Melvis Santa
Actress and singer

Melvis Santa Estévez has had the kind of success many Cuban musicians might envy. In 1997, when she was 14, she started the R&B quartet Sexto Sentido with three friends who were also 14 years old. Arlety Valdés, Eliene Castillo, Yudelkis Lafuente and Melvis had been singing together since elementary school. Sexto Sentido went on to record three albums, the last of which, The Way (2011) was nominated for a Cubadisco prize. The group was championed by, among others, pianist Chucho Valdés. They worked their sexy-soul-sister image so hard you might say they were the Cuban answer to Destiny's Child. Melvis left Sexto Sentido in 2012 to develop both as a soul singer and as a solo singer. The question is, what made Melvis Santa think it was time for her to pursue another career— as an actress?

"One day I just thought, `I'm going to stop what I'm doing and I'm going to go down a new path'," Melvis says. That day was back in 2010 and the path didn't lead straight to acting. First, it led her to a shift in music direction. She began working with Interactivo, the collective and constantly evolving fusion supergroup. Melvis wound up rapping and singing (and memorably starring in the video) for "Que no pare el pare," one of the standout tracks on Interactivo's second album, Cubanos por el mundo.

Melvis accompanied Interactivo on their successful tour of the United States in 2011 but, again, she felt her career had arrived at a crossroads. She explains: "When you've always pointed yourself in one direction and you never test yourself and never imagine any other direction and you think the world revolves around only one thing, then the slightest change can destablise you. I had a moment like that in 2010, because I had been in my group [Sexto Sentido] for 12 years and I thought I'd be there my whole life. So there came a moment when I thought, `OK, now what?' Interactivo gave me the strength and the energy to start over from zero."

So she began acting. She was cast in a short film by Serena Corvaglia, an up-and-coming Italian director. Then, later in 2010, veteran Spanish director Julio Medem chose her to star alongside German actor Daniel Bruhl in "La tentación de Cecilia", one of the seven segments in the feature film 7 Days in Havana. Melvis plays the title character and also sang two songs on the 7 Days soundtrack.

Her experience as an actress in 7 Days has a special resonance for Melvis on the day of her Havana Cultura interview. The interview is taking place in the lobby of the Habana Riviera, the iconic Cuban hotel where "La tentación de Cecilia" begins, where Melvis's character and Leonardo (Bruhl) first admit to their love for each other. "We had to re-do our kiss over and over," Melvis laughs. "I didn't feel awkward although I didn't actually know [Daniel Bruhl]. It helped me realise I could just be comfortable being a movie actress." 

She didn't take this career transition lightly, however. She didn't wait for her appearance in 7 Days or her previous pop music successes to land her more film roles. What she did was to start studying acting at Havana's prestigious Instituto Superior de Arte. At the same time, she says, she felt freer to continue working on her music without any qualms about "testing herself". She put together a new group called Santa Habana, which made its debut at the end of 2011 in Havana's Bellas Artes theatre. The following year, the group's self-titled first album was nominated for a Cubadisco award. 

"This is a lovely moment in my career," Melvis says. "It's like closing one golden door behind me and opening another golden door at the same time."