Ingoma Nshya playing a concert in 2010.
Music soothes the soul and brings people together. This idea is the driving force behind Ingoma Nshya, a drum ensemble that has been challenging stereotypes. The group, which is composed entirely of Rwandan women even though drums are traditionally reserved for men, is made up of both Hutu and Tutsi women. Their music spreads the message of reconciliation in Rwanda, a country still affected by the 1994 genocide, as well as in the conflict-racked Kivu region of the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, where they recently played a concert.
Ingoma Nshya is made up of 20 women. They play traditional Rwandan rhythms as well as Burundian and Senegalese rhythms on about a dozen different types of drums. Over time, they have developed their very own, new rhythms. The ensemble puts on choreographed shows where they sing in Kinyarwanda, one of Rwanda’s official languages. They recently played at the Goma Buzz’art festival in DR Congo in mid-December.
Ingoma Nshya in concert at the Buzz’art festival in Goma in December 2013.Video from Goma Buzz’art Festival.
In 2004, Odile Gakire Katese, the assistant director for the University Centre for the Arts in Butare, southern Rwanda, decided to create a women-only drums section. This was a risky move: in Rwanda, drums are traditionally reserved for men, in part because the instrument was used to mark different moments of the king’s days during the monarchy. Katese brought together women — both Tutsi and Hutu — from low-income communities, none of whom had any musical background. Ingoma Nshya (“new drum” in Kinyarwanda) became an official drum ensemble in 2008. They were immediately a big hit: in just one year, they played in DR Congo, Senegal, the Netherlands, and the United States. There, they met the creators of Blue Ice Cream, an organic ice cream company, which led to the opening of a branch in Butare. This was Rwanda’s first ice cream shop and helps fund the group today.
In 1994, Rwanda was torn apart in a conflict that pitted the Hutu ethnic group against the Tutsis, leading to a genocide in which 800,000 people — primarily Tutsis — were killed. The war spilled over into the neighbouring DR Congo, specifically the border region of North Kivu, which is rich in minerals and is the scene of chronic conflict. Most recently, the Congolese army, supported by UN troops, clashed in North Kivu against separatist rebels called the M23. The DR Congo government accuses Rwanda of supporting the M23, which the Rwandan government has formally denied. The Congolese army led a massive offensive last November that pushed the M23 out of the country’s borders.
An Ingoma Nhsya concert in 2010.