By Jill Adams
Photography by Joanne K
As a child, Toronto-based singer and songwriter Amanda Martinez was inherently fascinated by her father’s vinyl collection. It mostly consisted of Latin American records, and Martinez would read the lyrics and belt out the words around the house, memorizing all of her favourite songs.
She got the first taste of being on stage in high school, after auditioning in a play and landing a lead role.
“It just felt so natural to me – it was such a high to be on the stage and to have that chemistry with the audience and other actors,” she says.
Following an outstanding performance, Martinez was approached by audience members asking if this is something that she would pursue as a living. Instinctively, she said “no” without realizing that her love and talents for singing would one day bring her music to an international audience. “I wanted to say yes, but I had this voice inside me that thought I couldn’t make a living out of it,” she admits.
Like many in search of job security, Martinez obtained an undergraduate degree in biology and completed her master’s degree in international business. But after her first year of working in trade finance at a bank, she was watching a local singer and songwriter, Amy Sky, one day and realized she wasn’t able to pacify her dream of being a singer.
“Here I was, in my suit at the bank, sitting on my lunch break and hearing her perform – and all I really wanted to do was change into a dress and join her on stage,” she says. Shortly after, Martinez left her job and made the decision to pursue music professionally.
Describing her band’s flavour she says that it incorporates the celebratory passion of her father’s Mexican culture and the beautiful percussive rhythms of her mother’s South African heritage. Her own style is that of a gypsy, wrapped in elegant, even sensual fabrics. “When I’m on stage I like to move around and dance, so I like wearing things that will ‘dance’ along with the music too.”
Her musical achievements include past performances at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, Toronto’s Koerner Hall, New York’s iconic Blue Note club and other venues across North America and around the world. Martinez has also worked with internationally acclaimed music producer Javier Limon and is a three-time nominee for the Latin Jazz Artist of the Year at Canada’s National Jazz Awards. She is currently an honourary co-chair for Toronto’s 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games’ IGNITE program, where she will be using music to encourage individuals and businesses from the community to create their own initiatives to celebrate the games. Martinez is also recognized for her various roles in radio and television, including hosting Toronto’s JAZZ FM91’s Latin Jazz show for three years, and appearances on Canada AM, BRAVO Arts & Minds, StarTV! and Entertainment Tonight Canada. She was also featured in roles on Regnesis, Disney’s Life with Derek and From Spain with Love.
However, Martinez says that the greatest highlights of her career are having stayed with the same group of musicians for more than 10 years (the duration of her singing career), and having original compositions licensed by other music labels and shared with thousands of people at the World Cup.
“It’s great to be able to sing at home in my bedroom – but it’s really another sense of gratitude when other people around the world are really enjoying the music as well.”
For Martinez, when she is on stage dancing to the Afro-Cuban rhythm of her band’s music and unleashing her warm trademark vocals, it is the one time in her life where she is “actually in the moment.”
“I don’t think you can have that feeling doing anything else,” she says.