Amakondera is the generic name for an instrumental ensemble made
up of five different types of horns, umurangi, incuragane, urugunda,
inkanka and insengo, as well as two types of drums, ruharage
The origin of this ensemble may not be Rwandan. The oldest oral source
dates back to King Yuhi IV Gahindiro (1795-1825), who maintained good
relations with neighbouring kingdoms and was open to foreign influences.
It was chiefly under Yuhi V Musinga (1896-1931) that the amakondera
ensemble flourished anew and developed into its present form. Musinga is
said to have invited several Abazinza to teach the Twa the amakondera
The various types of horns all have the same basic structure: a piece of
bamboo 35-50 mm in diameter with an oval or rectangular mouthpiece on the
side, an open reed at one end, which when covered produces a second note,
and at the other end a gourd serving as a resonator (except on the insengo
and the urugunda), often covered with an animal skin. Despite the
fact that neither the length nor the diameter are standardised, five
distinct types can be identified:
The umurangi is played by the leader of the ensemble, who
introduces the music (the name of the instrument can be translated as
‘he who introduces’) and has a role as soloist. Usually there is just
one umurangi in each ensemble and it is also the biggest type
of horn (40-54 cm).
The incuragane means ‘instrument with the quick notes’. This
horn is 35 cm in size on average and has an opening in the form of a
reed tube at the end where the blowhole is located. By covering this
with the thumb a second note can be produced. There are usually two incuragane
in the ensemble and they are the second most important instrument
after the umurangi.
The urugunda is the ‘regular voice’ and is the third most
important component in the ensemble. Musically it has a bass function.
There are usually two horns of this type in the ensemble. The urugunda
does not usually have a gourd and has no opening to produce a second
note. It can be up to 30 cm in length with a diameter of up to 14 cm.
The inkanka is the true bass of the ensemble. The instrument
has an average length of 45 cm, including an 11 cm long gourd, and has
an opening at the end. There is only one inkanka in the
The insengo owes its name to the flute of the same name because
the sound produced – a high, sharp note – is said to be similar.
Although this instrument is considered to be the least important,
there can be up to seven of them in the ensemble. The insengo
is 23 cm long on average and has no gourd.
Nowadays the amakondera ensemble is usually made up of ten
musicians, but used to comprise many more (up to twenty). It often
accompanies a group of intore dancers, with the musicians,
depending on their number, preceding the dancers in one or two rows. The
leader of the ensemble (umurangi) strikes up a melody and the
others join in. The drums provide an underlying ostinato rhythm. The amakondera
either play in honour of an important person or accompany the intore
For more information consult the following publications edited by the
GANSEMANS, J. Les instruments de musique du Rwanda. Étude
ethnomusicologique, Annales RMCA n° 127, 361 pp. + 102 photos