Treasure of the month
MO.0.0.41818, collection MRAC Tervuren; photo J. Van de Vyver, MRAC Tervuren ©
Material: wood and strings in plant fibres
Purchased in Muramvya in 1935 by Georges Smets
Gift of the Board of Directors of the Université libre de Bruxelles, ‘Hommage du Fonds Jacques Cassel’, acquired in 1946
Registered as MO.0.0.41818 - Ethnomusicology collection - RMCA
Due to its shape this Burundi inanga is known as a ‘trough zither’. The sides of both extremities contain 8 to 12 incisions. A string runs from one extremity of the sound box to the other via the notches from which various strings originate. Most inanga have 6 to 8 strings and intervals with whole tones. The star-shaped or oval decorative and functional incisions are the ‘eyes of the inanga’ that distribute the sound.
The performer is seated whilst playing and the inanga rests vertically on his lap. He plays on the strings with the fingertips of both hands. Another technique is the plucking of the strings as a means of creating dominant tones. Rhythmically tapping on the sound box with the fingernails provides for an additional sound.
In Burundi the songs which accompany the inanga are sung in whispers, thus creating a mysterious atmosphere. This technique fades the fundamental frequency of the timbre of the voice which is needed to determine how high the note is and to identify its harmonies. This way the ear experiences a totally different spectrum from that of the sung voice.
There are various theories as to the origin of this phenomenon. One theory is that in the past the inanga was played at the royal court and it was understood that the musician’s voice should never drown out that of the monarch.
The inanga is also played in Rwanda. Here no real use is made of the whispering technique. Recently the Ethnomusicology department of the RMCA brought out the Bell and bow music songs cd. Here you can listen to a number of songs accompanied by the inanga.
The Burundi inanga is until the end of September 2012 on display in room 21 where Rwanda and Burundi’s musical tradition is presented in a number of display cabinets, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of independence of the two countries.
Listen to an excerpt here (.wav, 186 sec).