“I was impressed by the sheer power of the sound coming from the stage”
I saw the group recently in concert in Goma during the Buzz’art festival. I had never seen female drummers, because in DR Congo as in Rwanda, only men play the drums. I admit that I was surprised: I thought it would be just a small concert with a couple of instruments, but I was impressed by their number, their skill on real African drums, and the sheer power of the sound coming from the stage.
“These women spread a message of hope, as they are the living proof that a country can build itself back up after a devastating conflict”
We never aimed to spread a political message, but whether we like it or not, we necessarily represent the idea of reconciliation. And this is the image that prevails when we play outside of Rwanda — certainly in the United States or the Netherlands, but especially in countries that are currently in crisis, like the DR Congo today.We played for the first time in Goma, in 2008. Many people tried to discourage us from going for safety reasons. But we were warmly welcomed and we have since returned several times. We went because we knew that we needed to send a strong message: first, the fact that Congolese people were inviting Rwandans was very important, and we had to accept. Also, because those who came to watch the concert saw a group comprised of people of different ethnicities that in the past had killed one another. These women spread a message of hope, as they are the living proof that a country can build itself back up after a devastating conflict. During their concerts in the DR Congo, they often interact with the public. Some audience members are sceptical about the possibility of reconciliation in North Kivu, but the women of Ingoma Nshya share their stories and show what is possible.The ethnic breakdown of our group doesn’t really matter to me. We work with women who all have horrific stories in their past; dwelling on them doesn’t serve a purpose. We need to look forward: the fact that women of different backgrounds collaborate together is enough.One of the group’s drummers. Photo uploaded to Flickr by EmreKanik.“It’s exciting for us to be the first female drummers in the country”It is also important to understand that our message is even more powerful because it is spread by female drummers, which is still very taboo in Rwanda. To shatter this taboo, our drummers needed to be better than male drummers: that’s why we developed shows with choreographies and costumes, and why we play rhythms from different cultures. We wanted to make our mark on the history of drumming in Rwanda. It’s exciting for us to be the first female drummers in the country.From our beginnings in 2004, the group was in high demand for concerts, and the demand has not ebbed. There were 100 drummers at first, but we unfortunately had to downsize to the 20 most talented women in order to have a sustainable group. Through our concerts, Rwandan women can see the example of ordinary women, who expected nothing from life, whose only “diploma” was to have a husband, and who then blossomed thanks to music. This sparks new ambitions, which is great.