A native of the island of Curaçao in the Netherlands Antilles, percussionist Pernell Saturnino (born May 23, 1962) has become a premier player on his instruments, but nobody in his immediate family is surprised. His grandmother, great-uncle, and great-aunt were among those who originated and developed the indigenous folkloric rhythm known as tambú. His uncle led a prominent folkloric group, and brought him along to play guiro when Pernell was eight. The next month, Saturnino learned to play the drum parts, and took up the Venezuelan tambora drum, congas, the tambú drum, chapi, and timbales. His listening experiences centered on Rubén Blades, the Fania All-Stars, and Oscar D'León, though he enjoyed all genres of music. Initial percussion influences were Milton Cardona, Mongo Santamaria, Ray Barretto, and Tito Puente, and on the jazz side Miles Davis, Chick Corea, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Joining the famous band Nos Antias, he toured worldwide as a teenager. At age 19, Saturnino took classes at the Foundation Institute of Music in Curaçao and studied with the Mexican percussionist Jose "Pepito" Reyes; worked as a percussionist in a house band that performed international shows at a local hotel; and absorbed the many rhythms from Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Trinidad and Tobago.
In 1988, Saturnino moved to Boston to attend the Berklee College of Music, where he studied with grand masters Giovanni Hidalgo and Jesus Alfonso of Los Muñequitos de Matanzas. At Berklee he also discovered the music of Tony Williams, Airto Moreira, Changuito, Mino Cinelu, and Miguel "Angá" Diaz. Further opportunities opened to play and perform with Joe Zawinul, Hermeto Pascoal, Gilberto Gil, Rebecca Paris, and his friend and mentor Danilo Perez. Upon his graduation from Berklee, he started a fruitful partnership with Paquito d'Rivera, including the United Nation Orchestra, the Calle 54 collective, the WDR Orchestra, and the Caribbean Jazz Project. Saturnino also collaborated with David Sanchez, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Wynton Marsalis, Chick Corea's Electrik Band, Diego Urcola, Edward Simon, Carlos Franzetti, Dave Samuels, Andy Narrell, Sunny Sumter, Bebo Valdez, Antonio Hart, Juan Pablo Torres, Richie Zellon, Oscar Stagnaro, Donny McCaslin, and fellow Curaçaoans pianist Randal Corsen and vocalist Izaline Calister.