KRISTEN ARANT is a percussionist, oboist, vocalist, teaching artist and activist 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 (from her hometown of St Louis, Missouri) in 2000, at which point 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 has since spent time with master drummers and teachers such as Baile McKnight, Mamady Keita , Tammi Hessen, Jaqui MacMillan, Ubaka Hill and Monette Marino.
In 2004 Kristen 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 through a partnership with drummer and drum builder Michael Kweku Owusu. Kristen and Kweku have led 5 tours in Ghana since that first trip, and together built a community arts center in Senya Beraku, a fishing village not far from the capital city Accra. Kristen received a grant in 2015 to occupy a space in DC for 3 months, and this is when Hands on Drums was born. A Ghana-based pop up store and community space now located in Brentwood, MD, Hands on Drums occupied 3-4 spaces in DC between 2015-2018 where many community events, classes and performances were held.
Kristen has facilitated hundreds of music and drumming experiences through her energetic, spontaneous style that combines deep technical and cultural learning with letting go, connecting with the authentic self and transforming negative emotions into joy and exuberance.
Kristen is currently the music teacher for grades K-6 at Lee Montessori PCS; the African drumming instructor at the Washington Waldorf School; the leader of the Bele Bele Rhythm Collective – an intergenerational sisterhood of the drum; and the leader of Akoma @ All Souls congregational drumming group out of All Souls Unitarian church in DC. You can find Kristen at schools, camps, churches, conferences, festivals, fundraisers and anywhere else she is called. Kristen is certified by the Maryland Teaching Artist Institute, and has received 22 grants for her work over the past 20+ years.
Download Drumlady's resume HERE.