The 11-year war in Sierra Leone was bloody and relentless. Rebels cut off people's limbs, tortured and killed people. Some forced parents to murder their own children. Many people fled Sierra Leone, ending up in refugee camps in Guinea.
Reuben M. Koroma was one of these people. He was a musician before the war.
"I was reduced to nothing, you know -- because all what I had was looted. So it's like, all is lost," he says. "I was separated from my country, my family members, my daughters, children. It's like, 'When am I going to see them again? When I am going to have money to support them?'"
Faced with these uncertainties, Koroma turned to music.
"When I was forced to quit my country, I was like a crazy man," he says. "I found music like a therapy, as a treatment for that."
Koroma created the band with people he met in the refugee camp. Many of the band's members lost close family in the war. The youngest band member, Black Nature, witnessed his father being killed. When the young man joined the band, the other musicians became his family.
“When I was forced to quit my country, I was like a crazy man. I found music like a therapy, as a treatment for that.”Reuben M. Koroma
Koroma, the lead singer of Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars, says they first performed to audiences of refugees.
The music is upbeat and very dance-able, but there is a strong message, too.
"Most of the lyrics in our songs, talks about happiness, talks about peace, talks about unity and then criticize, very strongly, war," he says.
Koroma says in the camps, the music had an immediate effect.
"When I play music and I feel the audience, people jump and dance, people shout with joy. It makes me feel very happy. I don't like to see people sad and that is exactly why I formed the group, because in a refugee situation, everybody is sad!" he says.
Koroma says that sometimes people who hadn't smiled in years during their long stays at the refugee camp, would jump up and dance to a song called "Soda soap."
The song is named after a locally made soap in Sierra Leone. Before the war, people looked down on the soap, preferring to use expensive foreign imports. But during the war, even the richest people were grateful for it.
Koroma says the message of the song is to respect what you make yourselves.
Now, Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars are on tour in the United States including appearances at the Minnesota State Fair.