KRISTEN ARANT is a percussionist, vocalist, teacher and organizer living and working in the Washington, DC region. Originally a classically-trained oboe player with a degree in music, she began her drumming career upon moving to Washington DC in 2000, when she helped initiate the activist drumming ensemble Rhythm Workers Union, known for its hand-built drum cart the “MotherDrumShip,” and its legions of drummers who created a spectacle at hundreds of protests, rallies and events through 2007. Enthralled by the healing and unifying power of the Djembe drum, Kristen began to study West African drumming in 2002. She spent time with masters such as Baile McKnight, Mamady Keita and Tammi Hessen. In 2004 she began teaching drumming at DC public schools, and through these experiences discovered how the drum could transform the self esteem of young people and help them to become self-actualized. In 2005 she started a DC non-profit organization, the Young Women’s Drumming Empowerment Project, which enrolled young women ages 12 and up from across DC, taught them how to play West African drums, and guided them through poetry, song-writing, theatre and dance workshops that culminated in final performances. These performance showcases “wowed” communities across DC as they witnessed young women coming of age via drumming – an innovative Rite of Passage. In 2010, Kristen finally made it to Ghana, West Africa via her now husband Michael Kweku Owusu, founder of Drumming Up From Poverty, a Ghana-based NGO that helps street kids find meaningful work through drumming and drum-building. Kristen and Kweku began a small business called Drumming Empowerment LLC, and are now co-proprietors of Hands On Drums, a Pop-Up Store, Community Space, and Arts Empowerment initiative that celebrates and supports the work of Ghana craft makers while delivering hands-on drumming and arts experiences to uplift communities located at 600 Rhode Island Ave NE in DC. Kristen has facilitated hundreds of drumming experiences over the past 15 years through her energetic, spontaneous style that combines deep learning with letting go, connecting with the authentic self and transforming negative emotions into joy and exuberance. You can find Kristen at schools, camps, churches, conferences, festivals, fundraisers and anywhere else she is called. Kristen also leads an intergenerational, all-women’s West African drumming performance troupe called the Bele Bele Rhythm Collective, and is the leader of the congregational drum group, Akoma @ All Souls, out of All Souls Unitarian Church in DC. Kristen is certified by the Maryland Teaching Artist Institute, and has received a total of 5 grants, 2 artist fellowships and other awards and accolades for her work.

Akoma Drummers   (2010 – 2014)

The Bele Bele Rhythm Collective, Founder and Director   (2008 – present)

The Afro-Blue Collective   (2006 – 2009)

BUMBADA! Women Drumming (Baltimore, MD)   (2005 – 2009)

Young Women’s Drumming Empowerment Project, Founder and Director   (2005 – present)

Rhythm Workers Union, co-founder   (2001 – 2009)

OmegaBand   (2007 – 2010)

World Beat Ensemble, Founder and Director   (2007 – 2008)

American Balalaika Symphony   (2004 – 2006)

Capital City Samba   (2005 – 2006)

Malcolm X Drummers and Dancers   (2000 – 2002)

Received Rex Foundation Award ($5,000) for YWDEP   (2012)

Received Common Folk Award from One Common Unity   (2010)

Certified by the Maryland Teaching Artist Institute   (2010)

Apprentice to master drummer Ubaka Hill – Michigan Women’s Music Festival   (2008)

DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities Artist Fellowship Recipient   (2008, ’12)

DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities Folk & Traditional Arts Mini-Grant Recipient   (2006, ’07, ‘08)

DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities Small Projects Grant Recipient   (2006, ’07, ‘08)

DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities Young Artist Community Service Grant Recipient   (2005, ’06)

Led a series of classes or workshops for youth and/or adults (male & female) at the following locations between 2006 and 2011:

Washington Waldorf School (2014-present)

Takoma Park Elementary School (2016)

Sheridan School (2013-2015)

Mount Vernon Community School (2013)

Evergreen Montessori School (2012-2014)

GALA Hispanic Theater Summer Camp (2014-2015)

Paul Public Charter School (2014)

Harriet Tubman Elementary School   (2012-2013)

Center City Charter School, Washington, DC   (2012-2013)

Rayner Browne Academny, Baltimore, MD   (2011-2012)

Tench Tilghman Elementary Middle School, Baltimore, MD   (2010-2012)

Hart Middle School, Washington, DC   (2011-2012)

DC Scores, Washington, DC   (2011)

Takoma Education Center, Takoma, DC   (2010)

Beacon House, Washington, DC   (2010)

PULSE Performing Arts Project, Kilmer Middle School, Vienna, VA   (2010)

Imagine Hope Community Charter School, Washington, DC   (2010)

Kipp DC PCS, Washington, DC   (2010)

National Cultural Center, Accra, Ghana, West Africa   (2010)

Capitol Hill Day School, Washington, DC   (2009)

Thurgood Marshall Academy PCS, Washington, DC   (2009)

Lifepieces to Masterpieces, Washington, DC   (2009)

Levine School of Music, Washington, DC   (2009)

Freedom Schools Academy, Knoxville, TN   (2008-2010)

Passion 4 Learning, Strathmore Elementary School, Rockville, MD   (2008-2009)

MEI Futures Academy PCS, NE Washington, DC   (2008-2009)

Girls, Inc., Trinidad Recreation Center, NE Washington, DC   (2008)

Revel Youth Shine, Browne Junior High School, NE Washington, DC   (2008)

Anne Arundel Community College, Arnold, MD   (2008-2011)

Rock Creek Valley Elementary School, Washington, DC   (2008)

Latin American Youth Center’s Multicultural Services Youth Program, Washington, DC   (2007-2008)

Piney Branch Elementary School, Washington, DC   (2007)

African Immigrants and Refugees Foundation/Cardozo High School, Washington, DC   (2007)

Sasha Bruce Youthwork’s Project HYPE, Washington, DC   (2007)

COEUS International School, Washington, DC   (2007-2008)

Sasha Bruce Summer Enrichment Program, Washington, DC   (2006-2009)

Cesar Chavez Charter School for Public Policy, Washington, DC   (2006)

Capitol City Charter School, Washington, DC   (2006)

Catholic University, Washington, DC   (2006)

Wells College, Aurora, NY   (2006)

Kristen has taught and facilitated private and group drumming workshops for groups of women and girls, as well as mixed groups of children, youth, adults and elders at private homes, schools, youth centers, businesses and organizations throughout the DC metro area. She has taught group classes at Circle Yoga studios, at the New Sewell Music Conservatory, at Roda Movements in Takoma Park, and in the Arts Centre of Accra, Ghana.

Kristen is the founder and director of the The Young Women’s Drumming Empowerment Project. YWDEP strives to give rise to young women’s self worth, positive development, and creative self-expression through drumming, poetry, movement, song, and performance.

University of Missouri, Columbia, MO   (1999)
Bachelor of Arts-Music
Bachelor of Arts-Interdisciplinary Studies (English, journalism, women studies)


Private Study
Traditional Kpanlogo and xylophone lessons, Arts Center, Accra, Ghana   (2010, 2011)
Mahiri Keita, advanced Malinke drum technique   (2009)
Jason Walker, individual Latin Conga lessons   (2008)
Baba Baile of Balie’s African Drum Works, individual djembe lessons   (2006-2007)
Tammi Hessen (student of Mamady Keita of the Tam Tam Mandingue), private djembe lessons   (2005)
Professional Oboists (St. Louis & Columbia, MO), classical oboe lessons   (1986-1999)


Group Study
Mini-Guinea 2-week Advanced West African Drumming Intensive with Mamady Keita and Famadou Konate, San Diego, CA   (2011)
Advanced level djembe workshops with Mamady Keita, Baltimore, MD   (2009)
Mini-Guinea 2-week Intensive with Mamady Keita, San Diego, CA   (2008)
2nd Annual Drum Circle Facilitators Conference Drum Circle Facilitation, NC   (2007)
Mahiri Keita of Tam Tam Mandingue West African Drumming School, MD   (2006-2008)
Edwina Lee Tyler and Ubaka Hill West African drumming, Woodstock, NY   (2005)
Tammi Hessen West African Mandingue drumming, Takoma Park, MD   (2005)
Mamady Keita West African drumming workshop, Mt. Rainier, MD   (2005)