When the Rwandan group the Good Ones first formed, it was, in a way, an act of healing. They bring together one man each from the nation’s Hutu, Tutsi, and Abatwa groups in the wake of a genocide meant to divide the tribes of Rwanda with devastating, nigh-unthinkable finality.
A quarter-century has passed since the end of the Rwandan Civil War. Life is still not easy for the Good Ones, with many of the songs on third album Rwanda, You Should Be Loved written amid hardships. Bandleader Adrien Kazigira cites his daughter’s eye tumor as a particular source of pain in need of written expression. But the trio’s music still soothes. It’s a combination of striking vocal harmonies and instrumentation that generally consists of guitar and sparse percussion, the latter feature sometimes derived from the members’ farm implements. Though some of the members have changed, that same spirit of hope and connection to Rwandan land and people that defined the group’s 2010 debut Kigali Y Izahabu permeates Rwanda, You Should Be Loved. Included are a few surprise guest artists whose talents bolster the band.
The album opens with the wistful single “The Farmer”, which boasts a guitar melody performed with the nimble delicacy of early Robbie Basho or John Fahey and mellow vocals rich in natural, unforced warmth. Kazigira and co-singer Janvier Havugimana duet with a distinctly high lonesome quality to their sound, sounding here like the Rwandan equivalent of bluegrass and, in doing so, tugging at the heartstrings. The subsequent track “Despite It All I Still Love You, Dear Friend” features TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe, who previously collaborated on another landmark Ian Brennan production, Tinariwen’s Tassili, and introduces heavier percussion and more intense backing vocals to the mix that speak to the trio’s versatility.
They continue to explore different moods throughout the album. “Will You Be My Protector?” features a chorus of vocalists, evoking a sense of community, to fill out Kazigira’s, Havugimana’s, and vocalist and percussionist Javan Mahoro’s spacious soundscape. Melancholy “Where Did You Go Wrong, My Love” features Wilco’s Nels Cline, who adds his cascading guitar over simple, urgent beats.
“Young People Are the Future” has a brighter quality to it, while “Please Come Back to Me” is more sedate, but for Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker adding her resonant guitar fills. The electrified “Marciana, You Should Love” is a lively, encouraging dance tune. “A Long, Sad Journey Watching You Die” is a suitably pensive tribute to Kazigira’s first wife and features My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields, who, like Tucker, stays wisely out of the forefront, but adds new atmosphere to the mix.
“Life Is Hard” is a weathered ballad, “Seraphinne, You Are the Prettiest Woman in the World” is a quick call-and-response, and “My Wife Is As Beautiful As a Sunset” lilts, sweet and sunny. Closing track “My Smartest Friend Lost His Mind” has a feeling of mourning to it, an affecting loneliness, especially knowing, per the label’s press, that one of the original Good Ones recently “succumbed to his own demons”. The song itself tells a tale of addiction and the ongoing sense of loss that surrounds both the person during such struggles and his family and friends.
Through small victories and moments of bleak reality, it’s undeniably marvelous to hear the Good Ones continue to thrive with the help of Ian Brennan’s careful production. The group keeps rural styles of Rwanda alive and subtly vibrant on Rwanda, You Should Be Loved. Skillful, rootsy, and laying bare the group’s strong interpretations of environs and emotions, this is an album that lends itself well to sensitive audiences of all sorts and is well worth listening to, feeling, and loving.