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Valerie Naranjo

Music Adjunct Faculty

Music and Performing Arts Professions

Valerie Dee Naranjo (percussionist, vocalist, composer, clinician) known for her pioneering efforts in West African keyboard percussion music, is originally from Southern Colorado. She moved to New York City after completing studies in vocal and instrumental music education (University of Oklahoma) and Percussion Performance (Ithaca College). In 1988 her playing of the gyil's traditional repertoire in Ghana's Kobine Festival of Traditional Music led to the declaration of a chiefly decree in the Dagara nation that women be allowed to play the instrument for the first time.

She plays percussion for NBC's Saturday Night Live Band, and has recorded and performed with Broadway's The Lion King, The Philip Glass Ensemble, David Byrne, The Paul Winter Consort, Tori Amos, Airto Moreira, and the international percussion ensemble, MEGADRUMS, which includes Milton Cardona, Zakir Hussein, and Glen Velez.

On six continents she endorses Avedis Zildjian (cymbals) Pearl/Adams (Latin and concert percussion) and Vic Firth products as a soloist and clinician.

Her recent film score recordings include Final Fantasy - The Dream Within and Frida. Her work and music have been written about in Modern Drummer, Drum!, Rhythm, Percussive Notes, and World Percussion Rhythm. She was named World Music Percussionist of the Year in 2005 and 2008, as winner of DRUM! magazine's Reader's Poll in that category. She has recorded several CDs of traditional gyil music with Kakraba Lobi and Barry Olsen, and the CD Zie Mwea with Mr. Olsen and Bernard Woma. Her solo Native American CD Orenda is on the Ellipsis Arts Label, and her series of 16 written transcriptions and CDs, West African Music for the Marimba SoloistTraditional World Music for Western Percussion Ensemble, and Lewaa's Dream (Ancient and Contemporary Music for West African Marimba) are published by Mandara Music.

Valerie has apprenticed with some of America's and West Africa's strictest master percussionists, including Leigh Howard Stevens, Gordon Stout, Dave Samuels, Godwin Agbelli, and Adama Drame, and continues to spend summers in Ghana to further her perucussion study with maestros Yotere Baere and Kofi Misiso. She has also researched and studied in Botswana, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Morrocco, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa, where, in 1994 with Thuli Dumakude, she opened Johannesburg’s Civic Theatre to its first post-apartheid audiences in the production Buya Africa.


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