Friday, October 8, 2010

Cuban percussion wiz Melena live @ Steamers


Steamers Jazz Club and Cafe
138 W. Commonwealth Ave
Fullerton, CA 92832
Ph: (714) 871-8800
Music is in her blood. Shaped from the rhythms that dance through her veins, Melena Francis Valdes, born in Havana Cuba, has mastered the traditional rhythms that have traveled from Africa to Cuba, to the dance floors of America. Her Afro/Cuban sound is a conversation of me...lodies which she plays with fierce passion, whether on Congas, Timbales, Batas or a range of other percussion instruments. As her musical vision is broad, she combines her talents with those of some of the most accomplished musicians performing today in genres that range from Jazz to Pop.

Melena's formal training began on the drums when she was a teenager. Master percussionist Luis Conte was instrumental in shaping her early development. In 1988, Melena returned to Cuba for the first time since leaving as a child. While in Cuba, Melena studied with the "Conjunto Folklorico Nacional de Cuba". She has also studied with the legendary percussionists and folklorists Mario Jauregui, Regino Jimenez and Lazaro Ros. This experience gave her a solid foundation, offering her a unique sound which is distinctly her own.

During the years 1989 through 1994, Melena started to sit in with various local Latin groups in Los Angeles. Papo Conga was a most essential and important mentor. He first hired her on Congas and later on timbales giving her the opportunity to develop her skills as a percussionist. In 1995, Melena began to work with the late Kenny Kirkland and Jeff "Tain" Watts in a band designed to feature her abilities and that of bassist Nedra Wheeler. This era proved to be a turning point in that it challenged her desire to reach for greater dimensions and expand her percussion abilities in a jazz setting. In the following year, Melena would be found on a world tour with Barry White, which continued for two years.

In August of 1997, Melena returned to Cuba to continue her studies for six months. Her stay in Cuba afforded her the privilege of studying with Roberto Vizcaino Guillot, Miguel "Anga" Diaz, Jose Miguel Melendez and with Master percussionists of Conjunto Clave y Guaguanco. Upon returning from Cuba, Melena recorded a PBS special with John Tesh in Europe called, "One World". From there she toured with Pop/R&B vocalist Macy Gray followed by Julio Iglesias.

In the fall of 2000, Melena returned to Cuba for the third time. This time she traveled to Matanzas and focused her studies on bata drums with Master Daniel Herrera. In Havana she studied congas with Yaroldy Abreu and Adel Gonzales, percussionists with Chucho Valdes and Irakere. Jose "Pepe" Espinosa, percussionist with the Afro Cuban All Stars is also a good friend and mentor. She also had the privilege of playing with the group Irakere as well as several of the local Timba groups in Havana.

In May 2002 Melena conducted a clinic and concert performance at the Percussion Festival in San Juan Puerto Rico. Backup musicians for her live performances included Eric Figueroa, piano and musical director of Batacumbele. She also had the opportunity to play with friends like Richie Flores, Paoli Mejias and Javier Oquendo.

In the year 2004 Melena toured internationally with Latin Pop Artist, Chayanne. In 2005, Melena had the wonderful opportunity to perform at the NBA Finals and several live concerts with the legendary Stevie Wonder. Melena was also blessed to share the same stage with her biggest inspiration, Giovanni Hidalgo. Melena performed with her Afro Cuban band at the Ninth Annual Brownsville Latin Jazz Festival in Texas and also conducted a clinic at the Brownsville University. In 2006, Melena recorded with Peru Negro and was a guest musician on a Live DVD recording with Eva Ayllon. In addition, Melena conducted a master class and performance at the 2006 Montreal Drum Festival. In 2008/2009, Melena peformed alongside JC and Tor Dietrichson and gave two Master Classes at the Seattle World Rhythm Festival.

In 2009, Melena was a featured percussionist on the Fox Television Hit "Prison Break" dancing and playing congas alongside actor Amaury Nolasco. Melena is also a featured percussionist with singer/songwriter Janel Parrish, who plays Jade on the Bratz movie.

Her dream is to travel the world and to be a major contributor to the Afro/Cuban music legacy, sharing the richness of this culture with others. Festivals she has performed in the past fronting her own Cuban Jazz Band include: Jazz at Drew, African Village Festival, Latin Music Festival, Puerto Rico Percussion Conservatory, Montreal Drum Festival, Altadena Summer Concert, and more. Melena also conducts workshops and clinics nationally and internationally. She has specialized her studies in the Afro-Cuban tradition and on the Sacred Bata Drums and has taught her students the importance of the history and knowledge of Afro-Cuban drumming and language of the Batas. Melena is someone to be recognized as one of the most accomplished and proficient female percussionist in the music community.

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