As Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars prepare to release their third studio record Radio Salone on April 24, we sat down with the band to talk about the track premiere of their new lead single “Mother In Law.”
The West African group has an unimaginable past. Soaked in the patches of a civil war, the members, who at the time were not acquaintances, found themselves in the Kalia refugee camp at the end of 1997. When they were destined to abandon their homeland, music became the only manageable way to emerge from the ashes of the past.
We spoke with lead vocalist and percussionist Black Nature, a man whose intelligence match’s his musicianship and humbled compassion will enliven even the unassuming to want to transform the world, about his approach to forthcoming album Radio Salone.
Download “Mother in Law” here in exchange for your email (note: the email will only be shared with the band and Paste).
Paste: Tell me about the single “Mother In Law.” Where did that title come from? Was it inspired by past experience?
Black Nature: It started when we were touring. When we were in Providence, R.I., I was just putting music together. The lead singer came in and I was like, “dude, why don’t you write a song about mother-in-laws.” Sometime’s it’s like a gamble, the way they treat their son in-laws or sometimes it could be in a good way or bad way. You’ve got to respect them, because this is their precious son or their precious daughter, you know. But the other way around, some mother in-laws, they will respect you when you have money and will think, “wow, you’re the best son in-law” but if you don’t have money, they just treated you like someone they don’t like, even though you’re married to their daughter or son. That problem remains because of money. You don’t get their respect.
Paste: Does this come from personal experience you’ve seen growing up, or is this something your friends have experienced?
Nature: It comes from personal experience. It comes from the vocals. He was telling me about his first wife. Her mom didn’t like him because he was a musician. She thought a musician was someone who was going to be on the streets, someone who’s smoking weed or someone who’s going to exploit women. She was expecting him to have money and make a lot of money and help her, or something like that, and he was telling me about that and I was like, well we can write about that. Just make it music. Just make it a song. Especially in Africa, you’ve got to be lucky for the type of family you’re going to get involved with.
Paste: Is that why the song is more rooted in African music then your previous tracks? Because it is a story?
Nature: Well in general, African music is just a special rhythm. I created a lot of African rhythms, and it’s just the type of rhythm you hear and you want to dance. It’s the type of rhythm that when you write lyrics, you have to write ones that people can really dance to and listen to. There are many songs out there with African rhythm, and with this song we could have wrote something about “hey I love this woman, whatever whatever” but I felt like the instruments behind it were so powerful and really catchy that when you play you just want to move. So I thought we should write something that made more sense. Something you can learn from and that people can relate to like, “Wow. That’s exactly what happened to me.”
Paste: Where were you when you were writing these songs? Were you in the United States?
Nature: The tradition and reggae are songs that have been around for years. But the rest were developed when we were touring last year. Most of the lyrics were developed when we were on the bus.
Paste: You guys have been noted as Africa’s most prolific band. How does that feel?
Nature: Oh, well thank you. You know I just take that as pretty incredible. There are many African musicians out there who don’t have the opportunity that we have. I just feel like it’s a very special thing. Sometimes I’m wondering, “Wow. This really happened so fast for where we come from.” I just give thanks to God and thanks to the people supporting us and thanks to the people who are buying our album. They’re supporting us. Those are people who are celebrating—they’re working hard for their money and buying our album. We’re just given the calling to spread our experiences, so people can see the world through our eyes. We’re like the ambassadors of the country.