Alumna follows her own beat off Bay Street

Special to Western News

Award-winning singer-songwriter Amanda Martinez, BSc’94, recently released her latest album, Libre, a love song to “my African roots; the joy of collaboration with other singers and musicians; and the utter joy of singing freely.”

Twenty years ago, Amanda Martinez, BSc’94, left a promising corporate career in TD’s Trade Finance Department to follow the music of her life.

“I was standing with my colleagues in our suits on the sidewalk in front of our building at lunchtime listening to the wonderful singer/songwriter Amy Sky perform,” Martinez said. “All I could think and feel was ‘I really miss being on stage.’”

Today, she is an award-winning singer-songwriter who combines her Mexican and South African roots with flamenco soul.

Thriving on the energy of live performance, Martinez is “constantly amazed at how I can walk into a music venue —as a performer or audience member – and feel transported by sound. Music really does bring people from all walks of life together.”

Her latest work, Libre, is a love song to “my African roots; the joy of collaboration with other singers and musicians; and the utter joy of singing freely. We took risks with this album. We wanted the freedom to include songwriters from other places and genres.”

The album is the work of an impressive group of international musicians, including Cuban-born, Miami-based singer-songwriter Elsten Torres; Canadian jazz singer Kellylee Evans; Malagasy-Canadian guitarist and singer Donne Roberts; and Sudanese-Canadian multi-instrumentalist Waleed Abdulahmid.

Perhaps no track more exemplifies that collaboration like Liberame (Free me), where Martinez sounds as if singing is her natural mode of expression and her expressiveness is irresistible.

Martinez was surrounded by a wide variety of music, culture and performance opportunities during her childhood, as the daughter of a Mexican father and a South African, Jewish mother.

In 1956, her father, Gustavo Martinez, and uncle Arturo made a 5,600 km trip from Mexico City to Toronto by bicycle – a journey that took 82 days to complete. Amanda wrote a song, Nuevos Caminos (New Paths), to commemorate the trip. Her cousin, Andrea (Arturo’s daughter), made CICLO, a documentary of the two brothers finding a home in Canada.

“My dad’s an engineer and both of my parents hoped for a stable career for their children,” said Martinez, who was named one of the Top 10 Most Influential Hispanic Canadians in 2014. “That’s why when it was time to go to university, I chose to study Science at Western, based on academic reputation.”

While she spent most her time studying in the Allyn & Betty Taylor Library at Western, she did make the time to take Modern Dance classes, as well as work at the Radio Western. After earning her undergraduate degree, Martinez obtained an International MBA from York University.

“That Radio Western broadcasting experience was helpful years later. In 2005, I joined JazzFM91 as producer and host of Café Latino. My business skills came in handy when I took the leap to making music full-time. I still rely on all those skills every day.”

In 2006, Martinez’s debut album, Sola, earned the Best World Music Artist title at the Toronto Independent Music Awards. Four years later, she performed in Johannesburg, South Africa, for the 2010 World Cup festivities – an experience I’ll never, ever forget. As my mother’s side of the family is from South Africa, it was amazing to stand on that soil.”

Family is central to Martinez – be it biology or bandmates.

“My band is not only central to my career, they are central to my life. They are my second family.”

Her band features her longtime guitarist and now producer Kevin Laliberte; husband, bassist Drew Birston; Cuban-Canadian percussionist Rosendo ‘Chendy’ Leon; Cuban-Canadian trumpet player Alexander Brown; Cuban-Canadian violinist Osvaldo Rodriguez; bass player Paco Luviano; and Cuban-Canadian tres player Pablosky Rosales.

A proud mother of a daughter and two sons, Martinez is also a vocal ambassador of SOS Children’s Village, an international children’s charity that offers safe and nurturing family homes to more than 80,000 orphaned and abandoned children in 134 countries around the world.

Martinez traveled to Namibia and Mexico to witness first-hand how “groups of orphaned or abandoned children are cared for in family homes by women who have dedicated their lives to being mothers to these kids. It’s amazing to see how the children are thriving when they are kept with their brothers and sisters and can remain as a family supporting one another.”

Inspired by the children she cared for in Namibia, Martinez wrote Under African Skies for them.

She may have learned her work ethic from her parents, but it was children – her own and those from SOS Children’s Village – that taught her “you can really only do one thing at a time well. When I’m acting, that’s what I’m doing. When I’m singing, I throw my heart and soul into it.”

Today, she serves on the Advisory Board of Music Canada charged with promoting and protecting the value of Canadian music and its production.

“I believe there’s both strength and hope in diversity. Making music that evokes emotion and lifts your mood is one way of moving forward.”