Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars: The Pulsing, Enervating Beat that Sweeps Us Up in Dance

Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars at the Iron Horse, Northampton MA.
Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars at the Iron Horse.

Five men with the same five instruments can produce diametrically opposite music. I thought about this last night when we listened to Sierra Leone’s All Star Refugee Band at the Iron Horse and contrasted the effect of their music to other groups playing the same instruments.

Take the guy with the graying dreadlocks, clutching an electric guitar. He squeezes the fret way, way down near his other hand, and gets a plinking high-pitched stocatto sound, an African ice picking. Next to him the solemn man on the Korg organ, though emitting an occasional grin, he’s playing African style organ.

Up front are the bongos…these take the most amount of sweat, and so two men swap off, going from double bongo beating to singing and dancing then back. It make sense to share the toughest job.

Then the music of a soukous beat sweeps us all up, we’re going, we’re going with the rapturous beat, it’s a melody that takes us for a magic carpet ride across Africa. Nobody is going to stop this train, nobody will stop beating melodious, luxuriously danceable notes, they’ll keep going ‘cause we are riding. Riding the beat, dancing swaying, nobody can sit still in the bar, all eyes on this assembly of former refugees who blessed God are free to make music like this. It’s the music of Nigeria, played by men who once lived in fear in Sierra Leone.

Now I’m listening to these same musicians at home while I write and they again evoke that golden rhythm that moves, moves so well, how can anyone not move with music this sweet and a little guitar beat like that. This is why I love music!