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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.
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