Inanga, the Leading Instrument in Rwandan Traditional Music.

‘Inanga’, a uniquely Rwandan traditional oval-shaped harp made out of wood with strings fastened at the edges, is currently gaining an outstanding attention due its role in showcasing Rwandan traditional music across the world.

Originated from the Kingdom gatherings and festivities, ‘inanga’ had always been the most important instrument in Rwandan traditional music. With modernization, inanga would have recently been expected to disappear as almost all young musicians were interested on modern music instruments leaving traditional ones to old men. I couldn’t imagine watching young talents thrilling music lovers with their own inanga compositions till when musicians like Daniel Ngarukiye and Deo Munyakazi proved it possible.

The inanga legends who inspired most of today’s young inanga players are Rujindiri, Thomas Kirusu, Victor Kabarira, Sentore Athanase, Joseph Sebatunzi, Simparingoma, Rwishyura Appolinaire, and Vianney Mushabizi who is still doing all he can to keep Rwandan traditional music alive. Some of the most celebrated compositions in inanga music genre are Mugoyi, Nyiragore, Impyisi Bihehe, Zaninka, Rukara rwa Bishingwe, Rwanyonga na Rwabugiri and more.

‘Rukara rwa Bishingwe’ by Joseph Sebatunzi.

The inanga manufacturers have managed to amplify its sound to fit for a large public performance. This helped inanga to secure for itself a place in today’s concerts dominated with a sound system that accommodates modern technology. For the full live traditionally orchestrated performance, inanga is sometimes combined with other traditional instruments such as ingoma, ikembe, iningiri, and umuduri.

During an interview I had with Daniel Ngarukiye who is currently in Romania, he told me that he feels proud that today young musicians are incorporating inanga both in their recordings and live performances.

“I am glad that young talented inanga players, with whom we will work together preserving our cultural heritage, are turning out day after day.” said Ngarukiye. Being a descendant of the family of musicians who used to perform at the Kingdom gatherings, Ngarukiye was trained by Sentore Athanase and from him he inherited exceptional skills in playing inanga, singing, and dancing a traditional heroic choreography known as ‘imihamirizo’.

'Rubanguzankwaya' by Daniel Ngarukiye

Deo Munyakazi who started learning to play inanga after completing her secondary studies in 2012, said that he is thankful to the renowned veteran Mushabizi who trained him.

“Though I don’t know precisely who invented inanga, I am sure that inanga is originally Rwandan music instrument and the inanga pioneer of the former age I came to know is called Rusuka Mwene Temahagari. He was given many cattle by kings recognizing his incomparable talent.” said Munyakazi during a telephone interview.

Deo Munyakazi playing inanga alongside Keziah Jones on guitar

Other young inanga players who are nowadays winning hearts of music lovers are Maurice Maniraguha known as Umushakamba, Emmanuel Habumuremyi, Rwanamiza Emmanuel, and Nziza Francis, among others.

Though most of inanga players that Rwanda has had are males, Kirusu’s daughter Sofia Nzayisenga is currently the inanga player to expect in almost all cultural events at national level and international festivals where Rwanda is represented. Groomed by his father Kiroso and her uncle Mushabizi, Sofia Nzayisenga started playing inanga when she was only 6.

With more than 30 years of experience playing inanga, Sophia Nzayisenga has toured around the world showcasing her special talent. Her first international performance was at the 1989 Children Festival held in Bulgaria, when she was only 9. In early 2015, Sophia Nzayisenga toured USA and performed in 20 states.

'Inganzwa' by Sofia Nzayisenga.

'Inganji' by Sophia Nzayisenga alongside Jeremy Danneman, William Parker & Tim Keiper (Why Not Jazz Room, NYC)

Though there is no other nationally known female inanga player in Rwanda, in her recent interview with, Sofia revealed that she heard of another talented female inanga player based in Mugina, Southern Province. “It is said that she is a descendant of the legendary inanga player  called Rujindiri.” Sofia added.

'Zaninka' by Mushabizi live at KT Radio.


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