Acclaimed Kigali, Rwanda-based folk act The Good Ones — co-lead singer Janvier Hauvgimana, co-lead singer and primary songwriter Adrien Kazigira and Javan Mahoro — can trace their origins back to roughly 1978 when the founding members of the band were children. Hauvgimana’s older brother taught them music — and they’ve been writing and playing together ever since. Starting off a long list of heartbreaking tragedies and unthinkable horrors, Hauvgimana’s older, 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. And yet, they find creative ways to play and create music: Sometimes they may find and use a broken guitar. But in most cases, they’ll make their own instruments, sometimes incorporating their farm tools.
Last year, the Rwandan folk act released their critically applauded album Rwanda, You Should Be Loved through Anti- Records. The album was written and recorded during periods of profound loss and heartbreak for their producer: Adrien Kazigira’s 13 year-old Marie Claire had a life-threatening tumor that afflicted her left eye. Producer Ian Brennan’s mother and a former bandmember and founding member had both died during the sessions. The album was recorded in a very simple fashion without overdubs at Kazigira’s family farm — and thematically, the album focused on their experiences and lives. Although, written and sung in their native tongue, their work has drawn comparisons to bluegrass, country, Americana and acoustic Mississippi Delta Blues as it talks about the plight of their fellow farmers, their countrymen and off working men everywhere struggling to get by as best as they can.
“Soccer (Summer 1988)” is the first bit of new material from the act since last year’s Rwanda, You Are Loved. Much like all of their work, the song was recorded at Kazigira’s family farm — without overdubs. Centered around a deceptively simple yet mesmerizing arrangement of plucked acoustic guitar and a milk jug filled with milk from Kazigira’s prized cow for percussion, the band’s founding duo effortlessly interweave intricate and achingly earnest harmonies. Fittingly, the song is an end-of-summer song — a tale of of nostalgia for Rwanda’s beloved soccer club Rayon Sports F.C. in the more innocent days before the 1994 genocide, which later claimed some of the club’s players and countless fans. And as a result, the song is an acknowledgment of time passing, the prerequisite losses of time and a longing for when things were as simple as going to a soccer game and rooting for your beloved club with friends, family, coworkers and others. Other than memories, you can never get that back. But we push on as we always do.