Melena is not only a talented percussionist, but a graduate of UCLA with a B.A and M.A in Ethnomusicology. Her Masters thesis, "The Influence of Abakua Music in  Cuban Rumba", is largely based on ethnograpchic  fieldwork in Havana, Cuba during 2016 through 2018. She  studied with scholars such as: Serafin "Tato" Quinones, Ramon Torres Zayas, Lino Neira, Jose "Pepe" Reyes Fortun, Frank Oropesa, Juan Campos "Chan" Cardenas, Pedrito Minocal Simba, Angel Guerrero amongst others.  Melena graduated with honors June 15, 2018 and continues to be an advocate for the survival of African religious traditions in Cuba working closely with the community and members. 

  Melena teaches all levels, and ages, as well as at risk youth and special needs children/ adults.  Melena has  taught Afro Cuban music and culture programs at  juvenile centers such as Camp Gabriel Gonzalez and Barry J. Nordhoff as well as for the visually impaired at the Braille Institute of Los Angele



  •   Sound Development for congas and bata drums
  •  Melodic Excercises on the conga drums to build strength and endurance
  •  Foklore and Popular Cuban music styles
  • Evolution of the modern conga drum 
  • The Influence of Abakua Music on Popular Cuban Music, Jazz and Salsa

For University Panels and Residencies to include Ethnomusicology, Socio-Religous Studies, Afro American, Latin America and Caribbean Culture and History Departments. Art Museums and Tours.

  •  Origins of Afro Cuban Music and Culture
  • The Influence of Abakua Music on Popular Cuban Music, Jazz and Salsa
  •  Afro Cuban Cabildos and the Survival of African Religious Traditions in Cuba
  • Multiculturalism and Multi Religiosity


 Private lessons are designed to fit the interest and needs of the student, offering both Afro Cuban foklore and poplar Cuban music styles. Hand technique and sound development excercises for congas and batas. Rhythms such as the following can be taught: son, cha cha cha, songo, pilon, mozambique, yambu, guaguanco, columbia, palo and Abakuá . 

educational calendar

International Socio-Religious Conference Havana, Cuba July 2019

Melena will be presenting her Masters Thesis, "The Influence of Abakua Music in Cuban Rumba." 


The Cuban Abakuá association is a socio-religious cultural group with origins from the Cross River region of southeastern Nigeria and southwestern Cameroon. The Abakuá is a mutual aid 

society exclusive to men, and according to some scholars has become a symbol of Cuba itself.

As a Cuban percussionist and ethnomusicologist, my research and professional work are oriented to examine, perform, and expand the socio-cultural influences of the Afro Cuban heritages. Specifically, I concentrate on Abakuá rhythms and their impact on popular Cuban music. There is a general misconception that associates Abakuá culture with non-complex cultural stereotypes; however, throughout my research conducted in the field I have been able to examine the significant ramifications of the Abakuá rhythms on Cuban music and other contemporary manifestations such as jazz, salsa, etc. 

Since the second half of the 19th century, documented evidence has been found on numerous musicians, rumberos, composers and creators of new musical genres who were predominantly Abakuá. Ignacio Piñeiro, recognized as "El poeta del son” (The Poet of Son), was a member of the Abakuá temple, Efóri Nkomó. Piñeiro introduced Abakuá elements to rumba and son, revolutionzing popular Cuban dance music. Piñeiro also influenced salsa legends such as Eddie Palmieri, Johnny Pacheco and Gilberto Santarosa, amongst others with his classic compositions, “Echale Salsita,” “No Juegues Con Los Santos,” and “Coco Mai Mai.” Luciano “Chano” Pozo, El tambor de Cuba (Cuba’s Drummer), was a member of of the Abakuá temple Muñanga Efó. Chano introduced the conga drum to American Jazz and with Dizzy Gillespie created a new form of Cuban jazz called Cubop. My objective is to educate others about my research in Havana, Cuba, which will enable scholars, musicians, and Cuban music aficionados to understand the legacy and contributions of Abakuá culture and music in Cuba, in addition to its global impact.

STUDY WITH MELENA Richmond/Chester, Virginia

Lessons Available

August 26 through August 31

  • Hand Technique and Sound Development
  • Foklore and Popular Cuban Music Styles
  • Origins of Afro Cuban Music and Culture

For More Information and Scheduling a Class Please Contact:

Rosa Billings

804. 922.7585

DUKE UNIVERSITY - Durham, North Carolina


Afro Cuban Music and Culture- One Week Residency Fall 2019

November 10 - 16

As a Cuban percussionist and ethnomusicologist, Melena will be providing student's Afro Cuban music history and performance studies for a one week residency. In addition to  teaching congas, batas and shekere, Melena will expand on the African diaspora in Cuba and the socio-religious influences of the Afro Cuban heritages, rhythms and their impact on popular Cuban music. 



Afro Cuban Music, Religion and Cultural Studies

January 27-31

Experience the Roots of Afro Cuban Music with Melena while she not only performs but teaches her students the Survival of African Religious traditions in Cuba. 

At the Crossroads: The Music and Philosophy of African Religions in Cuba, Trinidad, and Texas.


Public Event Series

Thu, January 30, 2020 | George Washington Carver Museum

University of Texas at Austin
6:30 PM

Master Cuban drummer/ethnomusicologist Melena Francis Valdes and UT professor of Religious Studies J. Brent Crosson will join music and scholarship to explore the African religious traditions of Cuba and Trinidad. They will honor the philosophical and sonic technologies of these traditions, which have made them important forces in the Caribbean, the U.S., and beyond.

Obini Bata - Women of the Drums

A film by Damian Calvo Associate Producers: Eva Despaigne, Melena Francis, Frank Oropesa and Daniela R. De Armas.

"This beautiful documentary features the talent of women pioneers who have paved the path for this present new generation of female bata players and the next generation to come. I greatly admire the talent and tenacity of these women who have inspired my growth as a percussionist and validate the presence of female talent today."  Melena 

Best Short Documentary

Edmonton International Festival and 

Williamsburg Film Festival 2018