Sounds like: A rough mélange of retro reggae, Afro-funk, tribal chants, Congolese soukous and groovy soul.
For fans of: Pretty much any of the Afro-pop acts that have broken through to general consciousness (Antibalas, Femi Kuti), old-school reggae and anyone who likes an uplifting survival story.
Latest release: 2012’s Radio Salone.
Why you care: How’s this for a harrowing origin story? When Ruben Koroma and his wife, Grace, fled their native country’s horrific, decade-long civil war, they wound up in a refugee camp with guitarist Francis John Langba, bassist Idrissa Bangura and other musicians whom they had known before the war. They used battered guitars and a rudimentary sound system donated by a Canadian relief agency to entertain their fellow war refugees. Eventually, after moving from camp to camp, seven musicians from Sierra Leone’s Freetown area, many of whom had suffered or witnessed brutal atrocities, formed a band whose music itself became a refuge from the horrors of civil war and exile. A powerful documentary film aired on public television brought the story to millions around the world, followed by an acclaimed 2006 album and world tour, the obligatory Oprah appearance, an opening gig for Aerosmith and albums produced by Steve Berlin and Ticklah. But while the All Stars’ tragedy-to-triumph tale is genuinely compelling, the music, fueled by searing experience, is what matters—and it cooks.
SEE IT: Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars play Star Theater, 13 NW 6th Ave., on Wednesday, July 31. 9 pm. $20. 21+.