One of the greatest percussion ensembles in the world, the Royal Drummers and Dancers of Burundi, have performed in the same way for centuries, passing down traditions and techniques from father to son.
The origins of their performance are shrouded in ancient legend and mystery; their performances were traditionally a part of particular ceremonies — births, funerals and the enthronement of kings. Their music has touched musicians from Joni Mitchell to Bow Wow Wow, and has graced stages all over the world, including the first WOMAD Festival. Now the performers come to Three Stages at Folsom Lake College on Nov. 19.
“Their live performances have been described as the ultimate African drum experience,” Executive Director Dave Pier noted. “It will be an exuberant evening of rhythm and movement.”
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. The major events of the country were heralded by their beating — coronations, sovereigns’ funerals — and, with the joy and fervor of all Burundians, they kept rhythm with the regular cycle of the seasons, ensuring the prosperity of the herds and fields.
Nowadays, the drum remains an instrument that is both revered and popular, reserved for national celebrations and distinguished guests. The ancient lineages of drummers have kept their art alive and, in some cases, have had great success in popularizing it around the world.
The large drums “Ingoma” that are played are made from hollowed tree trunks covered with skin. The “Amashako” drums provide a continuous beat, and “Ibishikiso” drums follow the rhythm of the central “Inkiranya” drum. The thunderous sound of the drums with the graceful yet athletic dance that accompanies this masterful performance represents an important part of Burundi’s musical heritage.
The relationship in Burundi between drum and nature is so strong that various parts of the drum are named after the concept of fertility:
Icahi – The Skin (Skin in which the mother rocks her baby)
Amabere – The Pegs (The Breasts)
Urugori – The Thong Stretching the Skin (Crown of Motherhood)
Inda – The Cylinder (The Stomach)
Umukondo – Foot of the Drum (The Umbilical Cord)
The drums have lost none of their revered significance over the centuries. An ancient network of drum sanctuaries still exists in Burundi where the drums have been stored over the years until such time as they are brought out to be played.
The Royal Drummers and Dancers of Burundi will perform in Three Stages at 7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 19,. Tickets are $19 to $29; premium tickets are available for $39 and student tickets are $12 (with ID). Tickets may be purchased online at threestages.net or from Three Stages ticket office at (916) 608-6888 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and two hours before show time. Three Stages is located on the west side of Folsom Lake College campus in Folsom, facing East Bidwell Street.