Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars: Rise and Shine (Cumbancha) 

When this group first burst on the scene, it was difficult to figure out which was more compelling—their harrowing survival of Sierra Leone's brutal civil war and their unlikely coming together in a refugee camp, or the infectious nature of their music.

The All Stars are no longer a storybook novelty; they're proving to be one of West Africa's greatest exports.

Opening with "Muloma," the All Stars display the kind of dynamic call-and-response first pioneered by King Sunny Adé. Even though the choral responses are not even words, they constitute a signature sound of the genre.

What follows is a variety of African and world-music approaches, including singing backed only with percussion ("Oruwiebie/Magazine Bobo Medley"), classic up-tempo West African juju ("Tamagbondorsu") and a healthy dose of both Jamaican- and African-style reggae ("Global Threat," Living Stone" and "Jah Mercy"). The All Stars also make just enough use of a horn section to add some color and punch, without making anyone wonder if they've become a horn-laden band.

It would be easy for this group to bask in the spotlight of their incredible story and stay with what they know is tried and true. Instead, they have found a way to discover more of who they are while delving more deeply into the wide musical world around them.

More by Jim Lipson


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