Producer Ian Brennan searched for weeks to find something suitable for inclusion in a documentary film about his mother-in-law, who was in Rwanda during its first genocide in 1959 which wiped out her family; this chronicled her first trip back. One summer night he discovered a pair of young men sitting on a porch stoop with a beat-up guitar missing two strings. He coaxed them to sing, and knew he had found what he was looking for, but he couldn't convince them to record without their lead vocalist. The next night on the very same porch, the three men -- Adrien Kazigira, Stany Hitimana, and Jeanvier Havugimana -- with an additional guitar they'd borrowed, laid down the dozen tracks on Kigali Y' Izahabu. Brennan not only had the music he needed; he had a full album by the Good Ones to release on its own. The music, which they refer to as "worker songs from the street," is a gorgeous meld of unadorned vocal and guitar interplay that relies on call-and response verse and chorus structure with melodic and rhythmic syncopation. Little Rwandan music has been released outside of Africa, or even outside the country. Its few musical traditions have been outlawed or erased. Nearly all of these songs, happy or sad, are about love. Given Rwanda's situation as a nation, this is stunning. All of these songs were written by members of the Good Ones, most by Kazigira. Each man sings lead on his own compositions with the other two picking up the vocal slack, underscoring words, phrases, and entire lines from these subtle but infectious gently repetitive melodies. Evidence that this is indeed a field recording is abundant: dogs barking, feet tapping, and the occasional, unplanned hand claps add to the spirit of spontaneity, intimacy, and excitement to these devastatingly beautiful, sometimes profoundly sad songs. "Sara" a non-judgmental, tender yet complex song about an ostracized AIDS-stricken woman is a startling example. "Bakame Ni' Ingwe" and "Invura Yaranka Geyi" express poetic romantic longing amid the desperation of everyday life. The compassion in each writer's words is sophisticated beyond any academic's or humanitarian's; it is empathic, sympathetic, and offers a portrait life simply as it is. There is no longing for transcendence: history is too painful, the future too uncertain; the present is all there is. The music, in its quiet insistence and dignity, is enough; it has to be. This is an important recording not only for its stellar musical quality, but for its humanity as well.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek