Exploring Rwanda’s cultural music

Music plays an extremely important role in Rwandan tradition and culture. In ancient times, music included humorous lyrics about excellence and bravery after hunting.
Doreen Umutesi
Doreen Umutesi

Music plays an extremely important role in Rwandan tradition and culture. In ancient times, music included humorous lyrics about excellence and bravery after hunting. An instrument known as the ‘lulunga’, a harp-like instrument with eight strings, was played while singing traditional songs.

The most common musical instrument in Rwanda is the drum and it has a momentous role in Rwanda’s performing arts. In the past, royal drummers, thumping away at between seven and nine drums, dominated the musical contingent of the royal court.

Some of Rwanda’s renowned cultural musicians include Mzee Athanase Sentore (RIP), born in 1934. He was a successful cultural singer, composer and dancer, until last Wednesday. He was a trainer and advisor to the  Rwandan National Ballet and brought home many international trophies for representing Rwandan  culture in countries like Germany, Spain, Canada among others.  He is also the father to the popular Rwandan artiste Massamba Intore.

Cecile Kayirebwa is a cultural musician, born in Rwanda in 1946, but currently living in Belgium. She started performing traditional music at the age of fifteen. She also became one of the founding members of the Rwanda Song and Dance Circle. She often comes back and stages concerts, thanks to her immense talent and wide fan base.

Other artistes include Maria Yohana, the composer of the famous ‘Intsinzi’ song. 

It’s important to promote cultural music because it is what differentiates Rwanda from the rest of the world. The youth should be trained and encouraged to participate in cultural music so that it can be passed from this generation to the next.

The best alternative to keep cultural music alive is for it to be added to school curricula. Children learn fast and are very vibrant. Most of the current cultural musicians in Rwanda trace their talent to when they were children. With most of the youth associating themselves with westernised music its worrying that cultural music is slowly fading away. 

Therefore, to keep the memories of our ancestors alive, traditional musicians should teach the youth the cultural traits of music and dance. The current form of Rwandan music is upbeat with a westernised touch…nothing like the way it was or should be.

 

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