Written by: Tiisetso Tlelima
Burundian drums sound like rolling thunderclaps. The beat is extraordinary and electrifying; deep and powerful; and those watching, listening and dancing to its rhythm walk away feeling light-hearted. Like a weight has been lifted off their shoulders. The experience is hypnotic, enthralling and rejuvenating. In Burundi everyone enjoys watching and listening to drums. Drums signify the nation’s humility, dignity and integrity. This weekend Burundi’s finest drummers, Rugamba Drummers, bring the beat of Burundi to South Africa and will be performing at this year’s SA Tattoo in Montecasino from tonight until September 13.
“The idea to bring Rugamba drummers to South Africa came to me two years ago,” explains Rugamba group manager, Tharcisse Songore. “I wanted to give South Africans an opportunity to experience the art of Burundian drumming and I also wanted to give a better picture of Burundi because recently it has been known for war and ethnic violence.” Rugamba, meaning war, is named after Burundi’s great King Ntare Rugamba – King Lion, the Warrior – who literally doubled the size of the Kingdom of Burundi under his 50 years of rule. Although the drummers may not have the tenacity and braveness that King Ntare Rugamba had, they have something better to offer. Their drumming is ancient and compelling and firmly rooted in Burundi tradition.
Dressed in long colourful three-piece cloths - knots tied on one side of the shoulder – they start their performance by entering the courtyard singing and beating their drums while balancing them on their heads. Traditionally, no singing accompanied the drumming, but today these young drummers sing songs about the beauty of Burundi. Using sticks to produce this rare sound the band could go on for hours non-stop but unfortunately they will only be playing a few minutes as part of the SA Tattoo ensemble. “I expect people to be curious to start with and to be surprised,” says Tharcisse. “The impression I get from people seeing us rehearse has been great!”
Historically, the drums were associated with the royal kingdom. “Back then no one else had the privilege to listen besides the king,” explains Tharcisse. Today anyone can listen to the drums. Burundians drum to celebrate weddings, lobola, rituals, official functions like Independence Day – literally any social function is an excuse for drumming.
The Rugamba drummers will be playing alongside other impressive international acts such as the Italian folklore act, Storici Sbandieratori Della Contrade Di Codri and the New Guard USA Rifle Drill Squad.
You can catch Rugamba drummers every night during the SA Tattoo festival at 8pm.For more info on SA Tattoo visit www.satattoo.co.za. Tickets are available through Computicket.