Words by Martin Longley
Finding an asylum in music
A decade after overseeing the sessions for the band’s debut album and supervising the music for the documentary that first drew attention to their plight, producer Chris Velan returns to production duties for the Refugee All Stars. This studio celebration, laid down in Vermont, confirms the band’s place as one of the greatest African combos currently on the touring circuit. Velan has harnessed the group’s live energy and danceability, balancing their heady array of lattice guitars, cracking percussion and joyfully harmonised voices. This latter is the case even when the words sung are tempered via tough sentiments. This nimble punch can manifest itself in several ways, from trouncing West African booty-shaking grooves through to a decelerated reggae classicism.
This is a band blessed with a majority membership of strong songwriters, all of whom prefer to pen their material separately, leading to a varied repertoire that’s always successfully filtered through the ensemble consciousness. Both the African and Jamaican influences are equally rustic, but slammed into the present by Velan’s slick digital capturing of their earthy playing. They also make brief diversions into highlife and vintage Cuban styles with ‘Ghana Baby’ and ‘Manjalagi’. All of these ingredients are perfectly balanced, all seamlessly integrated into the overall All Star personality.
Track to Try: ‘Manjalagi’