Amakondera Back


picture1 picture2 context picture1 context picture2 sound fragment

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 and ingaraba. 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 playing technique.

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:
  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 ensemble.
  5. 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 dancers.

For more information consult the following publications edited by the RMCA: