Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars on the big screen

In case you’ve not yet heard about the One World InnerNational Music Festival, to be held Friday through Sunday, Aug. 17-19 at Deerfields, consider yourself informed. The weekend-long celebration of culture, community and world music features names like Vieux Farka Toure (from Mali), Corey Harris (USA, Virginia), King Britt (USA, Pennsylvania) and NiyoRah (Virgin Islands).

But, as compelling as these artists are, the show-stealer is likely to be 12-member collective Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars. The group was “discovered” by documentary film makers Banker White and Zach Niles in a refugee camp in Guinea, Africa. The band’s members found each other after fleeing the late-1990s war in Sierra Leone. They had lost everything — their homes, their possessions and their families. Worse, they’d witnessed the worst kind of violence: Some looked on helplessly as their relatives were brutally murdered, one man was forced at gunpoint to kill his own child, two musicians suffered amputations. To overcome their trauma, they came together through music, finding sanctuary in the creation and performance of songs.

But the music of the Refugee All Stars was not meant for their healing alone. Their upbeat, astoundingly positive songs became the voice of innocent refugees scattered across Guinea. A refugee aid organization found the group a battered sound system and the guitars needed to take their show on the road. White and Niles’ documentary, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars: Living Like A Refugee follows the group first as they tour other Guinean refugee camps and later as they return to their home country where they record their debut album (Living Like A Refugee, Anti, 2006).

The film won not only numerous film festival awards, but also the support of celebrities such as Keith Richards, Paul McCartney, Ice Cube and Angelina Jolie. But that’s not why audiences should care. The reason to pay attention to this band is because, in the very worst of circumstances, they rose (and continue to rise) to the occasion with positivity, hope and infectious joy.

Want to learn more? Catch a pre-One World Festival screening of Living Like A Refugee at the Asheville Pizza & Brewing Company (675 Merrimon Ave., 254-1281) on Thursday, August 9. Show time is 7 p.m., ticket price TBD. 

The hour-long documentary is gorgeously scenic with the countryside of Guinea looking rather like Black Mountain’s rolling valley. Interviews, conducted mainly in English, are subtitled for clarity, and the people encountered by the film makers are genuine and upfront about their struggles and beliefs. While the overall feeling of the film is definitively positive, some footage of the war is hard to stomach and the harrowing tales of the survivors are probably not for children or the easily rattled.

—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter 

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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One thought on “Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars on the big screen

  1. Timothy


    The movie will actually be showing at 9:30pm SHARP.

    $2 will be requested at the door, but if you’re unable to do that, come anyway!

    Peace & Blessings.

    One Vibe Reggae

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