Mangbetu Royal Art and Herbert Lang, 1902-1906

by Enid Schildkrout
Museum for African Art (formerly American Museum of Natural History)

Court musicians with ivory trumpets and slit drums. Mangbetu peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo by Herbert Lang. Submitted by Enid Schildkrout.

Every chief had an orchestra that consisted of ivory trumpets, wooden slit drums, various sizes and shapes of kettle drums, and metal gongs, bells, and rattles. A court orchestra's repertoire consisted of songs celebrating the history of the kingdom, the king's personal charisma, and the strength of his army. A king's skill as a dancer demonstrated to his subjects his intelligence and ability to rule. Some court music can still be heard on ceremonial occasions, played on the same instruments that were recorded in the first decade of the 20th century.