Who Are the Royal Drummers of Burundi?

Mary McMahon

The Royal Drummers of Burundi are a group of 20 people who traditionally perform at major ceremonies in Burundi, a landlocked nation in Central Africa. In addition to performing at births, funerals, christenings, and coronations in their own country, this talented percussion ensemble also travels around the world performing for people who are interested in African arts and culture. Many people consider the Royal Drummers of Burundi to be one of the finest percussion ensembles in the world, and their dynamic performances are often very well attended.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The ensemble is multigenerational, with fathers teaching their sons the art of drumming and performance. The drummers rotate during the performance, playing different instruments and taking rest breaks to create a continuous stream of music which does not stop until the end of the performance. Some of the Royal Drummers of Burundi are also dancers, and a performance traditionally begins with a procession and dance performance, where the drummers enter with their instruments on their heads, singing and dancing while they set up.

The drums used in performance are made from hollowed out tree trunks topped with animal skin. The primary drum is known as the Inkiranya. Ingoma and Amashako drums help to establish and carry the beat of the performance, while Ibishikiso drums follow the rhythm set by the primary drum. The drummers are often quite active while they play, jumping in the air and dancing as they work with their instruments.

In Burundi, the drum is a sacred musical instrument. It symbolizes regrowth, fertility, family, and the power of the King. Drumming has been an important part of Burundian culture for centuries, and performances by the Royal Drummers are celebrations of culture and heritage in addition to being enjoyable musical events. The Burundian drummers sometimes perform at events with other African musical ensembles, and in small venues they may welcome questions and socializing after the performance.

In addition to touring the world since the 1960s, the Royal Drummers of Burundi have also made several recordings for their fans. Their style and technique has also been used for inspiration by other musicians, and sometimes their songs are sampled in musical performances. Since the Royal Drummers of Burundi are prestigious and popular, performances in your local area will probably be well publicized when they occur, and you can also find their recordings through local music shops and Internet retailers.

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