About two years ago, shortly after getting home from a six-week-long national tour, I had a realization. I like being home. A lot. Home is where you know people, and where everything is just right, because, well, you’ve made it that way. It’s kind of a tough thought to deal with when you perform music, as it’s a calling that one usually answers anywhere but home.
So I was thinking about that one beautiful spring day as I drove the streets of Des Moines, loving life and glad to be home when, like the sun comes blasting though a break in the clouds, the most joyful sounding music I’d ever heard came on the radio. Windows rolled down, warm breeze, smile on my face, and a sound that captured the beauty of being alive. I was a newborn, rolling about in glee at the possibility of everything. Big brass horns, trombones and trumpets, glistened in that sunlight. Guitars twinkled in the sky as the sun set, and voices arose in unison like beautiful buzzing insects, growing in excitement as the moon climbed higher. I could see it in my mind. Nothing mattered anymore. I was transported.
The sounds I was hearing turned out to be made by a band called Sierra Leone’s Refugee All-Stars. I was obsessed. I had to find their records, find out who they were, what they were. How could this exist and I not know about it? I remedied the situation by immediately buying the band’s newest record at the time, Rise And Shine. It became the soundtrack to my spring. My time on tour coupled with experiences during a very transformative week at Mission Creek Festival 2010 that week had me completely re-evaluating why I make music, and understanding how powerful it can be when utilized with proper intentions. This period in my life was extremely influential on everything I’ve done and the art I’ve made since then, and the Sierra Leone’s Refugee All-Stars record was at the forefront of my transformation.
Here’s a band without the choice to go home after a tour, their homes gone, destroyed in the Sierra Leone Civil War. They’ve since made it their mission to bring joy and healing through song. It amazes me that these musicians and songwriters, brought together by something that tore so many families and friends apart, can face the world with optimism, looking to the future rather than dwelling on their past.
I really fell in love with Rise and Shine; it prompted my own exploration into African music, through which I’ve been exposed to incredible artists such as Fela Kuti, Amadou & Mariam, and Tinariwen. It all started with the All-Stars. A lot of artists share messages of peace and perseverance through tribulation, but only the All-Stars offer joyfulness bright and shining beyond belief. It was this band that helped me to understand two things. First, I realized that my idea of wanting to be home was all wrong; if I am in touch with my motivations, then my mind is at peace, and I can feel at home anywhere. Second, I learned to always think I might be wrong. There’s always something we don’t know or understand. Grasping this concept is a beautiful thing.
I love the band’s music so much that last year I drove all the way to Columbia, Missouri, for a show of theirs and came back that same night! It was an absolutely incredible experience and completely worth it, but fortunately for you, you won’t have to prove your faith in my taste by driving that far, because Sierra Leone’s Refugee All-Stars are coming to Ames June 4! The fact that this band is playing in Ames, Iowa, entirely blows my mind. You have to go. I have to go. I am going.
If you still aren’t convinced after my somewhat incoherent ramblings, let me put it straight for you: I don’t believe in God, but when I listen to Sierra Leone’s Refugee All-Stars, I do believe in Jah.