Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars.

Migration14 Nov 2009Thea Hilhorst

Columbia offers an amazing amount of seminars, movies and events. This week I saw an interesting documentary about the Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars. This band was formed by Reuben Koroma and five other Sierra Leonean musicians who lived in a refugee camp in Guinea. They started their band to bring music and dance to their fellow refugees, and soon started to tour around other refugee camps. Film makers Zack Niles and Banker White have followed the band for three years, and turned this is a 70-minute documentary that was released in 2006. While the press applauded the film’s message that “music heals and creates community”, the film is also a remarkable documentary of refugees’ everyday life. It provides a window into the lifeworld of refugees: how they deal with their violent past and their longing for home, how they manage their lives in the confines of a camp and how they loathe being repeatedly dislocated from camp to camp. A large part of the film is about an exploring trip to Freetown of the All Stars – at the invitation of UNHCR – after which they return to their camps to convince other refugees that their country had become safe enough to go home to.

While documenting, the film has also launched the Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars into a different dimension. CDs were made, international festivals attended and the group has this year toured the US. The group has become an ideal icon of hope. On the way, the structural problems that the film hints at: the causes of conflict, the problematic responses to refugee flows, the dire poverty that awaits the refugees when they go home, seem to get lost. The higher the Stars rise, the more their story gets disembedded and the more it becomes a fairy tale. Not just the fairy tale of six refugees that were lucky to see their impossible dreams come true, but also the fairy tale of an audience that can feel good believing that their songs will heal society and perhaps even resolve conflict. But, let these thought not deter you from watching a great documentary!