Music & Dance in Bemba Culture

Music and Dance are entrenched in the Bemba culture and play a fundamental role as a channel through which cultural knowledge and traditional practices are passed down from generation to generation. Bemba people usually teach through songs, sayings, and drawings. Apart from that, these mediums also form a part of socializing among the Bemba people. 

Like any other African ethnic tribe, music remains the heartbeat of the community. In the Bemba Culture, Music and Dance bring people together in more ways than any meeting can ever achieve. Bembas sing when they are happy, when they are sad or mourning and when they are working. Different emotions are expressed through Music, Arts, and Dance.

The musical rhythms and dance are combined with all sorts of musical instruments and clapping of hands. Other types of music,  such as solemn songs (lamentations), do not use musical instruments. Some examples include music at funerals, wedding songs, and church songs.  

Music and dance are interrelated. In the Bemba culture, music is often accompanied by dance or swaying of bodies in rhythm to the beats of the songs. Hence, it is very difficult to separate music, art, and dance because they are all intertwined. Therefore, we can safely say that these three categories (music, art, and dance) are all wrapped up in one word – ARTS.

  1. Music comprises songs, dances, and instruments. 

Some instruments used in music include the following:

Pintu (whistle) – used when people are dancing to start or stop the music.

Ingoma (Drums) – This instrument(s) is widely used in the Bemba culture and most Zambian tribes. Drums are used in church services, marriage ceremonies, some funeral processions, when enthroning the chiefs, and social gatherings, to mention just but a few.

Below are some drums with special names

  1. Kamangu – This drum is used by the royal messengers to convey particular messages from the chief.

  2. Itumba – This kind of drum is used in marriage ceremonies

  3. Sensele – Mostly used in the church and other occasions

  4. Inshingili – Double-headed drum, secured with a strap around the neck, used on all occasions to complement other rhythms.

  5. Imfunkuntu – Single-headed drum, played while strapped around the drummer’s waist played during ceremonies.

Banjo (guitar) – This instrument is played everywhere, e.g., weddings, church, and social gatherings

Akalimba ka Nsale (singular) – Cilimba ca Nsale (big) ifilimba ca Nsale – (plural) – this instrument is used in church, weddings, and social gatherings.  It is popularly known as Marimba in other cultures.

Hand Clapping – handclapping is used everywhere music is played and follows the drumbeats, and complements the song being sung. The clapping people adjust according to the song or rhythm of the musical instrument.

Ifisekese – Shakers, they add to the rhythm of the music.

Type of Music

It should be noted that there is no difference regarding the names given to the music accompanying the dance. The song is named according to the name of the dance.   

Examples of music include the following:

Imipukumo – (praise songs) – These songs are sung to praise God and the Chiefs.

Ingomba – These are royal musicians who sing for the Royals, such as chiefs.  

Imishikakulo – These are praises sung to herald the procession of the chief when he is entering the meeting room or when he stands up to walk. The dancer carries artifacts such as an axe, oxtail, fly whisk, etc. (these are some of the symbols of authority in the Bemba Culture).

Ifimbo fya malilo (songs of lamentations) – songs sung at funerals. No musical instruments are played. Most Bembas mourn the dead loudly while narrating or reminiscing about the deceased person in a song or an oration.

Amalumbo – (praises) This is music played mostly in church. The Catholics in Zambia (especially among the Bemba-speaking people) have ba Buomba (praisers) groups. They sing and dance (gently) and have incorporated the dances from imfunkutu, but done gently.

Imfukuntu Music – This is music played during celebrations.

Utumpundu – (Ululations) – ukwaula utumpundu (make ululations) Whether in church or wedding or any other celebrations, women ululate to express joy and encourage the dancers or musicians.

  1. Dance – The Bemba traditional dances are performed on different occasions. There is usually no difference in the song’s names and the accompanying dance.  

This write-up will explore some of the following dances:

Imfukuntu dance – This dance is commonly for celebrations. This dance is performed in the village and urban areas, especially when traditional songs are played, usually at weddings, beer parties, initiation ceremonies, and various happy occasions. There is a fusion of shuffling of feet, twisting of the waist and arms up and down.

Amasha dance – performed by both men and women. This dance is also done at weddings, beer parties, and group performances. It involves sensually moving the waist and shuffling the feet.

Ifisela dance – This type of dancing is just for happy occasions when people meet. They make two lines, men on one side and women on the other. Then a man and woman standing opposite each other will choose a song and come in the middle and perform a dance, and it goes on like that until everyone has had a chance to dance. It is also some form of competition, showing off the dance moves – simply for fun.

Amasha ya mukulu ku buko (Meaning – the dance of the elderly is the arm) – The elderly Bemba people perform this dance. Since they cannot actively twist their waist or shuffle their feet, they just walk and gently twist their arms, dancing to the drumbeats. 

Amasha ya baume nangu kucinda kwa baume – These dance moves are for men only. The men’s dances are intense and vigorous. The whole body is involved in these moves. It involves shuffling the feet, twisting the waist, moving the arms up down, including the heads.

Amashana yaba banakashi nangu kucinda kwa banakashi – (dance moves for women) – The women dance gracefully, moving their waist and shuffling their feet. Most of the Bemba dances follow the movement and the control of the feet, which is coordinated with the twisting of the waist and arms.

Despite the political, socio-economic, and social-cultural changes, and mostly the influence of the Catholic Missionaries in implementing Christian ethics in the Bemba land, the Bembas have maintained or rather clung to the major practices passed on from their forefathers with regards to Music, Art, and Dance.