Wednesday, July 29, 2009


professional Burundian drum corps*

We live in a school neighborhood, and so the sounds of children are ever around us.  But in the past set of weeks, there is the sound of the drums every morning.  The summer session must be when all Burundian boys learn the rhythms of their culture that have vibrated throughout their land for generations.

We drove by the school the other morning, and saw what we'd been hearing so many mornings in a row.  There were Burundian drums, each large as an oak wine barrel, in a circle formation.  The teacher stood in the middle of the drums demonstrating the traditional rhythms.  The boys are positioned, one per drum, around the outside of the circle.  With the thick drumsticks in hand, they beat out the rhythms with as much velocity as a 7 or 8 year old can muster!  And this goes on for a few hours every school day during the summer.  

They are not merely learning an instrument (like I was consigned to learn the recorder in elementary school) or fulfilling a music requirement (like the lackluster music classes I had to endure in grade school), they are learning the heartbeat of their culture.  Burundian drum corps are know throughout Africa as being the most accomplished drummers.  This is part of their heritage they are ingesting with every beat.  It is beautiful to see them delight in their tradition, to learn their rhythms unmediated by western culture or other diluting forces.  When they are in the circle of drums, it is Burundian culture they are celebrating.  It is wonderful to witness these lessons in motion!

So this morning I am in my home office ready to work, and I am again serenaded by the young drummers.  The beat is steady, forceful and unrelenting.  There is no break for laughter or horse play, these boys are serious about perfecting their hallmark rhythm.  This sets them apart - not as a generic African, but as a masterful and renowned Burundian drummer.  And as I listen, I find myself swaying to the unique combination of beats.  I can't help it!  It is like my heart is learning a new rhythm, day after day, soaking in this primal Burundian sound.  The drums bring a smile to my face every day.  This is what it is to live in Burundi, to sway to the indigenous sounds and share in this national delight... to celebrate the culture.  

When I get frustrated (electricity demand exceeds the grids capacity resulting in regular black outs, water is delivered at odd times of the day, making the idea of a regular shower more a riddle than routine)... the drums revive me.  The drums, as meted out with determined focus and athletic energy (and stamina!) of primary school boys, showcases what is good about my life in Bujumbura.  Somehow the rhythm of their drums moves me to a better place each morning.  

I am a Burundian citizen, though I came to my citizenship later in life.  I guess even I need to be schooled in these rhythms, right?  I want to carry my passport with pride - and these drums teach me to walk with Burundian rhythms resounding and reverberating throughout my body.   

On other days I hear the children, boys and girls, singing in Kirundi with such sweetness that it melts my heart.  I enjoy those songs, too.  But the drums... they do get to me on a deeper level. I love my summer mornings, complete with the Summer Drumming Sessions.

*photograph by Jaimi Kercher Photography 2009

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