Saturday, March 2, 2013


Music in Burundi is closely tied to its rich history of storytelling and folklore.  Various musical traditions are also closely linked with that of Rwanda.  For Burundians, music is an expression of the soul.

Probably the most important instrument is the drum.  It is the central aspect to Burundian music.  One type of drum that is popular is the karyenda, made from hollow tree trunks.  Actually, popular isn’t even the word: it’s much deeper than that. It’s a national symbol and is even – for some – elevated to a quasi-divine level.  In the very early years of independence, the karyenda was shown on the flag and the coat of arms.  The karyenda along with another drum called a rukinzo follow the kings wherever they go.

One of the more famous groups who reached international fame is the Royal Drummers of Burundi.  Their techniques have been passed from father to son for generation upon generation. Singing, chanting, and dancing also accompany the drumming as well, with some of the drummers also dressed with spears and shields. They have three albums out and have appeared with several other big names in the music industry throughout the years, including Joni Mitchell and Def Leppard. Keep watching to the end -- the way they end their concerts is to pick up the drums and balance them on their heads all while still playing. 

Only a few musicians from Burundi made it to fame outside of the country. Éric Baranyanka is one musician who comes from Burundian royalty. Ciza Muhirwa is another. But probably the most well-known is Khadja Nin. I found a copy of her CD at the library and I really, really like it. There are times when her music reminds me a bit of Sade, taking on characteristics of pop mixed with African rhythms and flavor.

Different kinds of dance accompanies singing, especially mass singing.  Dances are used to mark different life events and other important events, such as wedding celebrations, the birth of a child, when the crops are ready, war dances, meetings where young guys meet young girls, and then there’s just dancing for entertainment. Different regions have different kinds of dances and variations of dances. And the Hutus and Tutsis often share many types of dances. If you notice, the dancers are wearing those rattles on their ankles that I mentioned dancers from Burkina Faso also wear. 

Up next: the food!

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