Home Profiles Singer, Composer, Pianist, Dancer, Actress, Educator Melvis Santa

Singer, Composer, Pianist, Dancer, Actress, Educator Melvis Santa

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From her early years, Melvis Santa, a singer, composer, pianist, Afro-Cuban dancer, actress, and educator, was immersed in the vibrant cultural traditions of her eclectic neighborhood in Havana. Every weekend, from the age of four, she eagerly participated in the art programs offered by Gran Teatro de La Habana, Teatro Bellas Artes, and El Musical, three legendary theaters in her hometown. Her journey into music began at the age of 7, when she started playing classical piano. This early exposure to diverse cultural traditions and her innate talent led her to graduate with a piano and music theory degree from the prestigious Amadeo Roldan Conservatory.
At the age of 14, Melvis Santa made a significant splash in the Cuban music scene. She founded the collective vocal group Sexto Sentido, a project that was hailed by jazz great Chucho Valdés as “the best Cuban vocal quartet of the past 30 years” in 2007. The ensemble’s talent was recognized when they won the first prize in the Jo-Jazz (Cuban Youth Jazz competition) in 2001. In 2010, Melvis’s musical journey took a new turn as she appeared as one of the lead vocalists of Interactivo, a seminal fusion band in Cuba.
Melvis Santa’s musical journey is a testament to her diverse influences and deep understanding of music. Her debut as a solo artist in 2012 with the recording of her album Santa Habana, which was nominated for the CUBADISCO Awards that same year, showcased her wide stylistic variety. Her influences span from Cuban music and jazz, with inspiration drawn from Cuban songstresses such as Rita Montaner, Merceditas Valdés, Celeste Mendoza, Celia Cruz, Elena Burke, and Marta Valdés. She also draws inspiration from jazz legends such as Billy Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Anita Baker, Shirley Horn, and Diane Reeves. The New York Times aptly describes her style as possessing 70’s soul underpinnings yet belonging to the Afro-Cuban musical traditions.
As an actress, Melvis starred in the feature film Seven Days in Havana, which garnered worldwide critical acclaim and was directed by Julio Medem and Benicio del Toro, among others.
Based in New York since 2014, MelvisMelvis continues to make a mark as a performer and educator. She teaches workshops at NYU, CUNY Graduate Center, The Spence School, and the Tulane University of New Orleans, collaborates with organizations such as Global Rhythms, and teaches music, voice, and Afro-diaspora dance for children and adults. Melvis created the Caribe Body Fitness (dance program) and the Afro-Cuban Voice Therapy (music program).
Melvis is currently working on two different musical projects: Melvis Santa & Ashedi, which explores the connections between her Afro-Cuban-rooted musical traditions, bolero, and jazz influences, and Ellas-Son, an all-female ensemble formed by multi-instrumentalists and talented musicians honoring Women in Cuban Popular Music. With both, she has performed at the historic Minton’s Playhouse Jazz Club, Birdland Jazz Club, the Zinc Bar, Subrosa, The Jazz Gallery, and The Bronx Museum in Miami, New Orleans, and Chicago.
Likewise, Melvis has collaborated with greats such as Roman Diaz, Ravi Coltrane, Steve Coleman, David Virelles, Gilles Peterson and Havana Cultura, Adam Cruz, Linda Oh, Fabian Almazan, Bill O’Connell and the Latin Jazz All-Stars, Emeline Michel, Les Nubians, Chucho Valdes, Michel Legrand, Joao Donato, Emilio Santiago, Descemer Bueno, Buena Vista Social Club, Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, Silvio Rodriguez, Pablo Milanes, Muñequitos de Matanzas, Team Cuba de La Rumba with Rumberos de Cuba, Jane Bunnett and Maqueque, among others.
Melvis’s most recent effort is titled Melvis Santa Jazz Orishas, and it is available on Bandcamp.
A graduate of Empire State College with a dual major in journalism and Latin American studies, Editor-in-Chief Tomas Peña has spent years applying his knowledge and writing skills to the promotion of great musicians. A specialist in the crossroads between jazz and Latin music, Peña has written extensively on the subject. His writing appears on Latin Jazz Network; Chamber Music America magazine and numerous other publications.

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