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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

(Soundbite of music)

The musicians of Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars first came together in a refugee camp during the waning years of their country's brutal civil war. They released their debut CD in 2006, and their story was the subject of a documentary that helped launch the band internationally.

The Refugee All Stars are now out with their follow-up called "Rise and Shine." NPR's Banning Eyre caught up with the members of the band to talk about their lives and music in the post-war era.

(Soundbite of song, "Living Stone")

BANNING EYRE: The Refugee All Stars share experiences of violence, loss and the tedium of life in refugee camps. But when they make music together, something unexpected emerges: buoyant grooves and fierce optimism.

(Soundbite of song, "Living Stone")

REFUGEE ALL STARS (Band): (Singing) We are the living stones. (Unintelligible). We are the cornerstones. We are the rolling stones. We are the living stones.

EYRE: "Rise and Shine" stays true to the band's earthy, informal mix of reggae and West African genres. A couple of these tracks sound like they were recorded around a campfire with just drums and acoustic guitar. Others make a nod to contemporary trends in popular dance music.

(Soundbite of song, "Living Stone")

BLACK NATURE (Member, Refugee All Stars): (Unintelligible).

EYRE: That's the youngest member of the Refugee All Stars, Black Nature, bringing a dancehall feeling into the mix.

BLACK NATURE: The older members always call me the engine because I help bring in the generation, you know? That's the kind of thing I do, the kind of style I sing or, you know, the dance moves. My mission on stage is to, you know, let the people know that the band is incredible.

(Soundbite of song, "Jah Come Down")

EYRE: They started the album in Sierra Leone and finished it in New Orleans, where session brass players added heft and polish to the Refugee All Stars' roots-reggae sound.

BLACK NATURE: You know, we fall in love with the place. It's really, really unique place, you know, full of rich, rich culture.

Mr. REUBEN KOROMA (Co-Founder, Refugee All Stars): Well, New Orleans, it's like Africa. The good stuff the people eat there has, I mean, 100 percent resemblance to the type of food we eat in Africa.

EYRE: That's the band's co-founder Reuben Koroma. He points out that this song, "Jah Come Down," makes an even deeper connection between Freetown, Sierra Leone and New Orleans: the shared history of the Atlantic slave trade.

(Soundbite of song, "Jah Come Down")

Mr. KOROMA: (Singing) My great-grandfather was a slave. Even my great-grandmother was a slave. Yeah. Just took my people away into slavery.

When slavery was abolished, most of the slaves were languishing in England, then people felt that they should find a place to bring them back. And then Freetown was chosen. So I just think of reminding people about that past history. And I believe that for the white slave master to abandon slavery, it was the miraculous work of God. And that's why I say Jah come down.

(Soundbite of song, "Jah Come Down")

Mr. KOROMA: (Singing) Oh, Jah, Jah. Oh, Jah, Jah, Jah, Jah come down. (Unintelligible). Oh, Jah, come down. Oh, Jah...

EYRE: Now that Sierra Leone's civil war is over, the band is turning its attention back to the music and concerns of their country. This song uses local goombay percussion to talk about life in the Freetown slum where most of these musicians grew up.

(Soundbite of song, "Oruweibe/Magazine Bobo")

REFUGEE ALL STARS: (Singing in foreign language)

Mr. KOROMA: Magazine is the poorest place in Sierra Leone. You know, most of the poor people are really living there. I mean, no one would have thought that Magazine would produce important people and we are now celebrities. So it's like we are talking about that. Magazine Bobo is a great man because he has made an impact in the world.

(Soundbite of song, "Oruweibe/Magazine Bobo")

REFUGEE ALL STARS: (Singing in foreign language)

EYRE: The Refugee All Stars' journey from Magazine to the refugee camps, to New Orleans and the stages of the world has inevitably affected their songwriting. Reuben Koroma acknowledges that the perspective has broadened, but he says the band's essential mission remains the same.

Mr. KOROMA: It's really a long struggle out of the war, out of miserable conditions, you know? But it matters really very seriously that we do not really think about ourselves alone. We think about the world, giving our messages into the world, positive messages, and most importantly, peace.

(Soundbite of music)

EYRE: Refugee All Stars' new album is called "Rise and Shine."

For NPR News, I'm Banning Eyre.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: Banning Eyre is senior editor at Afropop.org.

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