Although their music stands on its own, the backstory can't help but give it a deeper perspective. For much of the '90s, and until 2002, these musicians were actual refugees, forced by the violence of civil war in their homeland to live in decrepit camps in Guinea. When they recorded their 2007 debut album — Living like a Refugee, a seamless fusion of roots reggae, Afropop, West African goombay music, and hip-hop — the Refugee All Stars had never before set foot in a recording studio.
They've moved up since then, even playing Bonnaroo, but their rebel spirit and unflagging positivity remain intact, and their groove is even tougher. Rise & Shine is at once more nuanced and sophisticated (the Congolese soukous-influenced "Tamagbondorsu") and more primal (the traditional, spare "Oruwiebe/Magazine Bobo Medley") than its predecessor.
Recorded both in Sierra Leone and in another battered land, New Orleans, and produced by Los Lobos' Steve Berlin, the group's sophomore release — sung in English and several African languages — offers original material by bandleader Ruben M. Koroma, tracks by other writers, and adapted traditional tunes. It's a meandering collection, to be sure, but one that never comes off as scattered, clichéd, or precious — just real.