Meet the Global Diva

23 Feb 2006

Toronto Jazz Singer Amanda Martinez

An interview with vocalist and band leader Amanda Martinez

Latin Jazz they call it; a combination of the traditional US Jazz harmonies with Cuban folk rhythms and other sounds of Latin America. Dizzie Gillespie ushered in the genre when he collaborated with Chano Pozo at his famous 1947 Carnegie Hall concert. Since then, the music has grown tremendously, spurred by legendary musicians such as Tito Puente (featured in the great documentary Calle 54), Julio Padrón, Poncho Sanchez and Chucho Valdes,  to name a few. That growth is being sustained by the work of a new generation of talented musicians bringing their own experiences, and blending musical elements borrowed from other contemporary genres.

One of those musicians is Toronto ’s own Amanda Martinez, widely known as the host of Jazz FM’s “Café Latino” and a regular performer at the Lula Lounge and many local Jazz festivals.

Amanda was born to a Mexican father and a South African mother which exposed her early on to an eclectic musical mix. Those influences are evident in her sound that contains both Bossa Nova and other Latin American folklore elements.

AfroToronto.com recently caught up with Amanda Martinez to discuss music and her upcoming work.

How did you come to Jazz as a musical genre?

I grew up listening to a wide variety of music from my parents’ record collection which included lots of jazz, Latin Jazz and Latin American folklore. When I started performing, the main venues I started in were Jazz clubs. At first, I hesitated in performing my Latin American repertoire. But that’s where my true passion lies and I also realized that people seemed to respond to it most.

How does your Mexican background influence the lyrics of your songs?

Growing up, I spent a lot of time in Mexico and really soaked up the music that I was exposed to there.  I think the passion of the music is in my music today and certainly the Spanish language is a huge part of the music and lyrics...Even though my first language is English I prefer to write the lyrics in Spanish...

What about your South African background?

I used to dance to my mother's records of South Africa's Miriam Makeba; my first introduction to African music. I have not yet been to South Africa . But it is a dream of mine to go there, hopefully with my mother. I know that South Africa has an amazing Jazz scene and I would love to go down and experience the music and have the opportunity to collaborate with some of the musicians there.  The African rhythms are the roots of all the Latin American, Afro-Cuban rhythms and I would love to experience the music in its native country.

In your view, is it important for artists of any genre to impart knowledge on their audiences?

I think that artists naturally impart a feeling to their audiences. For me, music is about feeling and not necessarily any specific knowledge. I do think that music can express that which words can’t say as do most art forms. I think art offers a new perspective with which to view the world.

You're a band leader, a vocalist and guitarist. Do you think is it essential for artists in today''s over-competitive musical landscape to be multi-talented?

I think that we all have unique skills, some of which we don't even give ourselves credit for. I think in all fields, one needs to focus on building on what we are good at and then filling in the gaps with new skills. I don't yet consider myself a guitarist. But I have a passion for the guitar and I am really enjoying learning to compose with it and playing it.

You’ll be part of the upcoming Global Divas concert at the Kool Haus? How did that come about?

It was always a dream of mine to participate in the Global Divas event. And earlier this year, Derek Andrews who helps produce it invited me to participate along with Jane Bunnett.

What does it mean to you?

It means a lot to me to perform in an event such as this one that celebrates the wide diversity of music that Canada offers. I am also happy to perform along side such inspirational women, for such a great cause.

This year''s proceeds go to St. Stephen''s Youth Arcade. Are you familiar with their work and is this a cause that is dear to you personally?

St Stephen's Community house is part of the residential neighborhood that I now live in. So I feel it is a very important part of the community. It is so important to me that we nurture the youth in our community and the Youth Arcade is a very important resource that I am glad to be able to support.

Are you familiar with the work of any of the other performers?

I had been in awe of Tanya Tagaq Gillis' work although I have never seen her live. I met Kelly Lee Evans at the media launch for the first time and was so excited to hear her music. Her lyrics are so inspiring and what a voice! I am really looking forward to hearing Muna Mingole live. I love her music and find it so hopeful. I am not familiar with the music of Zaki Ibrahim. But I can’t wait!! Of course I have always been a huge fan of Jane Bunnett and the Spirits of Havana so it will be such a thrill to perform with her and the band.

What other artists do you hope to work with in the future

It would be really cool to collaborate with the women who are part of this year's show. They all have such unique voices and styles and I think it would be so refreshing to collaborate. There are so many other inspiring artists that I would also love to work with: The Alex Cuba band - I love Alexis Puentes' laid back approach and his music gets in my blood. I would love to collaborate with Mono Blanco and incorporate some of the son Jarocho style of Mexico into my music. I am a big Seu Jorge from Brazil. He just needs his guitar and can make the most beautiful music.

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