There is no better way to learn about the African country of Sierra Leone than to bring a little piece of it to school with you.
That’s exactly what happened for the entire student body of Revere High School (RHS) last Wednesday, April 9, when the acclaimed Sierra Leone Refugee All-Star Band showed up at RHS for a 90 minute set of driving drumbeats and melodic African tunes.
The show was the work of RHS 10th grade English teacher Erin Giesser.
The entire 10th grade this year has read the book ‘A Long Way Gone’ by Ishmael Beah. The story details the horrors of Beah having to become a child soldier during the bloody Sierra Leone Civil War. The book details numerous atrocities and can be disturbing, but ultimately does share a tale of redemption.
That said, Giesser thought it would be appropriate to share some of the more upbeat parts of the Sierra Leone culture with her students and so she set to recruiting one of the country’s most famous bands.
“I wanted to show the students what else Sierra Leone had to offer, something as beautiful as the music,” she said before the concert. “I found out that not only were they touring the United States, they were coming to Boston. So, I decided to go big or go home. I wrote a letter to them and told them that many of our students struggle and some are refugees from other countries and I felt their message would be well received. They immediately said ‘yes.’”
During the concert last Wednesday, band leader Reuben Koroma took a break from the music and held up the book by Beah. He told the kids that he knew Beah personally and he knew a lot of people who lived out similar atrocities. Some members of the band had actually suffered or seen terrible acts of violence. He told the students that bad things happened in Sierra Leone, but not all things from Sierra Leone are bad – including the band’s music.
“When you read this book, you read a lot of bad things about Sierra Leone,” Koroma said. “These things happened. It’s true. But you might think after reading it that there is nothing good in Sierra Leone. That’s not true. Today, I’m bringing you the goodies. This is a sampling of the goodies in Sierra Leone. You love our music? We love you too.”
Mixed in with the music was a lot of dancing.
While Principal Lourenco Garcia was hesitant to allow students to dance on the Field House floor at first, eventually he gave the go-ahead. Then, there was no stopping them. Students danced and enjoyed themselves peacefully as the band entertained.
Band Tour Manager Rebekah Stone said coming to RHS was not a hard decision for the band members, which include Koroma, Black Nature, Ashade Pearce, Jahson Bull, Christo Davies and guests William Noel and Jeff Drekter.
She said the band loves to work with young people and play for young people because they started out when they were high school age. While relocated to refugee camps in Guinea, the band members would go from camp to camp and perform. They eventually became quite popular and attracted an international following.
“Whenever they go on tour, they always want to stop at a school and play for the young people,” she said. “They love the youth.”
Principal Garcia said the concert was great therapy for the kids, especially after finishing up MCAS testing.
“They need to have fun and have real learning experiences like this,” he said. “It’s good therapy.”
One student asked Garcia when they were going to do it next.
“Next year, next year,” he said.
“How about next week?” asked the student. “I had a great time. I want to do it again.”