Bele Bele Rhythm Collective: World Stage, Noon The Folk Festival always welcomes lots of drumming, from our opening at 7th Heaven with Stream Ohrstrom to folk traditions from around the world. Here we talk with Kristen Arent of all-woman Bele Bele Rhythm Collective about their performance at noon on the World Stage. (Profile by Kevin Adler)
Describe your music. Who are your influences?
West African drumming, song and dance. Our pieces include some original (non-traditional) arrangements, some original rhythms and songs, and some traditional arrangements. All of us study and practice the music of the Mandingue people—mostly from Guinea, but also some from Mali, Ivory Coast, Senegal. Some of us also study Akan music and have traveled to Ghana. Our greatest influences are our teachers, and we have many.... Monette Marino, Tammi Hessen, Mamady Keita, Famoudou Konate, Mahiri Keita, Jaqui MacMillan, Abasi Johnson, Ubaka Hill, Afia Walking Tree and Edwina Lee Tyler, just to name a few!
What can people expect from you at a live performance? What gets your fans excited about you?
We engage our audiences. We ask them to clap, sing and dance with us. Of course, this is optional, but it's hard not to move. Our rhythms and songs are dynamic, upbeat and positive and our sisterhood is inspiring. Audiences come for catharsis, to let go of inhibitions, and they go away with our songs and chants repeating in their heads. What do you like about playing live?We play live year-round. This gives audiences a chance to see how ecstatic and energizing drumming makes us—it’s contagious, and audiences leave with that same feeling. And it gives audiences an opportunity to witness the power of women drumming and the power of our sisterhood.
We’re living in the MeToo era, and you’re all women. How does the political era affect your music and your mission?
Our coming together as women to play West African drums is a direct manifestation of the phrase: "the personal is political." All of us have made our way through the difficult passage of being a woman drummer; the nay-sayers, sexism, lack of opportunity and the struggle to find good teachers. We are extraordinarily lucky to have this collective, this sisterhood. It keeps us going in our daily lives. It's something we don't take for granted.
Any recent band developments you want to mention?
Last year, we released an album called "Roots" and are extremely proud of this accomplishment: It's not easy to record 20 women playing drums and percussion and singing on one album! People love our album, and we are proud when we hear it booming out of someone's car speakers! We will have the album for sale in hard copy at TPFF, and it is also available online at www.belebelerhythmcollective.bandcamp.com.
Tell us something interesting about yourself/your group you’ve never revealed in a previous interview.
Teaching artist Kristen Arant is the founder and leader of the group. Most of the group's members started as her students. Some have spent time apprenticing or volunteering with Kristen in running the little-sister non-profit arm of our group, which is called the Young Women's Drumming Empowerment Project. Supporting the Bele Bele Rhythm Collective means supporting this amazing organization which gives rise to young women's self-esteem, creative self-expression and positive development through drumming, poetry, movement, song and performance. More at: www.youngwomendrum.org and www.drumlady.com https://www.facebook.com/BeleBeleRhythmCollective/https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCM3a36dYuI&sns=em