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 (U. of Oklahoma) and Percussion Performance (Ithaca College). In 1996 she and kuor player Barry Olsen garnered a first place award for their playing of the gyil’s traditional repertoire in Ghana’s KOBINE FESTIVAL OF TRADITIONAL MUSIC. They are to date the only non-West Africans to do this.
Valerie 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.
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” 2005 and 2008, as the winner of DRUM! Magazine 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 sixteen written transcriptions and CDs, “West African Music for the Marimba Soloist”, “Traditional 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 percussion 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.