The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust interviews the Good Ones and explores their music ahead of the visit to the UK later this month.
As the first muted, out-of-key acoustic guitar notes ring out on the opening track of the Good Ones’ 2010 full-length Kigali Y’Izahabu, you get the impression that the stripped down, punk-like aesthetic of battered instruments and DIY recordings is a matter of circumstance rather than choice.
Janvier Havugimana, Stani Hitimana and Adrien Kazigira set up their studio on a front porch one evening in 2009, not worrying to replace the missing strings on their borrowed instruments and surrounded by the organic sounds of a Rwandan summer. They used what equipment they had and played out the plaintive and nostalgic love songs that would become the album. Four years later and the Good Ones are on their way to the UK.
The 12 songs that comprise Kigali Y’Izahabu, which translates to ‘Kigali of gold’, are simple and humble at their heart, but the beautiful harmonies sung in their country’s native language Kinyarwanda bring each track to life. Their voices are full of joy and honest emotion.
Drawing upon their shared experiences as survivors of the Genocide in Rwanda; and their belief in love, the power of music and the innate goodness of people; the group aims to be positive in the messages they spread. Yet, as the most recent fourth member Javon explains, the genocide is a part of their lives and history and, whether they like it or not, this feeds into their songwriting.
‘Music belongs to all and often it has been our only friend,’ he says. ‘One of the great joys in this world is to sing. And when people sing together, music's power becomes even stronger. Music cannot stop bullets, but it can help heal.’
The Good Ones are now set to play their first ever gigs outside of Rwanda here in the UK, having been signed up to play WOMAD at the end of the month, as well as a warm-up show at London’s the Boogaloo on 24 July. A journey you can hardly imagine they envisaged when they picked up broken guitars all those years back.
It is indeed a slight stroke of luck that these songs have taken the four men, joined most recently by Javon Mahoro, from the backstreets of Kigali to a world music festival in Wiltshire, underlined by their story of discovery.
It was Grammy Award-winning producer Ian Brennan that allowed the Good Ones to spread their name beyond this small, landlocked country in east Africa. He was in Rwanda during 2009, taking the time to explore the country’s contemporary music scene. After hearing from dozens of local artists over the course of weeks, his mission was looking fruitless. That was, until he stumbled upon Janvier, Stani and Adrien.
‘They were standing in the dark, their eyes downcast and restless, and holding only one guitar between them. From 100-feet away, I knew instantly that there was something special about them,’ said Ian, describing his meeting with the group.
‘The instant the band opened their mouths to sing, it was as if the universe reached down to tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘what these guys do is precious and rare’.’
Catch the Good Ones at the Boogaloo in Archway, London on Thursday 24 July. Tickets are priced at £10 and available through TicketWeb. You can also see the band play WOMAD’s BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett Stage at 4pm on Friday 25 July. Pick up tickets through the WOMAD website.
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