The 2012 album from Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars was recorded in New York City and produced by Victor Axelrod, aka Ticklah, a founding member of Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra and the Easy Star All Stars. (Ticklah also recorded and performed with Amy Winehouse on Back to Black). Radio Salone was recorded entirely on vintage analog gear, capturing the warmth of the funky 70s African sounds the All Stars heard blasting out of radios in their youth.
Out of dark times, Sierra Leone s Refugee All Stars have always made music rife with hopeful messages and joyful rhythms. Radio Salone is no different, but this time it feels like a milestone album for the group. When they stepped into the studio for the Radio Salone sessions, they began laying down tracks with a definitive vintage African vibe, connecting traditional West African sounds with roots reggae in ways that they had never before explored. Employing analog technology, the band used mid-70s era microphones and 16-track tapes. With the limited takes that tape imposes on the recording process, there was often just one chance to create perfection. But perfection to this band means embracing unplanned nuances, allowing the visceral qualities of music to shine, letting the process play out in real time. The mics don t shut off between the album s tracks an invitation to the listener to join the band on their creative journey.
Having persevered through the horrors of the Sierra Leonean civil war, band leader Reuben Koroma and the group continue to musically evolve in exciting ways, well
past their jam sessions in the Guinean refugee camps and the rawness of their first recordings in their native capital of Freetown. The songs are infused with intricate dub elements not found in their earlier material and interludes are featured as part of the album flow for the first time. From the hollow echoes
of the congoma (also known as the marimba a percussion instrument with wooden keys and resonators) in album opener Chant It Down to the
bubbling rhythm of lead single Mother In Law to the irresistible hook of Big Fat Dog, there are thrilling discoveries around every corner. While the band initially gained fame through the power of their story and message, Sierra Leone s Refugee All Stars have since become one of Africa s most active touring bands, and the years of experience are reflected in the virtuosity of their performance on Radio Salone.
The album title references Salone meaning Sierra Leone in the native language of Krio in which the band sings (along with five other languages) on the new album.
The radio theme appears throughout the album artwork and reflects the impact that radio has long had on the band. In the pre-TV and Internet days, radio served as the musical connection to the rest of Africa and the world. Long before the war, members of the band were exposed to vintage reggae, Congolese soukouss, American soul, and much more. During the war, radio served as an essential escape from the harsh reality of the refugee camps, bringing news and music.
Radio Salone feels like everything good about radio (still a strong influence in African musical culture)...the excitement of being glued to the dial waiting for what they re bringing next, with fresh-familiar references reggae, tenory soukous guitar, West African majesty and that thing that makes this everyone's music. From the funky analog imprint of producer Victor Axelrod (Amy Winehouse, Sharon Jones) to the way hands hit drums on the Goombay interludes when this band tells you to shake your booty, you do. These tracks don't strive for perfection but achieve it anyway, in their honesty and ease. - Electronic Musician, March 16, 2012 --Electronic Musician