Tag Archives: music

The Positive Revolution of Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars.

slras_Photoby_zach_smith_3Music can heal the trauma of man.
Jahson Gbassay Bull

Travel is wonderful but at some point you’ve got to go home.

Unless, that is, you can’t.

That is the fate of Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars.

If you’re not familiar with them, Sierra Leon’s Refugee All Stars are a band that was formed in the refugee camps of West Africa. Originally from Freetown, they, along with millions of others, were forced to flee their homes in the 1990s during a civil war in Sierra Leone that lasted a decade. In a crazy, shook up world, their story is incredible.

Born out of a situation you’d never hope to be in, instead of staying mired in hardship, these guys mined the power of connections and the indomitable nature of the human spirit. Music became their weapon, and from the dirt camps of Guinea they led a positive revolution. From international music festivals, to intimate venues, their uplifting sound and rousing energy inspires people around the planet.

Beloved for their joy and spirit, for the past year Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars have been celebrating their 10-year anniversary and the release of Libation, their fourth album, with a tour throughout Europe and the United States. It ended earlier this summer.

But once again, they can’t go home. They are cut off from their friends and families.

With Sierra Leone being one of the West African nations hit hardest by Ebola, recent reports list that more than 20 people a day are dying in that country from the virus. The limited amount of health care workers and hospital facilities make it impossible for everyone infected to get treatment, and all areas of the country have been impacted.

As the band takes shelter in the U.S., I was lucky enough to meet them when I booked them for an event in New York City. A gentle group, their feel-good sound immediately permeates a room, and it’s all peace, love, understanding, and connecting. They bring a sense of place with them, and for a little while it was Sierra Leone. With a bit of funk, a bit of reggae, and lot of West African soul, if you can’t chill to that, then you can’t chill.

I suspect that most of us don’t know what it’s like to live like a refugee but it can’t feel all that good. And while the U.S. isn’t the worse place in the world to be holed up, when a place isn’t your home, it isn’t your home. So they’re doing what they can by taking a bad situation and using it as an opportunity to raise money and awareness to help the people of Sierra Leone fight Ebola. As ambassadors for world peace, and with music as their arsenal, they continue to create goodness in an even crazier, shook up world.

The Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars are a generous group of men, so I’d like to use this opportunity to be an ambassador for them. With the holiday season upon us, I know there are plenty of parties being planned right now that are going to need music.  Not only will you have an internationally acclaimed band at your event that’ll get people on their feet, but you’ll also be helping them in their campaign to raise awareness. They can travel anywhere for a gig, except back home.

Unless you work for a humanitarian organization and volunteering to go in, travelers aren’t going to Sierra Leone. As the western world does the freak about the few Ebola cases that have touched their shores, the best thing we can do to stop its spread is to help eradicate this virus in the countries where it’s become an epidemic.  This is a collective endeavor.

So spread the word and spread good will. None of us may be traveling to Sierra Leone anytime soon but that doesn’t mean some of the best things about Sierra Leone can’t come to you.

Want to learn more? Click here for details on booking Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars.

Advertisements

Thanksgiving–Let The Games Begin.

(Photo credit:  Daily Telegraph)

(Photo credit: Daily Telegraph)

The holidays are upon us and the general consensus seems to be that they’ve somehow come around faster this year. No one knows how this happened but I have a feeling age might have something to do with it.

If you’re holding out to score a last-minute airfare for Thanksgiving travel, you’ve probably waited too long. With the Wednesday before and the Sunday after this holiday being the busiest travel days of the year, all you can do now is bite the bullet. In which case, you might want to think about flying out on Thanksgiving morning to avoid the madness and the possibility of a slightly lower fare. While you’re at it, you may want to grab the book you’ve been meaning to read or load up your Kindle. The only thing worse than waiting in a long security line, being delayed at the airport, or being stuck in the middle of coach is not having a juicy piece of literature to help you escape. I don’t care what it is—from the New York Post to Proust—be sure you’re packing something to avoid getting sucked into a bad travel energy field.

If you’re driving, fill her up the night before and, depending on your destination, check traffic reports before you hit the road so you have an alternate route plan. If you use a GPS, it can be difficult to reprogram a new route into it if you’re driving solo. Whether you’re traveling with a gang or alone, take the time to plan in advance to avoid any hassles or chance of road rage. And don’t forget the entertainment. Audio books make driving a pleasure. Depending on who your co-passengers are, it’s a unique way to experience a story together and it makes the time fly.

I’d say anyone fortunate enough to travel by rail has it the easiest. It’s one of my favorite ways to go. Again, you can pack some snacks, reading materials, or just chill out to some good music and enjoy the view during the busiest time of the year without all the stress.

Most importantly, don’t forget to adopt a Zen attitude. It’s busy, it’s nutty—it is what it is. You’re one of the fortunate souls who got an invitation and can gather around a table with friends or family to bicker with a crazy relative and celebrate with loved ones.

Wherever you’re going and however you plan to get there, if you’re staying past the holiday, check out local happenings. Chances are that there’s something going on in or near the city or town you’re visiting that qualifies as an attraction.  Even if it’s a nature walk or hike.  Not that there’s anything wrong with it but family gathering typically entails a lot of eating and sitting in front of the TV. Use the opportunity of being away from home and treat it like a destination. Do a little research, you’ll be surprised with what you may find.

Last but not least, thanks to everyone who takes the time to visit Ports Are Calling and for all of the support and ideas towards keeping it going.   The web is full of shiny stuff that attracts your attention, so the fact that you read it means a lot.

Be well, travel safe and enjoy a Happy Thanksgiving.

Ode To Joy and A Cool Breeze.

williamsburgparkA different post was all up and ready to go for today but I caught New Orders concert on the waterfront in Williamsburg Park last night and…screw it, I’m going with this trip down memory lane.

Yesterday, even the heat got tired of itself and New Yorker’s were treated to a picture perfect night. The sun was just starting to dip, I heard The Human League booming and gladly crossed the border to the land of flashbacks.  I bopped along in the line to get my neon green I.D. bracelet stamped with “Enjoy ★ Heineken Responsibly” and kept moving.  Traveling with a pack, we grabbed our Brooklyn Lager and expertly snaked our way through the masses, moving smoothly like water through a river rock run until we were close to the stage. To the north, a tumble of clouds hung in the distance like a mountain range, or maybe I was just seeing things. Strong, cool summer breezes off the East River blew in all around us, a killer sunset was coming down and then the band came on.

New Order takes the stage, July 24, 2013.

New Order takes the stage, July 24, 2013.

If you’re a fan of New Order then I’ve got no explaining to do. If you aren’t too familiar, let’s just say they were their own particular style of music in the ‘80’s and one of the best British bands to come out of post punk’s ashes. Originally members of Joy Division, they salvaged their talent after their lead singer opted for a dirt nap. New Order created its own brand of alternative, electronic music that wasn’t mainstream by a country mile. But you’ve probably heard at least one of their songs, maybe Blue Monday, one night when you were out dancing in a club or at a wedding. The rhythm and beat of that tune wormed its way into your head, making you bounce and groove in ways you never thought possible.

Last night they were loud, they were proud, and they had the crowd in the palm of their hands. It was finally dark, the air was cool but the place was pulsing, it was full transmission. I saw some old faces and some old dance moves. New Order played all their classics and in the end they stoned us with some Joy Division. Williamsburg Park is a misnomer but even the lot we stood in seemed to morph into a perfect venue listening to those retro sounds.  After 23 years, these Brits still know how to do it and have some North American shows left if you’d like to catch them.

Staycation’s wonderful but you can keep your couch, keep your air conditioning, and keep your Netflix.   I’ll take an old school park concert anytime.

Whatever kind of entertainment moves you, summer’s nights are calling you to come out and play.   Share what’s happening in your backyard.

Click here if the image above doesn’t take you to a taste of last night’s show.

Morning Notes.

“Nature’s first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold.
  Her early leaf’s a flower; 
but only so an hour.
  Then leaf subsides to leaf.
 So Eden sank to grief, 
so dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.” – Robert Frostsunsetbagpiper
Biking around Prospect Park in Brooklyn this morning, I heard the unmistakable drone of bagpipes floating across the road. It was around 6:30am and the air was already thick with humidity.   Eighty degrees and climbing, a hazy sun was quickly disappearing into a swirling blanket of thunderclouds.

Prospect Park.

Prospect Park.

The bagpipe is an instrument that some people love or that drives others nuts. I slowed the bike and swung back around to listen. Beyond a cluster of bushes and trees, someone was playing a bagpipe, and its sound was brilliant. Turning into a little lane that curved towards a small brick building, a balding man with a shock of white hair stood playing. Are you just practicing or getting ready to blow for a funeral, I asked. With lots of cops, fireman, and Irish-Americans in Brooklyn, it’s common for pipers to play at these services. “No,” he said in a thick British accent, “my son’s getting married this weekend and he’s asked me to play at his wedding.”  He was from Hammersmith, outside of London, and was enjoying the opportunity to practice in this secluded spot.  He asked if I’d take some photos of him playing, and handed me his camera. A few minutes later, a jogger came huffing and puffing into the little haven and asked, “Are you playing Dvořák’s New World Symphony?” The piper nodded and smiled.  “I’m from the Ukraine, I recognized it immediately…thank you,” he said and jogged away with a big smile.  I couldn’t have named that tune, but for a moment it felt like I was in a small park in Europe. There was some kind of strange magic in the air.

It’s very beautiful, I said, and asked him how he was enjoying Brooklyn.  “It’s wonderful, a great melting pot,” he said. I waved goodbye, telling him there’s no place like Brooklyn. He picked up his bagpipe and belted out the opening chords to Yankee Doodle Dandy and shouted, “I’ll be playing that when the bride walks down the aisle.”  Then I rode away with a smile, with those pipes humming in the air, back into my homeland.

Dedicated to Beth (Hendry) Annunziata…the pipes, the pipes are calling.