December 30, 2011

Traditional and modern music in Rwanda

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Written by: admin


  1. 1. Traditional Rwandan music


Traditional Rwandan instrument INANGA (Harp)


The traditional Rwandan style consists of variety of music and dance ranging from heroic acts commemorating excellence and bravery, humorous lyrics to hunting root. Traditional songs are often accompanied by INANGA, a harp-like wooden instrument with eight strings made of cow’s dried tendons. More celebratory dances are backed by a drum orchestra, which typically comprises seven to nine members, and collectively produce a hypnotic and exciting explosion set of intertwining rhythms.

Usually spontaneous traditional performances are held in villages. The finest exponent of Rwanda’s varied and dynamic traditional musical and dance styles, however, is the INTORE Dance Troupe.

Founded several centuries ago, the INTORE dance once performed exclusively for the Royal Court, but today their exciting act can be arranged at short notice through the National Museum in Butare.

A more modern form of Rwandan music is the upbeat and harmonious devotional singing that can be heard in any church service around the country.




Rwandan traditional drums


Today, traditional Rwandan music and dance is solely performed during cultural performances such as national and international festivals, in wedding ceremonies, and sometimes in celebrations of national and international public days and other few occasional activities such as opening and closing of international meetings where Rwanda grabs the opportunity and showcases its wealthy culture through music and drumbeating.

  1. 2. Modern Rwandan music

Modern Rwandan music is presently dominated mostly by American and East African styles ranging from R’N’B, Techno, reggae and Rumba styles which in most cases are performed by young musicians trying to make a living out of ‘computerized’ music or playback/karaoke that many old folks do not like. Very few of our so-called young musicians and artists know how to play at least one music instrument.



Modern drums


This has created a big gap between old musicians/artists who used to perform live music (1980’s), and young ones who just sit one night and then the next morning a song is written, vocals recorded, computerized music sounds added with the help of music software and here comes a song or a CD. But for live performers it could take them a whole day for the group to record a song (lyrics and instruments live) in a studio and this is what made their music strong and pleasant to the ear whenever you listen to them.


This doesn’t mean that modern Rwandan music is bogus or that people don’t like it. No, it has so many fans especially teenagers. Besides, many young artists and song writers have made tremendous progress with their computerized music but when it comes to entertaining the public live, this is when the whole thing is messed up when our singers can’t make the same performance as when in the studio. Most of them sing with pre-recorded songs in the background to cheat the audience, but imagine what happens when the CD player is stuck or when a cable is accidentally unplugged and music stops unexpectedly! The music just stops and so does the signer! What an embarrassment!

Coming back on the other side of traditional Rwandan style, music and dance have stayed intact, apart from adding on some other cultural aspects such as clothing and more vibrant choreography to make it more entertaining and attract more multicultural audiences. If our young musicians could do the same and just concentrate on Rwandan and African rhythms/beats and do them live, their music would grow and stay in the minds of many generations just like our famously and mostly acclaimed IGISOPE (Rwandan oldies live songs which still hit in many parties and music festivals at national and international levels.


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