El Taller Latino Americano
Music, Art, and Language en El Barrio

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Music of the Earth

Tonight we will feature music from the earth, represented by two of its masters, Valerie Dee Naranjo and Juan Namuncurá.

Valerie Dee Naranjo has a passion for the simple yet powerful Native American songs of her homeland, and for the complex yet soulful West African keyboard percussion music that has bonded, healed, and grooved for centuries.

A Colorado native of Ute and Latin descent, she is a specialist on the Gyil (jee-lee), one of the many existing West African marimbas. This instrument, popular in a remote area of Ghana, holds in its grace and complexity keys to African harmonic and polyrhythmic concepts.

Ms. Naranjo studied the gyil in Ghana, where in 1988 her playing led to the declaration of a chiefly decree in the Dagara nation that women be allowed to play the instrument. Also in the same region, in 1996, she and Barry took a "First Place" in the Kobine Traditional Festival competition, the first non-Ghanaian ever to do so.

In the United States, she received a BA in instrumental and vocal music at the University of Oklahoma and a Master's in Performance and Ethnomusicology at Ithaca College. She has studied with dozens of masters in America and Africa, including Leigh Howard Stevens, Gordon Stout, David Samuels, Ladji Cam'ra, Adama Dr'me and Kakraba Lobi. She also plays percussion and arranges for the Saturday Night Live Band and has recorded and performed with the Paul Winter Consort, the Philip Glass Ensemble, David Byrne, Tori Amos, Selena, Airto, and the international percussion ensemble, MEGADRUMS, which includes Milton Cardona, Zakir Hussein, and Glen Velez.

Valerie has released five CD's, including the just released Song Of Niira and Song of Legaa (gyil music with Kakraba Lobi and Barry Olsen), Zie Mwea (ancient keyboard music of West Africa with Bernard Woma and Barry Olsen), Orenda (featuring traditional Native American songs and instruments) and Music for Gyil, Kuar, Voices and Dancing.

The GYIL (pronounced JEEL or JEE lee), is the national instrument of the Dagara and Lobi nations of West Africa. It is one of the grandmothers of the mallet keyboard family and is made from fourteen wooden slats that are suspended on a frame, over calabash gourds. Nearly every man in the community can play at least a tune or two, yet the gyil master (an instrument maker as well as player) studies the instrument for much of his life before he is considered worthy to represent the community at sacred events.

Gyil masters hold a position of great respect in their rural villages. Their extraordinary abilities take many years to attain, and that their role as both the gate to the spirit world in the sacred ceremony, and the world of joy and laughter in a simple moonlight dance is important in maintaining the health of each individual and in the bonding of the community.

Juan Namuncurá mixes trompe and kultrum with synthesizers, samplers and computers. This mixture starts in his blood, with a Bolivian Aymara father and Argentinean Mapuche mother.

Juan was born in Cochabamba (Bolivia), but grew up in the indigenous community of Villa Regina south of Río Negro in Argentina. It was here that he began his musical studies first with the Argentinean maestro Antonio Toninni and later with Nicholas Alessio and Oscar Baz´n.

Juan is a writer, poet and composer. He has won several awards both for composition and as instrumental soloist, including first prize at the Festival de Choele Choel, as instrumental soloist and honorable mention for his composition Pre-Cosquin 93. Among his many projects were soundtracks for the film La Nave de los Locos of Ricardo Wullicher, the plays Tupac Amaru and Hermano del Alma, creation of music and poetry with the actor Miguel Angel Sol' for the piece Piedra Azul, a Mapuche ballet Meli and composing and directing the opening ceremonies at the 1996 Atlanta pre-olympic games.

As his Mapuche name of Werkén (messenger, ambassador) reveals, Juan has been documenting and sharing Mapuche culture with the world for many years. In 1993, he created a multi-media Mapuche-Spanish dictionary. In 1998 he founded the first record company in Argentina for indigenous music, Piedra Azul - releasing its first disc Tejido de Piedra, compilation of music, composed, produced and recorded by indigenous peoples. He collaborated with Susana Frank to present the first exhibition of contemporary indigenous art at the Centro Cultural Recoleta in 1999 and again in 2001, to present a workshop on Mapuche silver. As director of the Instituto de Cultura Indígena Argentina, he has a forum to continue his work.

The exact date of this concert is not known, but it occurred in the marked year around this time.

Earlier Event: April 5
Amazon, Andes and Coast
Later Event: May 17
WarmAyllu