The Refugee All Stars

The Refugee All Stars


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Another day, another documentary about another conflict which has ruined another set of lives in another part of the world.

This time, the spotlight is on the Sierra Leone refugees in Guinea who were forced to flee their homes during the 1991-2002 civil war - some of whom have found solace and healing through music.

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The focus of the story is a ramshackle band, set up at the heart of one of the camps. The Refugee All Stars' mix of goombay, reggae and rap brings hope and understanding to those traumatised by the cruel war crimes and violence they have endured through the conflict. As the lyrics of one of the band's songs say: "When two elephants fight, the grass suffers."

Like a grittier Buena Vista Social Club this documentary tells the band members' tales in turn. Some are heartwrenching and horrific, like that of Alhadji Jeffrey Kamara - a would be MC who has adopted the name of Black Nature, who at just 15 is an orphan who has become the adopted son of the band; or Mohammed Bangura - a singer whose spirit was broken after rebels forced him to kill his own baby and then cut off his hand. Zach Niles and Banker White follow the band as they take their music of hope to different refugee camps, where their leader Reuben M. Koroma hopes they will "detraumatise" people and also documents their first tentative steps towards repatriation.

Many refugees are scared to return to Sierra Leone, fearing the peace isn't permanent, so the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, does its best to give them 'go and see visits', taking them back for a month in order to encourage them to ultimately return to their homeland.

Niles and White capture the fear in the faces of the band members - but also their energetic fortitude and willingness to move on from their past suffering. And their stories are accompanied by their upbeat music.

The deeply personal nature of this film is both its strength and its weakness. There are no bit part players here, just the band themselves, making it difficult to get a sense of the whole. This is an intimate portrait which neither skirts the horrors of war nor revels in them but, most of all, it is a celebration of man's strength and spirit in adversity. You'll probably want to buy the album and if you do, you can get it from

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2006
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A documentary about a band formed by refugees from the conflict in Sierra Leone.
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Director: Zach Niles, Banker White

Writer: Jim Bruce, Zach Niles, Banker White

Starring: Efuah Grace Ampomah, Abdul Rahim Kamara, Reuben Koroma, Francis John Langba

Year: 2005

Runtime: 78 minutes

Country: USA

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