Soulico + Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars, Paradise Rock Club, August 24, 2007
Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars and friends
You don’t have to live like a refugee if you play like one. At least, that seemed to be the maxim on display as two very different bands — Soulico and Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars — from very different countries (Israel and Sierra Leone) united by one very basic thing (historical horror) had a go at the go-go crowd at the Paradise last Friday.
With holocaust, genocide, and war-torn landscapes behind them, one might have expected dark, foreboding techno-goth from the DJ stylings of Soulico and mournful, harmonic balladry from the nine-member SLRAS, but such was not the case. Up first on the bill, Soulico proved masters of the turntable in the get-up-off-of-that-thang mode. A four-member DJ crew from Israel’s most cosmopolitan city, Tel Aviv, Soulico have already garnered critical raves from the hipsterati in NYC and LA and throughout Europe for their deep dancing vibes. Friday night’s show revealed why. Although only two members were on hand (as a collective, Soulico work in many combinations), the block-rockin’ beats, cross fades, and samples segued from funk-accented power pop to Middle Eastern melodies to techno-rave. Part of Israel’s growing DJ scene, wherein Israeli and Palestinian practitioners of the genre work together as often as not, Soulico revealed the myriad richness of a Middle East sewn together rather than split into a patchwork of territories. More simply, they rocked.
If Soulico took diversity into the 21st century, SLRAS planted themselves in traditional world-music terrain. A wonderfully upbeat outpouring of dance-friendly chorus singing and melodic, if slightly distorted, guitars, the beat-heavy stylings of the group had the Paradise crowd up and dancing. Amazing as it was to see these refugees of Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war not only performing live but happily affirming life despite their shared history of horror (each member lost family and loved ones during the struggle), there was still something predictable about the music. The native costumes only added to this sense that we were seeing a stylized take on “African” music. Of course, newness isn’t everything and some traditions remain rich into the present. The Refugee All Stars were a reaffirmation of that, just as Soulico offered hope that the future need not look like the past.
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