The Good Ones: Kigali Y' Izahabu

In a country that has been devastated over the years, by genocide and poverty, the Good Ones remind us of the unflinching resilience of its people.

The Good Ones

Kigali Y' Izahabu

US Release: 2010-11-09
Label: Dead Oceans
UK Release: 2010-11-08
Label Website

The three players in the Good Ones, all Rwandan genocide survivors, display a striking resilience on Kigali Y' Izahabu. Armed with just two rickety acoustic guitars -- one with only four strings -- their stomping feet, and their voices, Adrien Kazigira, Stany Hitimana, and Jeanvier Havugimana deliver 12 songs that resonate deeply despite their spare constructions. These songs were recorded on a porch in Kigali, Rwanda in the summer of 2009, and the intimacy of that performance shines through every song on the record.

Even if you don't speak Kinyarwanda, the Kigali street dialect in which these men sing, it's easy to steep yourself in the emotion and startling joy of these songs. The singing here is strong and varied, from the playful tumble of the melody on "Sara" or "Iby' Iyisini Ubusa" to the insistent rasp of "Kacyiry", these men sing with a tension and power that never turns bitter. Their voices reach up and out, they never crash and fall into despair. Even on a song like "Amagorwa y' Abagabo", which comdemns a man for leaving his family behind, for taking the easy way out, under the disappointed lilt of their voices is a bracing hope for the family left behind, that those still working day in and day out to survive will find their own hard-earned peace.

Despite its spare, humble elements -- guitar strings sound dull with rust, notes buzz off the frets, you can almost hear the arid air into which they drift -- you can feel different influences creep in. Bob Marley, who Kazigira claims as an inspiration, comes out in the straightforward, beautiful delivery of the songs. At their most basic, like with Marley, these songs sound like a call to gather, and though they are humble acoustic numbers, once we've assembled it's hard not to shuffle your feet to them. This may come from Santana or Zouk -- a Carribean dance music -- which the group also cite as influences. You can almost hear the dance beat behind the bouncing guitar work of "Egidia", and these songs spread out and take up as much space as their few elements allow, the guitars weaving together to make the songs sound impossibly full.

In the end, these elements -- the frenetic, boundless playing, the raw yet beautiful vocals -- make Kigali Y' Izahabu feel more like a performance than an album. Producer Ian Brennan, who found and recorded the group down in Kigali, does little besides present the group as clearly and honestly as he can, and the intimacy of the recording works well. The album's title translates to "Kigali of Gold" in English, and it is that pride in their homeland, that resistance to cynicism and defeat, that makes this album so refreshing. In a country that has been devastated over the years, by genocide and poverty, the Good Ones remind us of the unflinching resilience of its people. The album is a field recording from a field many of us don't listen to enough, and as you hear these voices cutting through the night air, as you hear the creaking of the porch under their feet, the animal sounds off in the distance, it's clear that Rwanda is a country very much alive, very much determined to survive, and Kigali Y' Izahabu is -- aside from an entertaining and beautiful album in its own right -- a fine document of a people's strength.


This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.