The musicians who make up Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars all knew each other in the Sierra Leonean capital of Freetown. But they never played together until they met again in the Sembakounya Refugee Camp, at the end of Sierra Leone's ruinous civil war. They hung a sign reading "The Place to Be" outside a makeshift bar, styled themselves the Refugee All Stars, and held forth, using battered guitars and a generator-powered amplifier. As for the events that befell them in the intervening years — as Merle Haggard said of his experiences at San Quentin prison, you'll sleep better if I skip them. But what's happened since the musicians were recorded in the camp, by two aspiring young documentarians, is quite a story in itself.
West African music in English is rarer than it once was, but the litany of privations the filmmakers heard from the All Stars was in that language, perhaps because Sierra Leoneans of various ethnic groups were thrown together in the remote camp. "I just took all the problems, the suffering of the people, and make a song of it," says group leader Reuben M. Koroma in a spoken introduction to the song "Living like a Refugee." Codirector Zach Niles showed the footage to his boss, high-powered San Francisco ticket broker Shelley Lazar; Lazar buttonholed film producer Steve Bing, actor Cameron Crowe, and humanitarian organizer Bob Geldof at Mick Jagger's sixtieth birthday party in Prague. Soon various other entertainment moguls, including Paul McCartney, also wanted in. They helped finance production of the documentary, which made the rounds of independent theaters in 2005.
Enter another phalanx of the powerful, including House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, who smoothed the All Stars' entry into the United States — no easy thing for a group of musicians with no identification, no bank account, no electronic footprints of any kind. In the spring of this year the Refugee All Stars found themselves performing on a sidewalk at
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