Musical Royalty

Swaying from side to side, rhythmically beating ngoma drums, the Royal Drummers and Dancers of Burundi graced a large audience at the Copley Symphony Hall in downtown San Diego. Their visit was one of a tour of cities in the United States. Combining culture and music, the Burundi Drummers is one of the most famous percussion ensembles in the world and have traveled to numerous destinations around the globe since the 1960s, putting on lively performances for eager audiences. Their performance in “America’s Finest City” did not disappoint. The performers’ story is one rich with history and culture.

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. Major events of the country were heralded by their beating – coronations, sovereigns’ funerals – and with the joy and fervor of all Burundians they kept rhythm with the regular cycle of the seasons, ensuring the prosperity of the herds and fields.

The Royal Drummers and Dancers of Burundi

The Royal Drummers and Dancers of Burundi – courtesy of Burundi Friends International

The drummers’ performance in San Diego demonstrated the purpose behind each sequence with musical selections corresponding to joy, happiness, reverence and peace among other ceremonies. As the director for the drummers noted, “We do not have a school for drummers in Burundi.” Drumming is a skill that is passed down from generation to generation. Drumming is revered in the Burundian culture, and those who inherit the right to learn this coveted aspect of the society are regarded as blessed. As young as the age of five, young boys begin shadowing their fathers as they play the drum.

Each part of the drum is named after symbols of fertility, demonstrating the strong connection between the drum and nature.

  • Icahi: the Skin (the skin in which a mother rocks her baby)
  • Amabere: the Pegs, and in fertility they represent the breasts
  • Urugori: the thong stretching the skin, symbolizing the crown of motherhood
  • Inda: the cylinder, correlating to the stomach
  • Umukondo: the foot of the drum, representing the umbilical cord

Each drummer constructs their own drum, further signifying the magnitude of the link between the drum to life and nature.

Today, the drums have just as much significance as they held centuries ago, and Burundi drummers are looked upon with the utmost reverence in their culture. Stories and deep-rooted traditions have been passed down through generations, carrying great cultural weight that will never be lost as long as the drummers exist as part of the treasured Burundian culture. Their San Diego performance proved to be more than a performance, but an experience. The Royal Drummers and Dancers of Burundi took the audience on an unforgettable journey through the Burundi culture.

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