Rwandan women drum their way up

November 2007 -

In Rwanda, only men are allowed to play drums, according to the tradition. However, two years ago a group of ambitious women started the country's first drum group for women.


"In the beginning they hit the drums like they were sick or weak, but now they produce almost the same volume as men." Director Odile Gakire Katese walks towards the university centre for arts and drama (UCAD) in Butare, Rwanda. Inside, nine women are hitting traditional African drums as if their lives are depending on it. Their music is so loud that it can be heard in the surrounding streets of the university town. "We are the first female drummers in Rwanda," says Jackie Umubyeyi proudly. "It's a miracle. Whenever we perform there is always a lot of audience, because people want to see if women can really drum. Maybe the men are afraid that in the future we will play better than them."

The goal of the drum group Women's Initiatives is not to create a breakthrough in the position of women in the country, eventually the goal of the group is to be profitable. "Some of the participants became widows during the 1994 genocide," explains director Odile. "For them this is a way to generate income for their families." Until recently, Women's Initiatives practiced only three times per week, but these days the women come to the centre on all working days.

"In November 2007, a drum group from Burundi will come to our center to teach our ladies," says Odile while the women give away an exclusive preview of some rhythms that will be part of the new show. A month later the famous African drummer Doudou N'diaye Rose (79) will come over from Senegal to teach in Butare. N'diaye Rose has successfully started several drum groups in West Africa, one of which consists of only his own daughters and granddaughters.

In January 2008 this long period of training should result in a new tour, in which the ladies will come up with a surprising new repertoire. Odile: "We don't want to drum only old existing rhythms, but we try with the help of foreign influences also to create our own, new music style."

Women’s Initiatives is founded by UCAD, a network partner of the Prince Claus Fund.