Amanda Martinez is a renowned singer-songwriter who has performed across Canada and on stages worldwide. She has played sold-out shows at Toronto’s Koerner Hall, New York City’s Blue Note Jazz Club, and the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara. In June, Martinez released her fourth album Libre. It is hard to believe the Toronto-born artist almost pursued another path entirely.
Born to a Mexican father and South African mother, Martinez grew up household founded upon a strong work ethic. Her father came to Toronto with virtually nothing. He and his brother rode their bicycles to Canada from Mexico. The brothers had $100 to their name. Martinez’s father always told her that there are no shortcuts in life. “It’s all about working hard.”
Acting on the advice of others, Martinez shelved her dream of pursuing a music career full-time so she could follow a “more secure path.” Martinez would go on to earn a Bachelor of Science from the University of Western Ontario and a Masters in International Business from York University’s Schulich School of Business. In time, Martinez landed a job in TD Bank’s trade finance department. Music remained a hobby.
As time went on, Martinez became increasingly worried about her future. She feared growing old and looking back on her life with regret. It manifested “in a bit of a crisis.”
“I just realized that I had been going along with what everyone had told me,” she said. “I had never really given myself the chance to pursue what I had always known in my heart, that I loved music, and I loved to perform.”
At the age of thirty, Martinez left the corporate world to pursue a singing career. It was not long until she landed her first gig at Alleycatz, a jazz club in Toronto.
“I walked into this jazz club and convinced the owner to let me audition with the house band,” Martinez said. “I was very enthusiastic. When I made that decision to go for it, there was no stopping me. He said: I like your attitude, I’ll give you every Monday night. That led to me knocking on doors at clubs around Toronto.”
In the beginning, Martinez sang a lot more in English than she did in Spanish. The singer noticed that “people really responded” when she sang in Spanish.
“They could tell that was what lit me up,” said Martinez.
When she was not performing at Sassafraz or the Rex Hotel, Martinez was busy auditioning for television. She became the host of Ontario Lottery Tonight, allowing her to give up her temp job. She landed roles in Mutant X, This is Wonderland, and Monk. Martinez also provided the voice for a character in the critically acclaimed video game Rainbow Six: Vegas.
In 2005, the singer embarked on a new chapter in her career. JAZZ.FM91 hired Martinez to host and produce Café Latino, a weekend radio program dedicated to Latin jazz from around the world.
“I feel like that got my name out there,” she said. “People got to know me on-air, and they would come to my gigs.”
Martinez recorded her debut album Sola during her tenure as host of Café Latino. “It was always my dream to record an album.” The album released in 2006. She left Café Latino in 2008 to focus on her music career.
“I wouldn’t have had a clue that years later I would have four albums to my name,” Martinez said. “And people would still be buying tickets to come see my shows. There was always that dream, but you never where you’ll end up.”
From knocking on doors to performing sold-out concerts, Martinez’s nearly twenty-year-long career is truly remarkable. And there is still much she wants to accomplish in her career. Martinez recently filmed an episode of Private Eyes in which she plays a Mexican actress visiting Toronto. A fan of musical theatre since high school, Martinez hopes one day she can bring her love for music and acting together. “I don’t know if it’ll be something I produce myself, but I would love to use both those sides of me.”
Touring more often is another career goal for Martinez, who performed across Ontario and Quebec this fall.
“I have been doing a little bit of touring but not a lot,” said Martinez. “There are so many places I would love to visit and bring my music to. It’s always a challenge with having young children at home and with my husband [Drew Birston] touring too. I hope to continue performing outside of Canada.”
Reflecting on her days performing at Alleycatz, Martinez says she feels lucky to still feel the same excitement to get on stage as she did back then. Yes, she may have “fewer wrinkles” in pictures from those years, but none of that matters for the 48-year-old singer. Martinez is thankful for the years of life experience that she brings to her music and shares with her audience.
“As the years have gone on, I feel so much more comfortable with myself and what I’m doing,” she said. “I remember when I first started, I was curious about people’s age. Oh, that person is x years old and still doing what they’re doing and loving it. People are still enjoying their music. That brought me comfort.”
“And I remember when I was hosting Café Latino, some of my favourite albums featured these seasoned singers from Cuba. There was this character to their voices. You could hear it in their voices — their life and their experience. That brings me back when I do feel anxious.”
What advice does Martinez have for young people? Follow your gut and try not to second-guess yourself.
“A lot of momentum that I got, especially in the beginning, was through being bold and going after little ideas or opportunities that came my way,” she said. “Even the radio program, I remember thinking who am I to host a show? But then I thought you know what, who am I not to? I can learn. If you maintain that attitude of being open, a lot of doors can open for you.”
Amanda Martinez’s latest album Libre is available on iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify.
Learn more about the artist: Official Website