Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars Saturday at LPCA
If you go…
What: African band Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars
When: Saturday, Feb. 18 at 8 p.m.
Where: Lake Placid Center for the Arts, 17 Algonquin Ave.
How much: $15 in advance at 518-523-2512 or online at www.lakeplacidarts.org, or $20 at the door
LAKE PLACID — In the late 90s, Rueben Koroma and his wife Grace took refuge in a camp in Guinea after escaping the war in their home of Sierra Leone and as Koroma saw the other refugees broken spirits, he took to music to entertain and uplift those in the camps.
The idea eventually turned into a band, Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars, which was featured in a documentary, has released four albums and toured all across the United States. Now the band will be performing at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts at 8 p.m. saturday.
“We are honored and happy to be invited to play in Lake Placid,” Koroma said. “We are so happy to be there. We hope people will come in numbers and enjoy the dance party.”
Koroma said the band has been touring while working on songs for a new album so he is excited to let the Lake Placid audience get a taste of the new music.
“We expect people will come enjoy the African music and we expect to make them happy,” he said. “We expect to really make them dance because our music is compelling. When we play our music, people will jump and dance.”
The lineup will consist of lead singer Koroma, lead guitarist and background singer Ashade Pearce, drummer Christopher Davies, keyboardist and rhythm guitarist Joseph Paye and bassist Michael Graziadei.
The band plays a variety of diverse rhythms native to Sierra Leone, including Djole, Palm Wine music, Gumbe and baskeda.
He said his influence to start the band was to ease the minds and bring joy to those around him in the camps.
“Being in the refugee camp was a very bad situation, you know, with people thinking about what has happened to them, from lost property to lost family members,” Koroma said. “It’s like everybody’s spirit was down and me and my wife just thought well we could bring music to these people to (occupy) their minds. And then we started singing with our voices and then later on we decided to be looking for musicians. We were so lucky, we got one of the renowned musicians Francis Langba, he played the acoustic guitar and we made some improvised percussion with our voices and that’s how we got started in the refugee camp.
“Music is generally something that appeals to the mind of somebody, of people,” he said. “I just thought that it would be an important activity for people who have a lot of problems in their mind. I just feel like playing music for them would heal them or relieve them from their worries that they have. When we implemented it, it works, it’s really uplifted many, many lives. It also helped to reform our lives, because we too, we had our problems in our minds, but when we played music, it’s like music was (banning) away all the stresses.”
He said since the band’s founding it has focused on preserving the music of Sierra Leone, while maintaining a message of peace.
“We first of all just think of ourselves as custodians of the original Sierra Leone rhythms because I feel like baskeda is diminishing in our country right now because of modern influences,” he said. “We just want to keep it to introduce it to the youths, the children back home. That’s why we really keep up with the rhythms of Sierra Leone. Also our message is just peace, that’s the main thing we want to convey. We want to convey a positive message that will inspire people to live a good life and be peaceful. That’s the main thing.”
Koroma said his primary inspiration as a musician was watching his father as he was growing up.
“My father was a traditional musician and he plays the baskeda,” he said. “But he did not use contemporary equipment, they just used hand drums, shakers and the voices with the beat. When I was kid, I saw my father singing and drumming, you know, I get very inspired. That’s my first inspiration. Besides that I’ve been listening to music from all different parts of the world.”
He added that people should come out and see the show because its winter and the music will give them the chance to get away from the cold.
“People should come out and hang out with friends,” he said. “Get the chance to hear the good music from Africa and get the chance to jump and dance, maybe exercise the body and try to drive away the cold in the body.”
Tickets are $15 in advance and can be purchased online at https://www.lakeplacidarts.org/performances/sierra-leones-refugee-all-stars-0 or by calling 518-523-2512. Tickets will also be available at the door for $20.