30 May 2014

Rwanda: Kigali Y' Izahabu

music review

From the porch steps to the record store, Rwandan trio The Good Ones deliver an intimate acoustic album proving the remedial powers of music.

The product of an outdoor night-time recording session, Kigali Y' Izahabu (which translates as 'Kigali of Gold') captures a three-piece vocal group from Rwanda in its natural element. "We're just happy our music is being heard," says Adrien Kazigira, the lead songwriter of The Good Ones. "It is rare for musicians in Rwanda to have opportunities like this unless they are playing commercial American styles like hip-hop or R&B."

Survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, The Good Ones revel in a gentle plucking style that oozes peacefulness. Strings twang out of key, but it only adds to a grassroots authenticity. "We have our problems like everyone else, but we are all Rwandans and this is a beautiful and green land: locals call it the country of 1,000 hills."

There is an intimacy here that makes the listener feel privileged and, as is typical of producer Ian Brennan's projects, nothing is staged; listen out for the dog howls in the background. Come the last few tracks, a familiarity with their self-described "worker songs of the street" kicks in. 'Oh yeah, this bit!' thinks the listener as another warm, on-queue wave of vocals washes over the guitars in a formula outlined in track one. It's nice to know the themes are universally familiar too: "Most of our songs are love songs," says Kazigira, "or else we are praising God. What else is there to sing about?"

Kigali Y' Izahabu is released by Dead Oceans.

Clyde Macfarlane is a travel writer and music critic. He won a Guardian Student Media Award in 2009, while studying social antropology from Manchester University, and he has since had several articles published for the paper. He also writes for Songlines Magazine, specialising in African and Caribbean music genres. Follow Clyde on twitter @ClydeMacfarlane.

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