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Akazehe is one of the names in Burundi for forms of sung greeting performed exclusively by women. Studies carried out during the colonial era (in particular Rodegem 1965, 1973) and in more recent times (Ndimurwanko 1985-6) have shown how the contents of these greetings among women are closely linked to the feminine world in which these greetings are used—in specific private and public spaces in accordance with rural tradition. Although these greetings were becoming less common at the time the research for this article was conducted, the author was able to record a number of akazehe after listening to examples of them in the sound archives of the Centre de civilisation burundaise.
A greeting is defined by linguists as a formalized parenthesis that defines, reiterates, and encloses the relation between two participants. The formulaic character of a greeting makes it different from ordinary speech. In the case of the akazehe, the greeting emphasizes gestural and sound qualities to such an extent that it creates a veritable musical texture.
This article presents transcriptions and analysis of some models of akazehe, focusing on one that features procedures of vocal interlocking. The two parts—gutera and kwakira—are organized according to musical rules that manifest a strong spirit of cooperation between the two women who sing the two parts in dialogue. Furthermore, well-defined rules of exchange for the two roles semantically remind us of the social equality between the two participants. The musical enrichment of the time reserved for the greeting is experienced as amusing by the performers. The greeting also represents an opportunity for artistic expression in a social reality that otherwise allows few performance spaces for women.
Citation: Facci, Serena. The Akazehe of Burundi: Polyphonic Interlocking Greetings and the Female Ceremonial. Translated by Alessandria Ciucci. Ethnomusicology Translations, no. 10. Bloomington, IN: Society for Ethnomusicology, 2020.
Originally published in Italian as "Akazehe del Burundi: saluti a incastro polifonico e cerimonialità femminile." In Polifonie: Procedimenti, tassonomi e forme: una reflessione a più voci, edited by Maurizio Agamennone, 123-61. Roma: Bulzoni Editore, 1996.
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