“You left your country to seek refuge, in another man’s land…you will be confronted by strange dialects, you will be fed unusual diets…you’ve got to sleep in a tarpaulin house, which is so hard…you’ve to sleep on a tarpaulin mat, which is so cold…living like a refugee… “
I first heard those lyrics a couple of years ago – a snowy afternoon, if I remember right – on St. Patrick’s Day during the annual Green Mountain Film Festival.
I knew I should have been focusing less on the lyrics and more on the visuals of the film that day. But it’s that kind of music.
The Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars‘ story is widely known now, as the individuals who make up the group fled their country’s brutal civil war in the ’90s and came together to make music in a neighboring Guinea refugee camp. That’s where Woodstock, VT native Zach Niles caught up with them. A fan of African music, Zach and a partner went to Africa to create a film about the role of music in West African refugee camps. He made the Refugee All Stars film in 2005, and has continued his involvement with the group since then as their manager.
The lineup has varied a little from the original six members, most recently with the unexpected death last March of bassist Idrissa Mallam Bangura. In their common mission and experience, though, they remain constant: messages of peace, happiness, and unity still rest firmly at the heart of their music.
Today’s blue skies and sunlit afternoon countered those first snowy film festival memories of the Refugees, as they lit up the Green at Dartmouth College and launched the “eMotion” Arts Festival.
A most fortuitous omen for a positive, creative, artistically inspirational summer ahead!