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 numerous artist fellowships and other awards and accolades for her work.