Posted: 9/08/22

Acclaimed Percussionist Valerie Naranjo Joins TAMIU Artist-in-Residence Program


Valerie Naranjo
Valerie Naranjo, TAMIU Artist in Residence  

Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) welcomed internationally recognized percussionist Valerie Naranjo to its Artist in Residence program during a reception Monday, Sept. 12 in the Center for the Fine and Performing Arts Gallery.

Naranjo, a globally acclaimed, award-winning percussionist, is a longtime member of NBC’s Saturday Night Live band and performs in Broadway’s The Lion King. She’s recorded with several well-known musical acts like David Byrne, Philip Glass Ensemble and Tori Amos, among others. 

In addition to her performance credits, she remains a groundbreaking individual, breaking both the boundaries of her genre and gender after becoming the first woman to perform on the gyil, (a West African marimba-like instrument) and the first-place prize winner in Ghana’s Kobine Festival of Traditional Music. 

Dr. James Moyer, chair of the Department of Fine and Performing Arts, noted the impact of TAMIU’s Artist in Residence Program.

“Bringing Valerie Naranjo, a world-class percussionist, for four weeks throughout the entire year, will also have a significant impact on not just music, but art, dance, and theatre students,” said Moyer. 

He continued, “Valerie’s musical and professional journey is the reference standard in how to plan, develop and execute a career at her level from her teenage years working as a waitress and chambermaid to the lights of Broadway and late-night institutions like Saturday Night Live. The dedication and tireless energy to accomplish this is who Valerie is, and this is a message and career path that any student in the arts needs to hear, understand, and take with them in their life skills.”

A native of Los Angeles, Naranjo was born to Native American parents who supported her budding interest in music. She began her studies as a percussionist at the University of Colorado before transferring to the University of Oklahoma to study Vocal and Instrumental Music Education. 

After completing her bachelor’s degree, she moved to New York City and began a freelance career until continuing her graduate studies at Ithaca College. There, she chose the gyil as her research topic and delved into her interest in West African percussion. After graduate school, Naranjo began performing and touring, including creating her ensemble and recording 10 albums under her name. 

Her interest in the gyil remained and led to her studying in Ghana under master instrument builders Newin Baaru, Richard Na-Ile and P.K. Derry. She was eventually asked to perform for local leader Chief Abeifa Karbo. 

“Up to this point, tradition banned women from even touching a gyil, although no one seemed to actually know why,” Naranjo mentioned in a 1998 Percussive Notes article. 

After Naranjo’s performance, the local leader affirmatively declared that women would be allowed to play the gyil – a win for Naranjo, Ghana and the international percussion community. Since that initial visit, Naranjo has returned to study and perform. She has also transcribed, published and recorded 16 traditional gyil pieces.

A prolific Broadway musician, she has now performed The Lion King for over 24 years and has been part of the SNL band for 26 years and counting. She has presented at hundreds of institutions, ranging from public schools, universities and conservatories. 

Now, she joins the University’s Artist in Residence program, which began in Spring 2022 and is made possible through the College of Arts and Sciences.

Previously, the University has also welcomed ceramic artist Gabo Martinez.  

This year, Naranjo visited the University Sept. 12 – 15, with subsequent visits planned for Nov. 14 – 17; Jan. 29 – Feb. 22, 2023; and March 10 – 13, 2023. During these sessions, Naranjo will present and perform with music ensembles. She will also teach activities and classes in music history, American Popular Music, and percussion ensemble, among others. A clinic for high school music students is also being planned, as well as a concert slated for April 10, 2023.

For more information, contact the College of Arts and Sciences, department of Fine and Performing Arts at 956.326.2654, or visit offices in the Center for the Fine and Performing Arts, room 217.

Visit a Calendar of Events at  https://www.tamiu.edu/coas/fpa , or call the Events Hotline at 956.326.3044 for recorded information on upcoming events and offerings.