Friday, Feb. 20 at 7:30 p.m. — WOODSTOCK — There are many things one might expect to find in an 1800’s farmhouse in Vermont. Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars is not one of them. The members of Africa’s most inspirational band took a month long residency in the Green Mountain State in 2013 to lay down tracks on their fourth and latest album, “Libation”; which was later mixed by renowned London-based producer Iestyn Polson, known for his work with David Bowie, Patti Smith, David Gray, and others. Once recording began, news spread throughout the Plainfield, Vt. community that the world-famous band was nearby. Volunteers and fans helped the band with transportation, lodging, musical instruments, phone cards, and most importantly, servings of their favorite chicken and rice. Since those long summer days in the recording studio until now, much has happened both personally and professionally for the Refugee All Stars. They return to Woodstock and join guest performers Sayon Camara and the Landaya Ensemble, to deliver an exhilarating performance, as well as shining a light on the current Ebola crisis in West Africa. Join them at Woodstock Town Hall Theatre on Friday, Feb. 20 at 7:30 p.m.
“Libation” comes ten years after their first album, “Living Like a Refugee”, and according the band, “since that first album we’ve lived a life that once seemed unimaginable; we have toured the world, released more albums, and shared our music with thousands upon thousands of friends and fans. But while we keep rolling we never forget our roots. So this is our musical libation – an offering – to celebrate the blessings that our music has brought to us, to pay respect to the spirits of the musical brothers we have lost along the way, and to pay tribute to Mama Salone – the country whose culture, traditions, and rhythms infuse our music and fill our souls with pride.”
In yet another connection to Vermont, Woodstock native Zach Niles met this group of musicians at a refugee camp in Guinea over a decade ago. He and fellow filmmaker, Banker White, were so inspired by the group’s story, they followed the band for three years as they moved from camp to camp. Sierra Leone was in the midst of a protracted and brutal civil war from 1991 to 2002. Thousands of Sierra Leoneans fled to refugee camps in Guinea, including the musicians who would later form Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars. The resulting film, “Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars,” documents this moving saga, and received critical success as well as introducing the world to the personalities, music, and dramatic stories of survival behind the band. “As harrowing as these personal tales may be,” wrote The New York Times, “the music buoying them is uplifting.”
After “Libation” was released in 2014, the Refugee All Stars embarked on a worldwide tour. However, thousands of miles away, friends and family living in Sierra Leone faced a new deadly enemy: Ebola. In an open letter on the band’s website, the Refugee All Stars write, “And for us, we are worried. Very worried. All our families are in Sierra Leone and we are over in the U.S. on tour. It is so important that we do all we can from here to fight this horrible disease back home.”
The band has teamed up with the Freetown media production team, WeOwnTV, to produce and disseminate vital public service announcements about effective methods of preventing Ebola in Sierra Leone, as the spread has largely been attributed to a lack of awareness of these simple yet vital prevention techniques. For the rest of their tour, the All Stars will collect donations to WeOwnTV, and will continue to do so until the spread of the virus has stopped and no new patients are reported.
Says Alita Wilson, Pentangle’s Executive Director, “I was first introduced to the Refugee All Stars years ago when Pentangle brought them to Woodstock to perform on the lawn behind the Unitarian Universalist Church. At the time I didn’t know the band’s remarkable story. It was the music that touched me, and had the audience dancing on the grass for the entire performance. With the current Ebola crisis in West Africa, the band’s mission only deepens. I am thrilled to bring the All Stars to the main stage for another uplifting performance, along with local musicians Sayon Camara and the Landaya Ensemble.”
Originally from Guinea, Sayon Camara now lives in Woodstock. He is a sought after musician whose skills and talents take him all over the world. The Landaya Ensemble is a New Hampshire-based group that performs traditional West African rhythms and songs.
Camara is “thrilled to be performing with Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars. This is the first time since I came to America four years ago from Guinea, West Africa, that I will be playing with an all-African group. It is an honor to play with a group I have so much respect for. I am so thankful that the Ebola is being contained, and to Pentangle for organizing a concert to help this happen in our beloved West Africa. I long to see my home and family again, too. I am grateful for the openness and generosity of the Woodstock community, and to the Refugee All Stars for sharing their joyful music here, in a concert that helps to end Ebola, and at the same time lets people experience West African music and feel happy, like I do. When we come together everyone benefits.”
The upcoming concert at Woodstock Town Hall Theatre will radiate the joy and passion for music that have made Sierra Leone’s Refugees All Stars a living testament to the resilience of the human spirit, and an inspiration to hundreds of thousands around the world. For tickets or info, visit www.pentanglearts.org or call 802-457-3981.
Photo by Jay Dickman, courtesy of Pentangle