Last Night: Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars at Neumos

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Reuben Koroma of Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars

There's something strangely gratifying about seeing a band of refugees play a successful gig in the United States. It doesn't matter how many people show up or what the group even sings about -- in the back of your mind (or at least in the back of my mind) there's a feeling that these guys have been through much worse and the real joy comes from standing there watching them laugh despite how many times they've cried.

Because that's what we've all been through (to varying degrees) and it made last night's two hour Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars set that more enjoyable. The eight person band gave the hot, sweaty, and musty crowd at Neumos ample reason to dance by while playing slinky West African Grooves that built tension and then exploded in front of a sea of happy feet. I was slightly disappointed that there weren't more West Africans on hand as, predictably, the audience was mostly full of Anglos. And I'm not sure if that's because the show was held on a Monday or simply that their aren't many people from Sierra Leone or Guinea (where the band is exiled) living in Seattle. But the folks who did make it to the show left a few pounds lighter as last night's performance was a musical work out.

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The band played a bunch of songs from their celebrated album, Living Like a Refugee, such as "Bull to the Weak," "Soda Soap," my personal favorite, "I'm Not a Fool" about a woman cheating on her man. The man in question last night was Francis "Franco" Lamgba, the affable dreadlocked guitar player and co-founder of the group who sang the song with a hilarious vigor that left a huge smile on my face. I've easily listened to that album 500 times, if not more, since it was first released and it was great to finally meet the men who made it. Noticeably absent from this tour was lead singer Reuben Koroma's wife, Grace, who is also in the band. So unfortunately, there wasn't any female energy on stage. But there was a lot in the audience and the balance proved to be okay.

My favorite part of the night was when percussionist/rapper Black Nature stepped out from behind the drums and started kicking out rhymes in his native tongue. While most people (myself included) have been calling the Refugee All Stars style of music reggae, after the show I caught up with Black Nature and he hipped me to what it really is.

"Western audiences call it reggae, but it's not really reggae to us," he said downstairs while relaxing. "We call it gbutifankay which is a blend of more African styles and reggae music." So there you have it. Good luck googling gbutifankay, but if you want to hear more of what it is rather than read about it, both Nature and Koroma said the band is working on an upcoming album, and they played five new songs last night so hopefully they'll have something new on store shelves very soon.

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