Valerie Naranjo, PAS Hall of Fame & SNL Percussionist

Mark Wessels and Joe Testa sit down with P.A.S. Hall of Fame inductee Valerie Naranjo to talk about her life in music – from her early upbringing in a musical family and immersion into the upper western Ghanaian culture with over 35 years of study of the gyil – to her eventual job as percussionist with Saturday Night Live and The Lion King.

Watch Valerie Naranjo perform at PASIC 2013


To say that Valerie Dee Naranjo has blazed a number of trails would be an understatement. For 26 years she has had the only permanent percussion chair in the house band for NBC’s iconic Saturday Night Live Band. She was the first musician hired, plays marimba and 21 other instruments, and wrote percussion arrangements for the Broadway hit The Lion King. She broke the the ban on women playing gyil (West African solo marimba) publicly in Ghana, forever changing the relationship of women to that instrument. She and Kakraba Lobi (Ghana’s National Dance Company’s founding gyil master) wrote the only extensive series of transcriptions of gyil music for marimba solo, bringing an understanding of the marimba’s origin and spiritual side. She was the first to arrange gyil solo concerti and the only to date to perform a series of them with Ghana’s National Symphony Orchestra. She teaches West African gyil, drumming, dance and song at New York University at the professional level. Valerie Dee Naranjo is a true “world” percussionist, having performed on six continents during the past three and a half decades.



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