending up in refugee camps.
Band leader Reuben Koroma and his wife Grace found themselves in the Kalia refugee camp near the border with Sierra Leone, and when it became clear they would not be heading back to their homeland anytime soon, they joined up with Francis John Langba (aka Franco), another musician in the camp, to entertain their fellow refugees. After a Canadian relief agency donated two beat up electric guitars, a single microphone and a meager sound system, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars were born.
American filmmakers Zach Niles and Banker White along with Canadian musician Chris Velan, encountered the band and were so inspired by their story they ended up following them for three years as they moved from camp to camp, bringing much needed joy to fellow refugees with their heartfelt performances. The war in Sierra Leone came to an end in 2001, and over time the All Stars returned to Freetown, where they met other returning musicians who eventually joined the band’s rotating membership.
It was there in the tin-roofed shacks of Freetown’s ghettos that Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars recorded tracks that ended up, along with unplugged recordings made in the refugee camps, being the basis for their debut album, Living Like a Refugee, which was released on the major independent label Anti in 2006.
The resulting film that documented this moving saga, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, was a critical success, and introduced the world to the personalities and dramatic stories behind the band, not to mention their instantly appealing music.
Despite their success, back home in Sierra Leone it was becoming clear that even though the war was over, there were still difficult challenges to overcome. Their weapon in this struggle is music, and their message, while offering critique and condemnation of wrongdoing, remains positive and hopeful.