Three men who were survivors of the Rwandan Genocide 20 years ago have sought and found a source of healing that adds a sense of joy to their lives. The group, called The Good Ones, was discovered by Grammy-winning producer Ian Brennan.
The Good Ones are a musical trio from Rwanda, and are making a debut in the U.K. at the Womad world music festival this weekend, leaving their native Kigali for the first time ever. Brennan says that when he first learned of the band, he wondered about the draw of middle-aged men singing love songs on acoustic guitars. However, as soon as he heard them play, he knew this was the sound he had been looking to promote.
Brennan heard the group when they were not yet discovered, and caught them performing on a friend’s back porch in Rwanda, sharing one broken guitar among them. Standing just over 100 feet away, Brennan thought that their music had a special quality. What struck him most was the vocal and harmonic interplay between the singers. He didn’t understand the words, as they were in Kinyarwanda, the native language of Rwanda.
When he saw the lyrics, however, he was even more impressed by how well-written they were, and the depth of their content. The song, Sara (video below), is about a young woman in Rwanda who is struggling due to having HIV/AIDS, and being shunned by her family, her lover, and her friends. Brennan felt that this convinced him about how valuable the chance meeting with the band, in fact, had been.
The 1994 Rwanda genocide claimed the lives of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. During this time, hundreds of thousands of women were victims in numerous ways, one of which was suffering repeated rape by multiple men attackers. For those who survived, in addition to often giving birth without knowing their child’s father, many contracted HIV/AIDS. These women are stigmatized. A Kigali organization, Association of Women Genocide Survivors, provides antiretroviral medication to delay the worst symptoms of the disease.
The music of The Good Ones seeks to heal the wounds of the terrible tragedy of the genocide. Their songs can be categorized in the genre of acoustic, folk, or workers’ songs from the street. Brennan sees the music as providing important vocal narrative because of its directness and honesty. He says that the primary songwriter, Adrien Kazigira, in particular, writes very meaningful lyrics. From surviving the Rwanda genocide, the group’s joyous sound promotes a healing that is sought by many in their formerly war-torn nation.
Their music is being touted as offering both “stellar musical quality” and a strong sense of humanity, as well. After their chance encounter with Brennan, The Good Ones released their album, Kigali Y’ Izahabu, in November 2010, recorded on the same back porch where he found them.
Proceeds from the sale of the album go towards Rwandan foundations, the Kigali Memorial Centre, which was opened on the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, and Stories for Hope, a dialogue and story preservation project. This week the United Kingdom is hosting the band, as they make their entrée into the European music world.
Some say that the world merely observed or turned its back on the genocide when it occurred, and even obstructed justice. This speaks even more strongly for the band, whose indomitable spirit has been said to fuel its musicality. These three survivors of the Rwandan Genocide are seeking healing and their music fills the hearts of those who hear it with joy.
By Fern Remedi-Brown
Previous articles by the author on the Rwanda Genocide:
Rwanda Genocide Still Traumatic for Mothers at 20 Years
Rwanda Genocide Looks at Allies and Bystanders at 20 Year Anniversary
Kyoto Organization Teaches Sustainable Development Worldwide