Performance - 7 July 2013
Considered as one of the best percussion ensembles on this planet, Burundi's top
drummers have been touring the world since the 1960s. Their vibrant power and
precision on sixteen drums originally accompanied kings of this central African
At home, their music is considered sacred and is linked to regeneration and
fertility. But the heart-stopping rhythms have crossed social and cultural barriers
worldwide. Spectators at their concerts rarely remain indifferent to the complex and
compelling sounds and dance the musicians create.
Here, this centuries-old group, who play huge ceremonial drums with heavy
sticks and a staggering force and precision, unleash their thunderous, ritual-charged
power. In Burundi, the drum is a sacred object, closely associated with fertility,
the life cycle and nobility (the Burundi word ingoma translates as both "drum"
and "kingdom"). The performance seems therefore doubly charged with significance
and vitality, a feeling echoed in the ritual chants, cheers, and call and response
While their way of drumming may strike the casual Western ear as somewhat
monochromatic, the percussion is actually comprised of forty-one different rhythms--
pulses and counter-rhythms, varying tempos, harsh, clacking side-stick accents--and
each rhythm represents an important concept of Burundi society: the recognition of
important figures, peace, respect, unity and the progress of their country.
"Rhythm Magazine" once wrote that their improvisations would be difficult for even
the cream of western rhythmicists to match". Yet no one should underestimate the
complexity of polyrhythm's in ceremonies that often last an entire night.