Mexican percussionist triumphs in New York

Mariana Ramírez founded the Excelsis Percussion Quartet, one of the most innovating percussion quartets, according to the New York University
Mexican percussionist triumphs in New York
Mexican percussionist Mariana Ramírez - Photo: Taken from Mariana Percussion website
Newsroom/EL UNIVERSAL in English
Mexico City
Alida Piñón
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It was by listening to the percussionists at a concert by Carlos Santana that Mariana Ramírez experienced a revelation. She decided to study percussion and enrolled in the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City. In 2010, she moved to the United States to study a master’s degree at Rutgers University.

Today, she lives in New York, and she has performed with symphonic and chamber orchestras. She plays traditional Mexican music for the marimba as well as pop music. She is the founder of the Excelsis Percussion Quartet, which is considered to be one of the most innovating percussion ensembles, according to the New York University.

“I grew up listening to blues because my father played the drums at parties a few times. But it wasn’t until I went to see Santana, when I was still a teenager, that I became interested in music. There were three percussionists, and when the drummer started a solo, I felt an energy generating and it was something I had never felt before. That experience changed my life, and it was at that moment that the thought of becoming a percussionist popped into my head. A couple of years after that concert, I began my formal studies.” She tells from New York in her phone interview.

From those first years, Ramírez recalls that percussion is a profession usually reserved for men. “There are very few women. Getting into the Conservatory was no easy task, and I was told that I wouldn’t even be able to take the admission exam since I was still 17. I left no stones unturned until I finally did it. On the other hand, once I got in, I realized that there were 20 men and only three women. The thing is, you have to earn your place. Percussion demands brutal energy to be played, you have to carry heavy things around, and I’ve even heard some people become surprised when they realize that a woman is playing. I’m very short, I’m only five feet tall, and some people tell me things like: ‘Wow! How do you manage to play like that if you’re so little? And besides, you’re a woman.’ It’s all prejudice and I have taken that kind of remark politely. In addition to that, I live in the United States as a Latina and as a Mexican. Luckily, I’ve also met a lot of people that have offered me their support and we have shared great moments together.”

Therefore, Mariana Ramírez founded Excelsis, along with Marcelina Suchocka (Polish), Clara Warnaar (Canadian-American) and Aya Kaminagucki (Japanese). “I founded the only quartet built up entirely of women in New York, about four years ago. We had to show our presence here.”

In October, Ramírez will start her tour in Mexico, where she will visit Quintana Roo, Chiapas, Guanajuato, Sinaloa, and Mexico City, presenting her project Motus, a percussion, and contemporary dance duet. “This is something I’ve been highly working on lately. Motus is Latin for movement. Last summer, we applied for a scholarship at the National Fund for Culture an Arts (FONCA) and starting this year, we heard that we had won. We are very happy because that will allow us to visit several universities in different states of Mexico,” said the musician.

The artistic proposal consists of percussion with some electronic elements and other very basic instruments such as tambourines and snares. “We play in an innovating way. For example, the drum is usually played from the top, but I turn it around in order to produce other sounds and the tambourine has a microphone. While we work on our music, the choreographer, Argelia Arreola is creating new choreographies for the music of North American composers, some of which are friends of ours. We have been very lucky and we are excited to bring our work to Mexico”, said the Mexican percussionist.


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