Sierra Leone’s ‘Refugee All Stars’ sing message of hope in America

File: Sierra Leone's 'Refugee All Stars'

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“We are like a model to refugees, and we are also like spokesmen for refugees because we need to tell the people how it feels”

SOUTH ORANGE, N.J., Feb 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Musician Ashade Pearce plays songs about being a refugee in West Africa, and he has a message for U.S. President Donald Trump.

“Not all refugees are bad,” the guitarist with Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars said before a recent performance in a New York City suburb. “You should not judge everybody the same.

“The righteous should not suffer for the wicked,” the 60-year-old artist, his graying dreadlocks reaching below his waist, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, a band with beginnings in refugee camps in Guinea during their country’s civil war, are touring the United States, where they hope their stories and music might help ease tensions over refugees and immigrants.

Within days of taking office in January, Trump pushed refugee issues to the top of his agenda, issuing an executive order blocking immigrants from seven largely Muslim nations, suspending all refugees for 120 days and banning Syrian refugees indefinitely.

The move, which he said was necessary to protect the United States from attacks by Islamist militants, prompted widespread protests in U.S. cities. People trying to enter the country were detained at airports or barred from boarding flights.

The order has been on hold since a federal judge barred its enforcement, but the president is expected to issue a new, revised directive this week.

The Refugee All Stars, with four albums to their name, are playing shows on intimate stages along the U.S. East Coast. They are scheduled to play in London in April.

“I think music could help,” said Reuben Koroma, the band’s lead singer. “Sometimes when people learn about our story, it gives them hope. They will say, ‘Look, those guys were refugees. Now look at them.'”

The band’s founding members lived in Freetown, Sierra Leone, but were forced to flee to neighboring Guinea in the civil war that engulfed their homeland for more than a decade, beginning in 1991.

With a pair of donated old guitars and a rudimentary sound system, they began entertaining other refugees in the camps. Two American filmmakers followed them, releasing a documentary “Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars” in 2005.

Back home in Freetown, the band recorded its first album, “Living Like a Refugee,” released in 2006. One of their songs appeared on the soundtrack of the movie “Blood Diamond”.
– Ellen Wulfhorst | @EJWulfhorst | Thomson Reuters Foundation