Lyric Video: The Hauntingly Beautiful and Old-Time Folk of Rwanda’s The Good Ones

Primarily centered around its core, founding trio of co-lead singer Janvier Hauvgimana, co-lead singer and primary songwriter Adrien Kazigira and Javan Mahoro, the Rwandan folk act, The Good Ones, who hail from the outskirts of the nation’s capital Kigali, can trace their origins back to about 1978, when its members, who were still children, were taught music by Hauvgimana’s older brother. Sadly, Hauvgimana’s older brother, who was also blind, later died in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The members of The Good Ones formed the band as part of the healing process after the genocide and interestingly enough, the band’s original trio featured individual members of each of Rwanda’s three tribes — Tutsi, Hutu and Abatwa — symbolically and metaphorically reuniting a country that had been split apart at its seams. But on a personal level, for each of the band’s founding members, the band was an active attempt to seek out “the good ones” after witnessing and enduring unthinkable horrors.

Most of the members of the band are small plot, subsistence farmers — with two of the band’s members living on family plots that  have been passed down through several generations. Because most Rwandans are very poor, instruments are very rare. The members of the band do what poor people everywhere do. They find some truly creative ways to get by out of necessity — sometimes they may find and use a broken guitar; other times they may borrow a friend’s guitar; but in most cases they’ll make their own instruments, sometimes incorporating their farm tools.  As the band’s primary songwriter Kazigira writes material that routinely features interwoven, intricate harmonies between himself and co-lead vocalist Havugimana that may remind some folks of classic American Bluegrass — but also acoustic, Mississippi Delta Blues.

Slated for a November 8, 2019 release through Anti- Records, The Good Ones’ forthcoming album Rwanda, You Should Be Loved can trace its origins to a batch of over 40 songs that the band’s Adrien Kazigira had originally written. Most of the material centered around meditations on his now 13-year-old daughter Marie Clare, and the life-threatening tumor that has afflicted her left eye. Recorded live and without overdubs on Kazigira’s farm, the sessions were imbued with a further sense of loss: their longtime collaborator and producer Ian Brennan‘s mother died and a former bandmember and founding member had both died during the sessions. The album also features guest appearances from an All-Star team of indie rock stars, including Wilco‘s Nels Cline, TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe, Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker, My Bloody Valentine‘s Kevin Shields and Fugazi‘s Joe Lally.

Interestingly, despite the massive number of profound losses in the bandmembers’ lives, Rwanda, You Are Loved‘s first single “The Farmer” celebrates the critical role farmers play in society and to a nation but it’s also an aching lament, acknowledging the bitter irony that farmers often can’t feed their own families and are struggling to get by.  Built around a sparse arrangement of strummed guitar, harmonized vocals, the song is a timeless one that has seemingly been sung by generations upon generations across the world — and in a variety of languages.

This fall, the Rwandan folk act will be embarking on their first ever Stateside tour. They’ll be opening for acclaimed Irish troubadour Glen Hansard on a handful of West Coast shows — Seattle, Portland, OR and San Francisco. They’ll also be headlining a handful of dates that includes stops in Washington, DC; Los Angeles and two NYC area dates — September 29, 2019 at McNally Jackson Booksellers Café and September 30, 2019 at Joe’s Pub. Check out the tour dates below.

9/24 – Seattle, WA – The Moore Theatre ^
9/25 – Portland, OR – Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall ^
9/26 – Berkeley, CA – Ivy Room
9/27 – San Francisco, CA – The Masonic Auditorium ^
9/28 – Washington DC – Rhizome
9/29 – New York, NY – McNally Jackson Bookseller’s Café
9/30 – New York, NY – Joe’s Pub
10/1 – Baltimore, MD – Red Emma
10/3 – San Francisco, CA – City Lights Bookstore
10/5 – Los Angeles, CA – Largo at the Coronet

^ – with Glen Hansard