Arts: Immigrant Drummers Hit Ottawa

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Nestor Nduwayo and Patrice Ntafatiro have an important mission. They are attempting to preserve and pass on their culture through drumming and dance.

Nduwayo and Ntafatiro are originally from Burundi and have lived in Ottawa, Ontario for seven years. They formed a traditional Burundi drum and dance group, Loyal Kigabiro, in 2006. Members are from the Ottawa Burundi community and range in age from ten years to forty.

The name, Loyal Kigabiro, has great symbolic meaning. Founding group member, Patrice Ntafatiro explains, “There have been drummers and drumming performances in Burundi for the past six hundred years. The drummers would perform at various events including for the king. When all the drums are beaten together it is called ikigabiro. Ikigabiro also refers to where the King lives and distributes presents. We use the term Loyal because we are open to everyone. The drummers do not perform for just one king or group. The drummers are for the people.”

There are many rituals with the drums and the dancing. “The tree has special meaning in Burundi. When a tree is cut to make the drum we have a special dance for the tree. It is tradition for the drummers and dancers to perform for the king every December. The drum symbolizes the king. When the dancers perform they are considered to be like the king, especially the dancer who is in front of the crowd. He is the king because the drummers must stop whenever he finishes dancing.” said Ntafatiro.

Even though all members of the group are male, women play a vital role. “Many of our songs talk about the importance of accepting women as equals. The songs also speak about motherhood and how women are to be honoured. It is thought that women were the ones who first started the drumming six hundred years ago.” explained co-founder Nestor Nduwayo.

The group has had to adapt to living in frozen Canada compared to tropical Burundi. “We have one dance where we use a shovel. In Burundi, the shovel would symbolize planting the crops. For a Canadian audience, the shovel refers to shovelling snow. Also, we rarely perform in the winter as we drum and dance without shoes or socks. Even in the summer it can be cold!” explained Ntafatiro with a smile.

Nduwayo and Ntafatiro have set high standards for the group. “We want to play in the traditional Burundi style. Our goal is to play like our fathers and our ancestors. It is also our mission to teach our children the traditions of the drums and dance.” said Nduwayo.

The group’s high standards have already paid off. They have performed across Ontario and Quebec for people ranging from government dignitaries to school-age children. There are plans to perform in Vancouver in 2009. By emphasizing centuries old traditions, Loyal Kigabiro has secured a bright future.

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