The miracle of a concert sponsored by The Sun Valley Center for the Arts at Hop Porter Park this weekend is that the band exists at all.
The Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars will perform at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 29.
The band came about when Sierra Leone's capital city of Freetown was attacked during the decade-long civil war during the 1990s. A mass exodus of residents ended up homeless in places such as the Kalia Refugee Camp in Guinea.
Among the thousands who fled were musicians Reuben M. Koroma and Franco Langba. To provide respite from the horrors of war for their fellow refugees, they began making music with improvised instruments. Eventually, after the camps themselves proved unsafe, the initial band members were evacuated to another camp, deep in the remote Guinean countryside.
American documentary filmmakers Banker White and Zach Niles, along with Canadian singer-songwriter Chris Velan, came upon the Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars during that time. They followed the band for three years as they moved from camp to camp. Finally, the band returned home to reunite with surviving family, friends and former bandmates.
The resulting documentary "Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars," won 13 major awards, including the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary, at the AFI Film Festival 2005, the Audience Favorite Award at the Miami Film Festival 2006, and the Filmmaker's Award for Social Change and the Emerging Pictures Audience Award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2006.
Traditional West African music, roots reggae and rhythmic traditional folk are the band's standard. It's infectious, danceable music that is uplifting despite the tragedy that it was born from. Produced by Chris Velan, the band's debut album, "Living Like A Refugee," received international attention and admiring reviews. Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote, "The cliché bears repeating: music heals and creates community."
The 12-member band has been featured on CNN, PBS and CBS Sunday Morning, as well as having performed live on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Their music is featured in the movie "Blood Diamond" and on two upcoming humanitarian relief compilations, which they recorded with Joe Perry and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. In 2006, the band appeared at Bonnaroo, the Montreal Jazz Fest, the Ottawa Jazz Festival, the Folk and Roots Festival in Chicago and the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan, as well as headlining at Central Park Summerstage. Last fall, the band opened for Aerosmith at the Mohegan Sun Arena and most recently performed for an international audience at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.
Tickets are available through the Sun Valley Center, 726-9491, at $15 for adults and $5 for kids 12 and under.