Latin jazz singer Amanda Martinez, a musical ambassador for SOS Children’s Villages Canada, spent a week in a children’s village in Namibia, acting as a “mom” to several orphaned or abandoned children.
SOS Children’s Villages provide homes to more than 80,000 children in 134 countries around the world. About 10 to 15 homes make up an SOS village, and each one houses eight to 10 kids, living together as a family unit and cared for by an SOS mother, who has been locally trained and raises the children as her own.
In Another Mother, a video Martinez made for SOS Children’s Villages, we see her in the Namibian children’s village during a busy seven days, making meals, doing laundry, cleaning, taking the children to school and helping them with their homework.
As a gift to the children she cared for, Martinez wrote the lovely song “African Skies,” which is on her fourth, and latest, album, Libre. “It just talks about how that whole experience will always be a part of me, so I don’t have to say goodbye,” she said.
Featured on African Skies is Toronto guitarist Donné Roberts. Born in Madagascar, Roberts contributes some relaxed Malagasy rhythms to the song. Martinez sings like an angel and her and Roberts’ voices blend nicely in the sweet harmonies of the chorus.
Originally, Martinez decided to give Libre an African flavour, but the project evolved to include duets and collaborations with artists she’d worked with who aren’t African – Costa Rican singer Guadalupe Urbina and Cuban musicians Pablosky Rosales and Elsten Torres.
Martinez wrote the songs for the album – all but two of the 10 tracks are originals – at a time when she had doubts about whether she had made the right career choice, she said. Her husband, Drew Birston, plays bass on Libre. The couple has three children, a 10 year old and seven-year-old twins. “I was feeling vulnerable in the kind of career I had chosen and wondering if I am going to be able to provide for my kids and wondering if I should be maintaining this path as an artist,” she said.
Given the financial insecurity and other challenges independent artists face, it’s not surprising that Martinez, who’s also an actor, worried about her family’s future, despite the fact that she’s an awarding-winning artist who’s received several award nominations and sold out Toronto’s Koerner Hall multiple times.
One of the songs on this beautiful album, “Begin,” which she co-wrote with her producer and guitarist Kevin Laliberte, is about a time when she was plagued by self-doubt. “It’s about waking up and feeling your world is kind of upside down and you’re questioning everything. But it’s also about having a sense of hope that something’s going to change and remembering back when things were feeling more secure,” she said.
While she was writing the album, Martinez watched her friend, the jazz and soul singer Kellylee Evans, going through some physical challenges and a friend she grew up with, Sharon Arluck Burke, was also facing health challenges. “I guess I was just seeing how fragile life was,” Martinez said.
With Evans, she recorded “Liberame,” a song about freeing yourself from your own fears, or the perception of other people judging you, Martinez said. “Sharon’s Song” is Martinez’s blessing to Burke, who she grew up with.
“Te Amo,” a duet featuring Martinez and Rosales, is a lullaby written by a young Mexican mother who gave birth to her baby in Canada. “I was part of a project at Massey Hall where they matched up young moms who had written lullabies for their kids with professional singers and I really fell in love with the song,” Martinez said.
Amanda Martinez (amandamartinez.ca) is releasing Libre, with special guests Donné Roberts, Kellylee Evans and the Echo Women’s Choir, at the Isabel Bader Theatre in Toronto on June 22 at 8 p.m., as part of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival (torontojazz.com). For tickets, visit secure.ticketpro.ca.