For generations, Burundians passed along stories, legends and fables, as well as poetry and song, by word of mouth. Folk tales and fables were often set to music and there was little distinction between music and poetry. Today Burundians still enjoy storytelling, music and poetry, which keep alive the legends of their ancestors.

Since ancient times, drums have been considered sacred in Burundi. They are made of hollowed-out trees covered with animal skins. Drumming ensured the prosperity of the kingdom. A group of drummers would follow the king on his travels and perform wherever he went. Today they are considered the most important representatives of the country's musical tradition. Drummers may perform solo or accompany dancers.

Dance is a significant part of all major celebrations. The abatimbo is a dance performed at important rituals and official events in Burundi. Intore dancers perform warlike dances. The abanyagasimbo is a lively, acrobatic dance.

Music and song often take the form of a rhythmic chant, accompanied by clapping. The rhythm varies according to the story being told. The most common musical instruments are the flute, the zither, the ikembe (thumb piano), the indonongo (fiddle), the umuduri (a bow-shaped instrument with one string), the inanga (sitar) and the inyagara (rattle).

Burundi is known for fine craftwork. Craftspeople make drums, masks, shields, statuettes, pottery and papyrus baskets. Baskets are adorned with a variety of motifs, and fine black pottery is burnished to a high lustre. Shields are painted or covered with straw and patterned in black and natural colours. Bark cloth robes are printed or painted in black against a rust-red background. Dyes used in decorating are often derived from plants. Burundian designs usually have symbolic meanings.

   Did you know?
The Drummers of Burundi, a 14-member troupe, tour the world, performing in major cities. Dressed in colourful costumes, they dance as well as perform on the drums. Each member takes a turn beating a huge drum called an inkiranya, which sets the rhythm for the other drummers.