K and Kwe

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USING WEST AFRICAN DRUMMING TO BUILD SELFESTEEM, SELF-EXPRESSION, PERSONAL GROWTH AND HEALING

Michael Kweku (“Kwe”) Owusu grew up in the Arts Center, a constructed community attached to Accra’s Centre for National Culture, where some of Ghana’s most talented artists and craftspeople live and work. Around age 11, Kwe began to build drums. He learned by assisting experienced drum-builders.

At first, Kwe built drums so he could sell them in order to support himself along with his mother and four sisters. While learning this trade he also picked up drumming, since he needed to demonstrate the techniques of his creations.

“Drumming has been around for ages,” says Kwe. “In our culture it is very important, because in death and marriage there needs to be drumming. In the churches and hospitals there is drumming. It helps the body in terms of movement, releasing all the emotions as a catharsis. Even being around the sounds of drums helps.”

Soon, younger kids who lived on the streets of the Arts Center began to gravitate toward Kwe’s patient, caring ways. He involved them in his work, teaching them how to make drums and supporting them with school supplies and tutoring.

An oboe major in college, K was en route to being an orchestral musician when someone gave her a drum. At the time, she was studying peace and getting involved with human rights activities. “That drum became basically a transformation in my life. I had so much anger at not having my voice heard on so many levels. All I had to do was beat on that drum. It just came out. The anger. Like a funnel. I never stopped, since the first day I got that drum.”

It’s much the same for the young women who pass through her program. “They’re shy, and when they produce this powerful sound, their shyness is a moot point,” says K. “It’s such an intense experience for them to play, because it feels powerful. Also, the release of emotions and the catharsis that goes with drumming, which Kwe mentioned, is so helpful with young people. Young people have so many emotions and so much to process in order to understand their world—where to put their two feet and where to go and move. The drum allows them to focus. It’s as if you’re taking all their emotion and focusing it down on the ground. Because when you play the drum, it almost absorbs; especially with a real skin, there’s a feeling of absorption of energy. Then the absorption turns into reflection, because when you play it, it adds the most powerful sound.”

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