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Sierrra Leone Refugee All Stars-Soda Soap (Official Music) HD

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Uploaded on May 26, 2010

Sierra Leonean refugees to bring upbeat rhythms to Green...
In times of war, culture and humanity often take a backseat to the killings and devastation that take place; yet Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars demonstrate that even in the midst of destruction, art can subsist and even thrive. Friday, beginning at 5 p.m., the All Stars will play a free concert on the Green, kicking off "eMotion," Dartmouth's Summer Arts Festival sponsored by the Leslie Center for the Humanities.

The All Stars found each other in refugee camps in Guinea, West Africa, after a brutal and horrific civil war displaced the musicians and ravaged their native Sierra Leone from 1991 to 2002.

The members had been involved in the Sierra Leone music scene before the outbreak of the war, when they began performing as a means of distracting other refugees from their suffering and the difficult conditions of the camps, according to Alhaji Jeffrey Kamara, who goes by the name of Black Nature and is the youngest member of the group.

"Whenever we started playing, you would see hundreds of people would come around. And most of those people have something in them, which is thinking of what has happened to them," Black Nature said. "But when we started playing, you would see them all come, jump, dance, feel happy, laugh and do jokes even though when they go back, they're going to think about it."

Black Nature said that a lack of schools, medical facilities and substantial food made life in the camps difficult, and these substandard living conditions resulted in thousands of deaths. The refugees were frequently relocated to different camps to avoid the dangers of war.

Despite these challenges, the original members of the group were able to acquire some battered sound equipment from a Canadian relief organization, allowing the band to start making music as more musicians joined them. Soon thereafter, Vermont-native Zach Niles, along with Banker White, filmed the documentary "Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars" (2005). Now, Niles co-manages the group.

The film follows the All Stars over three years in the camps and documents the making of their debut album "Living Like a Refugee," a 17-track record, produced by Canadian singer-songwriter Chris Velan. The All Stars wrote the tracks during their time spent as refugees and recorded it in the camps and at Sam Jones' Island Studios in Freetown, Sierra Leone, the hometown of several All Stars.

The All Stars play music that is surprisingly upbeat given the horrific circumstances surrounding the group's creation. With their fusion of reggae, African music and strong dance beats, the All Stars avoid dwelling on their painful past and focus instead on the positive powers of music.

"I think the idea we feel strongly about is figuring out ways to help people tell their own story, the idea of empowering people to tell their own stories," Niles said.

Indeed, according to Black Nature, music has taken on a therapeutic role for some of the All Stars as well. Many of the refugees witnessed the killing of their loved ones or personally suffered bodily harm. Rebels amputated the hands of two members of the group, and Black Nature witnessed his father's murder.

"I think music was the only instrument there for me to help my trauma because when I was in a refugee camp, I was a totally hopeless guy — I didn't have hope," Black Nature said. "I thought that was the end of Black Nature because it's hard. It's really hard and terrible seeing the killing of your parent in front of you, and the country that you come from. You're seeing a lot of killing...and I was a child so it was pretty hard for me and I didn't know what to do."

But seeing the positive effect that music had on others in the refugee camp and being a part of the family that the All Stars became gave Black Nature something to hold onto besides the painful memories of his experience. Through music, he and the other members of the group have been able to spread hope around the world to other people who may be facing similar atrocities.

Since the release of the film and debut album, the All Stars have performed in Europe, Canada, Japan, Australia and at festivals and venues in the U.S., including South by Southwest, Bonnaroo and Central Park SummerStage. At the end of their current tour, the All Stars will travel to New Orleans to start recording their next album, which Niles said will feature guest musicians.

In addition to serving as the first event of "eMotion," the All Stars' performance marks the end of the Hopkins Center's Class Divide series, which presented performances focused on socioeconomic themes and issues. The John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding and Programming Board cosponsored the All Stars' show for the Dartmouth Centers Forum, whose 2008-2009 theme is "Conflict and Reconciliation."

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