Ikembe The ikembe is classified as a lamellaphone and consists of a series of iron lamellae, fixed to a rectangular wooden soundbox. In Burundi the ikembe was not introduced until the beginning of the twentieth century, during the Belgian colonisation period, and originated from the former Belgian Congo.

Different versions and names of the instrument exist in large parts of Africa. The type played in Rwanda is known as the ‘fluvial type’ because it originates from the major river areas in the Congo. Two peoples ensured its propagation: the Kongo and the Bangala, who played the instrument to accompany their own solo singing.

The fluvial type exists in two forms: pointed, in which the top of the soundbox is pointed and the bottom is hollow, and round, in which the top is rounded and the bottom is flat. Both are made in the same way and are about the same size (23-40 cm by 12-19 cm). The soundbox is formed by hollowing out a soft rectangular block of wood from the side. This is later covered with a strip of wood and sealed with resin, rubber or honey. Before this opening is covered up a few seeds or pebbles are placed in the instrument to provide an additional source of sound. A few sound holes are also bored; covering these enables the timbre to be varied. Iron lamellae (imirya) – sometimes the flattened spokes of a bicycle wheel – are then fixed to the soundbox. Their number varies between eight and twelve, and is preferably ten or eleven. They are divided into two groups, with each hand spanning nearly the full range; the notes are not placed in a single series of rising tones, but in two parallel series that cover more or less the same range. The lamellae are fixed using three transverse bridges, the outer two serving as supports while the central bridge pushes the lamellae down, holding them in place. The rings attached between the bridges and around the lamellae are another contributory sound element.