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Valerie Dee Naranjo
The Lion King / Saturday Night Live Band - United States


Percussionist, vocalist, composer Valerie Dee Naranjo, known for her pioneering efforts on West African keyboard percussion is a Coloradoan of Ute (Native American) descent. In additional to her western percussion skills, Valerie specializes in the gyil, a West African marimba. Its sound is believed, in its culture, to carry a vibration which restores and maintains health and balance. The wood that forms the gyil's keyboard is gleaned from the former homes of the "kontombe", the spirit keepers of beauty and good. Permission to master the instrument is granted to few. The music is unbelievably complicated, yet tuneful, soulful, and danceable. The gyil and drums gangaa and kuar's most important functions traditionally are to diagnose and treat illness and to transport the soul of a deceased from this world to the next.   She was recently a featured performer at the Winter Olympics, and is the sole to date non-West African first place winner at a Ghanaian gyil competition (Kobine, 1996). During her first journey to Ghana in 1988, the Council of Elders and Lawra Chief Naa Karbo determined that from that time forward, the ban on women gyil players be lifted so that Valerie could participate in their annual Kobine Festival of Traditional Performing Arts.  The film “Knock on Wood”, documenting Valerie’s activity in Ghana, is currently part of several documentary film festivals.

Valerie plays percussion and arranges for the 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. 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, Percussion News, and World Percussion Rhythm. She has recorded several CDs of traditional gyil music with Kakraba Lobi and Barry Olsen, and the CD Zie Mwea (Natural Conditions) with Bernard Woma. Her solo Native American CD Orenda (Music to Heal the Spirit) is on the Ellipsis Arts Label, and her series of nine written transcriptions and CD, West African Music for the Marimba Soloist, is published by Mandara Music.

She holds a BA (vocal / instrumental music ed.), and a Master's degree (percussion performance) from Ithaca College, researched in ten African countries, and studied with such maestros as Leigh Howard Stevens, Gordon Stout, Dave Samuels, and Kakraba, with whom she toured for nine years and was featured with on CNN.   

On six continents Valerie is a clinician for Pearl Corporation and Adams Musical Instruments, Zildjian, and Vic Firth.


Saturday Night Live

The Lion King

Valerie Naranjo