SOUTH ORANGE, N.J., Feb 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) -
M usician Ashade Pearce plays songs about being a refugee in West
Africa, and he has a message for U.S. President Donald Trump.
"Not all refugees are bad," the guitarist with Sierra
Leone's Refugee All Stars said before a recent performance in a
New York City suburb. "You should not judge everybody the same.
"The righteous should not suffer for the wicked," the
60-year-old artist, his graying dreadlocks reaching below his
waist, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars, a band with beginnings in
refugee camps in Guinea during their country's civil war, are
touring the United States, where they hope their stories and
music might help ease tensions over refugees and immigrants.
Within days of taking office in January, Trump pushed
refugee issues to the top of his agenda, issuing an executive
order blocking immigrants from seven largely Muslim nations,
suspending all refugees for 120 days and banning Syrian refugees
The move, which he said was necessary to protect the United
States from attacks by Islamist militants, prompted widespread
protests in U.S. cities. People trying to enter the country were
detained at airports or barred from boarding flights.
The order has been on hold since a federal judge barred its
enforcement, but the president is expected to issue a new,
revised directive this week.
The Refugee All Stars, with four albums to their name, are
playing shows on intimate stages along the U.S. East Coast. They
are scheduled to play in London in April.
"I think music could help," said Reuben Koroma, the band's
lead singer. "Sometimes when people learn about our story, it
gives them hope. They will say, 'Look, those guys were refugees.
Now look at them.'"
The band's founding members lived in Freetown, Sierra Leone,
but were forced to flee to neighboring Guinea in the civil war
that engulfed their homeland for more than a decade, beginning
With a pair of donated old guitars and a rudimentary sound
system, they began entertaining other refugees in the camps. Two
American filmmakers followed them, releasing a documentary
"Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars" in 2005.
Back home in Freetown, the band recorded its first album,
"Living Like a Refugee," released in 2006. One of their songs
appeared on the soundtrack of the movie "Blood Diamond".
"ONE ROTTEN FISH"
These days, however, the world is different and far more
difficult for refugees, said the 52-year-old Koroma.
Militant attacks in Western Europe have stoked fear of
outsiders, leaving refugees to pay the price, he said.
"One rotten fish in a container can spoil the whole lot, can
make the entire fish smell. This is what has happened," he said.
The band was touring in United States in 2014 when Ebola in
Sierra Leone kept them from returning home. They have not been
back since and for the most part stay on the road, performing.
Their music is upbeat and cheerful, and the rhythms quickly
move audiences to tap their feet and dance. Colorful, at times
funny, lyrics recount woes from sleeping in stifling tarpaulin
tents to losing desperately needed supplies to thieves.
"We are like a model to refugees, and we are also like
spokesmen for refugees because we need to tell the people how it
feels," said Koroma.
America's politics of rejecting refugees, he added, is
"The American people are people who really are always there
to rescue people who are suffering," he said. "That's the value
that makes America a nation that is different.
"We just pray that things will calm down. We will play music
and tell people about peace," he said.
(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Ros Russell; Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights,
trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience.