The Royal Drummers of Burundi, commonly known in recordings as The Drummers Of Burundi, is a unique and an awesome percussion ensemble from Burundi. They are one of the greatest percussion ensembles in the world, and have performed in the same way for centuries, passing down traditions and techniques from father to son. Their performances were traditionally a part of particular ceremonies, such as births, funerals and the enthronement of Kings. In Burundi, drums are sacred and represent, along with the king, the powers of fertility and regeneration. The origins of their performance being shrouded in ancient legend and mystery, the Royal Drummers and Dancers of Burundi channel the energy and creative spirit of a nation through these drums and the rituals surrounding them.
Royal Drummers of Burundi
It is generally admitted that the culture of central Burundi (Muramvya, Ngozi and Gitega territories) is representative of the culture of the whole country but major variations are seen in the peripheral territories: the Rusizi plain and the Imbo region in the west, bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); Buragane and the Moso in the south and south-west respectively, bordering Tanzania. These variations exist in other regions, but are less pronounced than in the four areas mentioned, and are due to the proportions of a particular population group over another and to each group's way of life (agriculture, livestock, pottery or other trade, …).
The large drums "Ingoma" that are played are made from hollowed tree trunks covered with skin. The "Amashako" drums provide a continuous beat, and "Ibishikiso" drums follow the rhythm of the central "Inkiranya" drum. The thunderous sound of the drums with the graceful yet athletic dance that accompanies this masterful performance represents an important part of Burundi's musical heritage.
Master drummers of Burundi performing at Bujumbura
Since the 1960's the Royal Drummers and Dancers of Burundi have toured outside of their country, becoming a popular attraction at concert halls and festivals around the world. Their massed drum sound, or the "Burundi beat" as it became known, also caught the ear of Western musicians and they appeared on Joni Mitchell's, The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975).
Their distinctive sound also influenced British rock bands of the early 1980's, such as Adam and the Ants, and Bow Wow Wow. It was seeing the drummers that inspired Thomas Brooman to organize the first WOMAD festival in 1982, an event that helped to spark the whole World Music boom.
Master Drummers of Burundi were very popular at Womadelaide last year in Australia
The Royal Drummers and Dancers of Burundi were recorded at Real World Studios in 1993 and released the live album on the Real World Label. Other recordings followed including The Master Drummers of Burundi in 1994 and The Drummers of Burundi in 1999. In 2006 the Company undertook a Sold Out six week coast to coast tour of the United States of America and Canada and will return to North America in the Fall of 2012 to undertake a coast to coast tour of the United States and Canada.
Their live performances are the ultimate African drum experience.
Every Murundi is a musician at heart, according to Ntahokaja in his article entitled La musique des Barundi (The music of the Barundi), (in: Grands Lacs, 1948-1949, 4-5-6: 45-49). His soul is a taut string which vibrates at the slightest breeze. He sings for all events of life, joyful or sad. The Barundi possess a broad repertoire of songs adapted to all states of mind and all circumstances of life. Joyful songs and sad songs - the latter fewer in number - enhance family and official gatherings, accompany certain rituals and ceremonies and are associated with certain trades. These include the following:
uruvyino singing (imvyino in the plural)
Ntahokaja speaks of uruvyino singing as "mass singing", practised among most of the population. At family celebrations, for example, the singing rises spontaneously from among those present. As the beer glasses are emptied and hearts open, the people are seized by a rousing, lively and cheerful melody. The imvyino style is that of verse and refrain. A (male or female) soloist sings the verses, which are improvisational and have colourful, charming words. The audience, singing in chorus, takes up the refrain - a short, highly rhythmic phrase which is always the same within one song. This song is often accompanied by hand-clapping and possibly also dancing.
Burundian drummers perform at a public event in Burundi's capital, Bujumbura.
The imvyino dance songs may also be categorized depending on the circumstances of their performance.
Dance songs at meetings of young girls .
picture Private meetings of young girls from the same group of friends, taking the opportunity to exchange their views on life, their respective family situations and for advice given by older to younger girls. The songs sung on this occasion are full of advice and elements critical of society.
Dance songs accompanying a wedding celebration: Songs to prepare the future bride, giving advice on the way she has to behave with her in-laws; songs during the bridal procession, songs when the procession leaves at the end of the ceremony. This category of songs also includes those sung to mark the various traditional and compulsory visits to the families of the two newly-weds after the wedding.
Female Drummer troupe
Dance songs at the birth of a child. These songs are performed by family, friends and neighbours to salute a mother who has passed the test of bringing a baby into the world, and to greet the baby as he enters society. These dances acquire special, ritual solemnity when they celebrate the birth of twins; this is an event almost within the realm of evil. The dances performed then become part of a rite to correct this abnormality and to protect the family.
Dance songs of the Kiranga, or Kubandwa cult. On the whole, while the content of the songs and the form of the words fall within the ritual and reserved domain, the method of dancing follows that of profane dance singing.
Dance songs of the umuganuro. The celebrations of the First Fruits and of sowing the sorghum have been associated with a certain number of rituals involving the beating of drums, accompanied by dancing. The drummers are known as the Abakokezi (keeping the basic rhythm of the drums) and the Abavuzamurishyo (following the movement of the dancer).
Dance songs for entertainment during shared, family occasions, at the end of ploughing or other joint activities where the warmth of the occasion - especially when drinking is involved - leads to spontaneous dancing.
Trade songs giving rise to dancing: hunting, beekeeping, cattle rearing, fishing, metalworking, etc., generally have rhythmic songs to accompany the work. For example, hunters have many songs in which they praise their hunting dogs. The following are some examples: the chant of the churn, the song of the mortar, the song of the beekeeper, the song of the beaters (hunting), the song of the gleaners, the song of the sower, the weeding song, etc.
The war dances of the intore: rhythmic dance in strict lines, with weapons: spears and shields, leopard skins, headdresses, pearl costumes and bells on the feet:
Presence of a leader to encourage the dancers with lyrical odes, war-like panegyrics: (amazina y'ubuhizi (listen) ) and (amazina y'intore).
Parade dance (kwiyereka) in a winding line reminiscent of the Indian line during which the warrior-dancers display their weapons.
Drum dancers from Burundi
Some categories of the above songs are accompanied by musical instruments that we will describe.
Generally, the dancers perform within the circle of spectators/singers. They dance in pairs, particularly the young girls and women. Traditionally, the female dances were danced within the rugo (enclosure) or its immediate surrounding area; the men's dances were danced for the king, for a chief or during important public meetings.
The dances referred to above, like Burundian dancing in general, do not have the sensual movements found within the dances of certain other African regions.
Traditional Burundi dance
The number of dances common to both Hutu and Tutsi seems high. The authors of the article observe certain specific regional aspects which we describe here:
the umuyebe dance in the Imbo region and its neighbouring Mirwa: miming dance reserved for men;
the ihunja (female) and imisambi (also female, imitates the movements of the crowned crane, after which it is named) and amayaya (listen) (male or female, nonchalant) dances, all from the Kirimiro region in the centre of the country.
Traditional dancers at the Burundi Cup of Excellence awards ceremony. Photo by John Moore. Day Five: Last Day at CoE
The umutsibo (female) dance concentrates on the movement of the legs and pelvis, but without eroticism, in the Buyogoma region;
the urwedengwe (female) dance, which concentrates on the movement of the shoulders, with the dancer in a slight bent/tense position, in the Ngozi and Buyenzi regions;
the ubusambiri dance in the Buragane region with heavy external influences, a young people's dance unknown to the old people of the region.
2) ururirimbo singing (indirimbo in the plural)
The songs known by this name are sung by a single man or by a small group. Ururirimbo singing is that which best translates calm, subtle feelings. Its themes are prolific and its text is always constructed in poetic form. Ntahokaja observes a resemblance between ururirimbo singing and plainchant: clarity of melody and absence of chromaticism.
Within this category of indirimbo singing, the following classification may be proposed:
kwishongora singing: recitative lyrical declamation, with long phrases: traditionally, songs in praise of the king, princes and other important people of the country. Never danced since the rhythm is free, it concentrates on the quality of the text, presented as a lyrical poem. In general, the song is sung by one person but there may be occasions when some parts of the song are sung in chorus;
several other types, including:
igitito (ibitito): sung legend or story;
ikilito (ibilito) singing: evening song, type of elegy interspersed here and there with a highly sentimental lament. A song for young girls during family evenings;
pastoral singing: pastoral songs can be placed in the category of pastoral eulogies alongside recited poetry (ibicuba, imivovoto, amazina y'inka (listen) ). Among these we note: odes sung in honour of herds and rondos sung on returning from transhumance (some of these rondos can be danced). The main themes of these songs are: the breeder and his wealth, happiness and prestige, the usefulness and beauty of his cows, their origin, their fertility, satire directed at apprentice shepherds, etc.;
war songs: war songs are related to war poetry (amazina y'ubuhizi (listen), amazina hy'urugamba or amatazirano y'ibyivugo), recited in the form of autopanegyric odes;
hunting songs: gukokeza or rousing the hunting dog;
lullabies: icugumbiro, igihozo (listen) ;
epithalamia or wedding songs;
chantefables or sung short stories (in prose): sung historical accounts and legends;
laments and other songs: songs for two alternating choirs, ikimpwiri; post-drinking songs, amayaya, milling songs, indengo;
modulated greetings: akazihi (listen), agocoya, agahibongozo, akayego;
incantations: genre associated with the incantatory magic of the past, now sung purely for evening entertainment. The genre may be based on incantatory recitation or declamation, uniquely vocal singing or accompanied by a musical instrument (zither, musical bow). Contexts:
pastoral: to beseech the cow to mate, to beg her to give milk, in the Kiranga cult;
for the soothsayer: to beseech fate to give clients or to heal his patient;
other songs, not mentioned here, vocal or accompanied by musical instruments.
Among the types described above, some are accompanied by a musical instrument, whether this be the dance song or the type known as ururirimbo. Some instruments may produce instrumental music, not accompanied by voice, while others may be played in a group or as solo instruments.
Master drummers of Burundi
The main musical instruments are:
a) ingoma drums:
The Burundian drum is made from a piece of tree trunk cut from certain forest species. An adult ox's or cow's skin is stretched over this hollowed-out section of trunk and secured to the wood using wooden pegs.
Kings Sacred Drummers of Seven
In general, the drum is played with sticks. The drummed rhythms of Burundi differ from those of Rwanda in terms of their rhythms and their more spectacular staging than that of the drums of Rwanda, with a more melodic and generally rigid technique. As in Rwanda, the term ingoma in Burundi has a very wide semantic field; it can refer to percussion drum, ritual drum, dynastic drum, power (royalty or otherwise), reign (or equivalent), government, era, particular country (kingdom). Equally, as in Rwanda, nobody in Burundi could manufacture a drum or have a drum manufactured without a formal order from the king, who alone held the privilege of owning the drums and having them played for himself.
Royal Drummers of Burundi
In ancient Burundi, drums were much more than simple musical instruments. As sacred objects, reserved solely for ritualists, they were only played under exceptional circumstances and then always for ritual purposes: the major events of the country were heralded by their beating - coronations, sovereigns' funerals - and, in the joy and fervour of all Burundians, they kept rhythm with the regular cycle of the seasons which ensured the prosperity of the herds and fields.
Nowadays, the drum remains an instrument that is both revered and popular, reserved for national celebrations and distinguished guests. The ancient lineages of drummers have kept their art alive and, in some cases, have had great success in popularizing it around the world (L. Ndoricimpa and C. Guillet, Les tambours du Burundi (The drums of Burundi) 1983: 4).
Female drummer group
Royal drums: the palladium karyenda drum, which was only brought from its sanctuary on very rare occasions, particularly during the rites associated with the umuganuro - celebrating the sowing of the sorghum - and its secondant, rukinzo. Some of the tasks of the latter are reminiscent of the indamutsa drum of Rwanda: taking part in the ceremony of the king going to bed and getting up and, generally, marking out the rhythm of the life of the court; also the fact that it was renewed with each change of reign. Note that the rukinzo drum accompanied the king everywhere he went.
Burundian kid dancing to Royal drums of peace
The drum sanctuaries
A tight network of mythical high places formed the political, religious and mythical framework of precolonial Burundi. Among these high places we can include the drum sanctuaries. These were properties owned by the mainly Hutu lineages and they alone, with the king's consent, held the privilege of manufacturing, playing and keeping drums and of bringing a certain number to the court on the occasion of the ritual of the umuganuro. These Abatimbo drummers, "those who hit hard", are probably a remnant of the ancient organization of Hutu principalities before the Tutsi conquest of the country. A sacred drum was enthroned in each sanctuary, surrounded by its attendants, the ingendanyi drums, and a set of drums that played for them.
Four examples of sanctuaries:
Gishora (hill), not far from Gitega: sacred drums kept there: ruciteme (for whom one clears brush) and murimirwa (for whom one ploughs) + maintenance of sacred python in a nearby copse. Lineage of Abanyakisaka drummers;
the Higiro hill, also not far from Gitega: the sacred inakigabiro (lady of the land) drum. Lineage of the Abashaka drummers;
Magamba hill: the lineage of the Abazimbura of this sanctuary was responsible for renewing the rukinzo drum with each change of reign;
Banga: lineage of the Abanyuka and the Abashubi in the service of the nyabuhoro drum (the dispenser of peace).
b) The inanga zither: (listen)