Traditional Music Instruments in Burundi

The main musical instruments are:

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. In general, the drum is played with sticks.

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

Royal drums: the palladium karyenda drum, which was only brought from its sanctuary on very rare occasions, particularly during the rites associated with theumuganuro – celebrating the sowing of the sorghum – and its secondant,  rukinzo drum accompanied the king everywhere he went.

The inanga zither

The Burundian zither player produces his piece in a low, whispering voice, so as not to mask the tone of his instrument.

The umwironge is classified as an aerophone and is a flute usually made from the stem of the intomvu plant.

The instrument is about 49-75cm long and is made using young stems that have been dried and hollowed out. It tapers slightly from one end to the other. To make the mouthpiece, the stem is first cut off straight and a U-shaped notch is then cut out. The umwironge usually has between two and five round finger holes (inoboro), which are always located on the lower part of the instrument.

The umwironge is chiefly played – and was originally exclusively played – by herdsmen to pass the time or to keep any cattle thieves and predators at bay in the evening and at night. It is also played to accompany dances (akagitari and urwagitari) or to entertain an impromptu audience

The umwironge is usually played solo, but it can also be combined with an inanga, an indingiti or with rhythmic instruments.

The igihuha

The igihuha is made from the horn of various types of antelope. The most common is that of the inzobe (sitatunga – Limnotragus spekii) because of its acoustic qualities. Other horns used include that of the indonyi (defassa waterbuck – Kobus defassa), the impongo (bushbuck – Tragelaphus scriptus), the impara (impala – Aepyceros melampus) and the inkoronko (roan antelope – Hippotragus equines). In most of the instruments made, the tip of the twisted horn is sawn off to make an air duct within the instrument.

The ikinyege

The ikinyege is a rattle made from a hollow gourd of the igicuma plant, which is extremely widespread in sub-Saharan Africa, and has a handle about 12 cm long made from a branch of the umuko tree. The handle is inserted into the natural opening in the gourd and passes right through the gourd. It is secured using resin or a transverse plug (umusave), which is inserted into a specially made hole in the handle and in the gourd. Fruit seeds are always placed in the gourd to produce a penetrating sharp sound.

The ikinyege is used by men to accompany imihara songs in the Ryangombe cult, and also to accompany initiation rite songs (kubandwa). The performers hold the ikinyege in their right hand and the inzogera in their left, creating a regular rhythmic beat. Outside the realms of the cult the instrument is only used by magicians and soothsayers during their incantations.

The iyebe

The iyebe is a rattle consisting of a 35 cm long stick onto which several dried, hollowed-out inyege fruit pods are threaded. There are two types of iyebe:

The first is an instrument comprising a simple stick 30-35 cm in length, on which two to five inyege are mounted.

The second consists of a forked branch 35-70 cm in length with two or three side branches, onto which three or four fruit pods are usually threaded. To make it sturdier, the top of the rattle is bound with strips of leaves from which a few amayugi bells are sometimes hung

The inzogera

The inzogera is classified as an idiophone and, like the amayugi, is a kind of closed bell. Throughout its long history this group of bells has had various different functions: to protect against spirits, to herd livestock together, to keep robbers at bay, to rout game and to provide a rhythmic dance beat. Specifically the inzogera can be described as a spherical bell with a narrow slit (5-15 mm) on the underside. A pebble or a small metal ball (umurebe) is placed inside, large enough not to pass through the slit. The inzogera is between 6 and 8 cm big and has two small holes at the top through which a rope is threaded so that the bell can be tied to a leather strap (umukoba).

Nowadays the inzogera is used during a hunt and as part of the Ryangombe cult. A bell is tied to the hounds and the noise of the inzogera tells the hunter where his dog is and also serves to raise the game.

The umudende

The umudende belongs to the group of narrow cylindrical bells and is the only one of its kind still used in Burundi.

The umudende is formed by bending a thin iron sheet into a narrow cylinder (9-14 cm in length and 1.8-2.5 cm in diameter) that narrows towards the top like a funnel. At the top of the sheet is a narrow projecting tongue of metal that is folded inwards, forming a hook for the narrow clapper

The ikembe

The ikembe is classified as a lamellaphone and consists of a series of iron lamellae, fixed to a rectangular wooden soundbox.

The soundbox is formed by hollowing out a soft rectangular block of wood from the side. This is later covered with a strip of wood and sealed with resin, rubber or honey. Before this opening is covered up a few seeds or pebbles are placed in the instrument to provide an additional source of sound. A few sound holes are also bored

The ikembe is made by the Twa and is mainly played by the Twa and the Hutu

The indingiti 

The indingiti originates from Uganda and was only introduced to Burundi at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The indingiti is a stringed instrument (chordophone) with a single string and is classified as a fiddle. A piece of cowhide is stretched over the top of the hollow soundbox and fixed using either nails or the thorny spines of the acacia. The neck of the indingiti emerges from the side of the soundbox. The indingiti usually plays solo and is not commonly played by older men or by women.

Only the Hutu play the indingiti, using it to accompany popular songs, indirimbo, about ordinary incidents and about life in the hills.

An indingiti with two strings was once found, where one of the strings was used as a kind of ostinato bourdon (bass line) and the other played the melody.

The idono

The idono is a musical bow consisting of a string (umurya) supported by a flexible wooden string bearer or bow (umuheto) 125-135 cm in length. The string is made from plant fibre, animal gut or (more recently) metal wire. A gourd is attached to the bow to act as a resonator.

The idono is mainly played by the Hutu and to a lesser extent by the Twa. The instrument is used on various occasions, such as during festivities, at official ceremonies, at the request of figures of authority, or by beggars to arouse pity. The idono is usually played solo and the performer sings at the same time, often accompanied by the audience clapping their hands. It is unusual for the idono to be played with other instruments.

The instrument is very popular both for its acoustic qualities and for its rhythmic cadence. The repertoire covers religion, politics, history, personal matters, everyday events, etc. The idono is found throughout the country, but is thought to originate from Tanzania rather than Burundi.