Through four albums, Amanda Martinez has explored the music of her roots – she’s the daughter of a Mexican father and South African Mother – to fuse together a Latin sound described as flamenco soul.
Her latest, Libre, draws more on her South African heritage, inspired by her time in that country performing at the FIFA World Cup, as well as a trip to Namibia as part of her role as musical ambassador for SOS Children’s Villages Canada.
“While I was there, I just fell in love with the music,” she said from her Toronto home.
Upon returning, she reached out to Donné Roberts, the Madagascar-born guitarist and songwriter who now calls Toronto home, and the two began writing songs together. The effort grew to encompass producer and renowned flamenco guitarist Kevin Laliberté and then others. The result was Libre, meaning freedom.
“I wanted to have that freedom not to focus on one particular type of music,” she said of the album’s content, noting there is a note to her mom’s heritage.
The result was a more personal sound to Libre, which will be explored tomorrow night (November 22) when she takes the stage at The Registry Theatre in Kitchener, joined by Roberts as her special guest.
“The album isn’t particularly upbeat – it’s more introspective, reflective,” she said of Libre, adding there will be plenty of music to get the audience up and dancing, drawing on her growing catalogue.
Friday will be her first Registry show in more than a decade, though she did perform there last year with the Sultans of String.
“It’s very exciting to be back,” said the performer who’s been making a career of it since 2001 after realizing she was more interested in international music than international finance – after graduating with a master’s degree in international business from York University, she’d been working in the banking sector when she opted for a major career change.
“In my heart, that was always my fantasy, to be a singer.”
Her parents may not have approved, but she can lay some of that decision at their feet, given that they transferred their love of music to their daughter. Martinez has been exploring her roots through music, blending her Mexican and South African influences with flamenco soul.
“My parents, in particular my dad, had a huge, huge record collection. I spent a lot of time escaping to the sounds of Latin America,” she said.
Her recording career started with Sola, followed by Amor and Mañana, before this year’s release of her new CD, Libre.
Martinez’s songs have been selected for four Putumayo world music collections: Bossanova Around the World, Latin Dreamland, Cafe Latino, and Mexico.
Along with performing at a host of events internationally, she’s been a guest artist, recording and touring with award winning guitarist Jesse Cook, and Canada’s worldbeat ambassadors Sultans of String. She was awarded Best World Music Artist (Canadian Folk Music Awards), and Best World Music Artist (Toronto Independent Music Awards), and she’s received multiple nominations as Latin Jazz Artist of the Year (Canada’s National Jazz Awards).
Martinez was also a popular JAZZFM radio host, and is an accomplished actress (Designated Survivor, Regenesis and Suits). She hosted Panamania during CBC’s coverage of the PanAm Games, and the web series Ingredients for a Good Life, showcasing Mexico to Canadians.
Through all of the songwriting and recording, performing in front of an audience remains her favourite part of being a musician.
“I certainly love the performing part – there’s something about having a live audience in front of me,” said Martinez.
The actual craft of writing songs is still something of a painstaking process, even after all these years.
“For songwriting, I’ll just start playing around with chords and melodies, and the words come later,” she explained. “I usually get the music first, then the lyrics … without thinking about it too much, allowing the inspiration to come forward.”
The music written and recorded, playing it live makes all the work worthwhile, she added, noting feedback from the audience long encouraged her to keep going when she was starting out.
Now more established, she’s still happy to hear from people after a concert, for instance.
“I still feel like I can’t ever take for granted that people will come out and enjoy our shows,” she said. “I feel lucky that I really love what I do.”
Amanda Martinez, with special guest Donné Roberts, take to the stage November 22 at 8 p.m. at The Registry Theatre. Tickets are $35, available by calling 519-578-1570, online or at the door.