Jack Silverman: The Refugee All Stars played Bonnaroo in June, as well as other dates in the U.S. How was your reception?
Reuben Koroma: Well it was something amazing. I really enjoyed that. Every artist is praying for that. When you create something, you like people to love it and appreciate it.
JS: Did you feel you were getting your message across?
RK: I think so. Sometimes after the performances people would meet with me and give me positive reaction. I think people understand the music.
JS: What do you hope to accomplish with the music?
RK: What I hope to achieve is to let people know that war is not good. The refugee situation is caused by war. The consequences of war are never good for any human beings. So I believe my music will help to minimize conflicts, and help people to understand that making war is not the best way possible. Man should find other means for solving problems other than fighting and killing innocent people.
JS: What do you think of the American leaders?
RK: What I have to say is that I don’t like war. I believe the Americans are trying to propagate democracy, by which the average human being should be free to express his mind. It’s sometimes very difficult to combat arrogance. But what I have to say is that war is not good—ever. I don’t think going to war will ever solve situations. That’s why we sing, “When two elephants are fighting, the grass dem a-suffer.” Going to war will provoke more situations and will lead to the killing of innocent people, people who are not concerned. That’s why in one of my songs I sing, “Which is the position of the civilian?” I just don’t agree with war.
JS: Do the actions of America’s government affect your opinion of Americans?
RK: Americans are many. I don’t think I can judge the Americans by one man’s behavior. I have been to America once, twice, thrice. I am judging America according to the behavior of the average Americans. Americans are open. They like people. I don’t judge Americans by their leader. I judge Americans by the Americans.
JS: Do you think America should be doing more in Darfur?
RK: Yeah! This is part of my message. Everybody in the world is a citizen of the world. I believe that not everybody could be rich. Not everybody could be powerful. Not everybody could be wise. So the wise people should help those who are not wise. The rich people should help those who are poor. The strong people should help those who are lazy. Wise people should not fool those who are fools. And rich people should not be greedy and take from the people. And the strong people should not bully the lazy people. They should rather protect them.
JS: How are things in Sierra Leone right now?
RK: Things are really peaceful in Sierra Leone right now. I’m very glad that I’m back, and very happy that I met some of my loved ones and good friends. I’m so much happy. I waited a long time.
JS: Have you been reunited with family members since returning?
RK: I lost my father in the conflict. I have been reunited with my three sisters. I am very much happy to meet them again. They are all alive.
JS: What are your musical influences?
RK: My father was a traditional musician. I used to listen Fela Kuti’s music, I used to listen to Dr. Nico’s music...many African musicians. Baaba Maal’s music, Youssou N’Dour, and this guy Alpha Blondy, Lucky Dube. And I listened to Bob Marley, Gregory Isaac, Burning Spear.
JS: Are you religious?
RK: Well, anyway, I believe in God. But religion is just a division.
JS: Did your faith ever waiver?
RK: I always believe in God. And I believe all that I am experiencing right now, all that has happened to me, is destiny. It’s God. Because when I look at my family background, I come from a very poor family. I was not expecting that I would one day be in America. I was not expecting that I would one day be heard by the Americans. But it all happened because God has really destined that.
JS: How was your experience with the recording industry?
RK: It’s really a strange experience, because I’ve never been into the studio before. In fact, it’s only because the people I met with, the filmmakers, are very much righteous, honest. It’s their attitude that makes me believe that Americans can be good people. I don’t know anything about record labels, or anything. If they had been people who are dishonest or cheats, I wouldn’t have known anything. I’m very thankful to the filmmakers. They are very honest. They showed me all the business.
JS: Have you started making enough money that you can help out your family?
RK: Very much. When I signed, the record label they gave me an advance, big money. Back home I think it is a big responsibility. For the band members, their relatives, my relatives, everybody. It’s difficult, but I’m happy that I can help people. I have a lot of people in Conakry [Guinea]. When I come to Conakry, we lodge in the hotel. There are Sierra Leoneans who are still in Conakry hoping they will one day be resettled. In my hotel every morning, 10 or 15 would come, just so they could get a small thing to eat because they are suffering. It is a big responsibility.
JS: Do you plan to stay in Sierra Leone?
RK: Right now I’m trying to secure land in Freetown to try to build a home. After that I think I have to move to Ghana to my wife’s country.