Sol Y Canto: Latin roots music to change the world

Nakia Hill
Spare Change News

The Amador family of Cambridge has a lot to be thankful for this coming New Year. First, the dynamic duo of Sol Y Canto and their 15-year-old twin daughters, Alisa and Sonia, recently released the audio recording of Lola’s Fandango, published by Barefoot Books.

Second, they’ve had numerous performances, including one at a Latin Holiday Concert with Dean Stevens, Singer/Songwriter to help support Watertown’s El Salvador Sister City Project.

Third, they’ve created Sabor y Memoria, “A Musical Feast in Seven Courses,” a project that is as flavorful as Sazon. It takes its viewers on a cultural experience to educate while making the world get up and dance.

They have proven that a rocky economy can be smoothed out with hard work, passion, and a fierce business mindset. Rosi and Brian Amador have turned their natural talents into a career that allows them to do what they love while being good parents to their daughters. It has been a successful year for Sol Y Canto, and they gave Spare Change News a recap on their past as artists and present as entrepreneurs.

SCN: It’s been a busy year for Sol Y Canto. Can you talk about some of your latest projects?

Rosi: We have two companies, Sol Y Canto and Amador Bilingual Voiceovers. We are at a point of transition with Sol Y Canto because for the last 27 years Brian and I have been fulltime musicians. In the last year we made a decision to pull back on touring, which is the only way you can make a living as a musician unless you play bars and clubs and we don’t do that, we do cultural presentations where we’re promoting minority culture, and that has a very particular clientele, performing art centers. It’s very labor intensive and very gratifying when you can get the gigs, but it’s very competitive.

Brian: Our daughters are 15 now and they kind of need us around more. So, we decided to bag the touring for a while and just do local stuff.

Rosi: We used to tour a lot. Back in the 80’s when we toured, we did 150 shows a year. Little by little, we brought it down to 80, and then in the last few years we’ve being doing about 30 to 40 shows. So, for the first time in our lives next year we’re going to do under 30 shows, which is really different. We’re still performing with Sol Y Canto. It’s our passion to do music. I’m a singer and he’s a guitarist and composer. We’re tending to more things locally and select things out of town. We’ve been touring a show about food called “Sabor y Memoria’’ (“Flavor and Memory’’). We’re in the beginning stages of turning our live performance into digital media. We don’t want to have to tour with 10 people and 100 images since we want to tour less. Instead, we want to create something that we can present in smaller venues with a screen, talk about the work and possibly play some music, but we can’t do what 10 people do, so we have a recording that we’ll play.

Brian: Sort of like karaoke with your own music.

SCN: Your “Flavor and Memory” project sounds amazing. Can you tell us more?

Brian. The idea is the suite in seven movements, which is like a big meal where every movement is a dish in this meal, from the appetizer to the dessert. It starts out with a song that’s called “Fas Fud,” but it says, Don’t talk to me about fast food/Don’t give me that garbage/I want food that’s made with love, pride and tradition. Then, it goes on to welcome the audience to this feast. It goes through several movements. There’s one about green things and how healthy and tasty they are. There’s one about the smell of chiles and how a smell can take you back to your childhood. There’s a movement about hunger. There’s a movement about tamales, which are a ubiquitous key part of cuisine all through Latin America. The Spanish priests, when they came to Mexico, fell in love with the tamales and ended up spreading them all over the Spanish Empire. So, now everywhere from Argentina and Chile and South America through the southwestern part of the United States there are variations with different names, but it’s all the same concept of masa with something inside wrapped in a leaf. So, then the suite ends with chocolata, its sort of a hymn to chocolate.

SCN: So, may I ask what’s your favorite food?

Brian: (laughter) I like spicy things in general. I love chocolate. I like enchiladas. It’s kind of like asking what’s a favorite song that I’ve written or which one of my kids is my favorite. No, I really don’t have a favorite food because there are a lot of things I really love.

Rosi: I have favorite foods. It’s funny how I realize in retrospect that they represent my identity because I’m a hybrid person because I’m from Puerto Rico. I came here when I was 16, and my mom was from New York, so I was raised bi-culturally and my dad is from Argentina. My three favorite foods happen to be platanos maduros, bacon, which represents the American part of me, and my third one is molleja, which a gland from a cow that’s made on the grill and it’s really popular in Argentina. Sweetbreads in English.

SCN: What’s mojella like?

Brian: It’s one of those things that most North Americans would say, eww. It’s more tender than a steak and it’s lighter in color. It smells a little funny before you cook it. (Laughter)

Rosi: Brian is a really good cook, which is why it’s so easy for him to write music about food. In fact, when we create this sort of digital media project we would like to integrate a cookbook with some of his recipes.

SCN: Do you have any idea of dishes you will feature?

Brian: Yeah, probably there will be a recipe for Tamales and “S’mas,’’a dessert that I invented. It’s sort of an Argentine version of s’mores. You take a graham cracker and a piece of chocolate, but beneath the chocolate instead of a marshmallow you have a layer of dulce de leche, and then you put chocolate on it and put in a toaster oven until it loses its shape.

SCN: You mentioned that one of your pieces was on hunger. Hunger is a very important issue for Spare Change.

Brian: I thought that in the midst of this work that’s really a celebration of food, you have to talk about hunger because not everybody has food. The song is a questioning of why that is, how there’s so much abundance, but there are people that have nothing. A lot of our songs have a political content, but I don’t like hitting people over the head with a political message or telling them what to think. I like posing a question.

SCN: What are your thoughts about homelessness?

Brian: I wish it didn’t exist. I think Massachusetts is better than a lot of states in terms of trying to make an effort to get people off of the streets. There are so many causes of homelessness, whether it’s circumstances, somebody falls into bad luck, mental illness, substance abuse, so obviously it’s a really complicated problem because you can’t solve one without trying to fix the others. I think it’s kind of a matter of luck that someone is hit with homelessness and not me because it can happen to any of us.

Rosi: I feel like through Sol Y Canto our goal has always been to address social injustice. Yes, we want to sing songs about hope, love, and happiness, but we also feel like we can shine a light on what’s going on and we just happen to do that through Latin music.

SCN: Brian, when you’re composing music what sparks an idea for a song?

Brian: That can vary a lot. If it’s instrumental music sometimes it’s just picking up my guitar and starting to play around and something pops out. When it’s a song with lyrics, generally I have an idea of some topic I want to address and I just struggle with it for a while and then I just phrase it the way I want to.

SCN: What age did you start writing?

Brian: Not until I was in my 20s.

SCN: As a couple, how did you meet and start to make beautiful music together?

Rosi: We met because we both applied to go to Nicaragua in the 1980s on a cultural exchange program. We went with a group of visual artists who painted murals and we went with other musicians. We got to know each other on that trip and it was there that we met, started making music together, and fell in love and actually formed our first band in 1984. So, the first band was dedicated to what we call Nueva canción, which is a song movement that was most prevalent in the 60s and 70s where poets and musicians sang about their social realities and they looked at the hard problems that Latin American countries were facing at that time. It was protest music, Latin style, and our first band came out of that because we were very impacted by what we experienced in Nicaragua. That group was entirely dedicated to politically inspired music and we used it as a chance to voice our ideals. Then with Sol Y Canto, 10 years later, our themes were broader and more humanistic in nature, but that root of our music is important to defining who we are and what we’ve done in our lives.

SCN: Besides music, your family has become very successful in the multimedia field and voiceover business. How have you managed all of this?

Rosi: Really from the beginning when we started doing Sol Y Canto we started getting calls just because we were known in the community to do narration of children’s stories. Over the years, it occurred to me that I really enjoyed doing that and I made a decision to start looking for more of that work. Initially, we started doing children’s stories and also I started getting a lot of work in the area of health. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health and a media producer contacted me and I did a huge project about AIDS and getting counseling and learning how to protect yourself. So, about three or four years ago I made a conscious decision to develop a voiceover career. I started becoming proactive and searching for health producers and letting them know that we were here and what we do is bilingual Spanish and English without an accent. We created our studio and started, so now most of our living is in voiceovers. Brian’s been doing more e-learning. We work with National Geographic, Scholastic, McGraw Hill, and the big publishing companies and we do it all out of our home studio.

SCN: How is it working together as husband and wife?

Brian: It’s easy for Rosi, but it’s a lot harder for me.

Rosi: Fortunately, we work well together. I’m the multitasker, overview, and marketing person. I’m very extroverted and I feel like I’m a good communicator and I’m very comfortable about talking about what we do.

Brian. And, I’m the spaced out artist. (Laughter)

Rosi: No. He’s more than a spaced out artist. If it weren’t for his composition and creativity we wouldn’t have anything to sell. I feel really lucky because while it’s not an easy life, it’s a life of our choosing. It’s a life that we’ve created. And, when many of my friends have lost their jobs, we’re working and not only are we working, we’re doing the work we love. We’re doing the work we’re creating and we’re raising our bilingual 15-year-olds and we get to decide when to spend time with them.

Brian: And, we can’t get fired. (Laughter)

Rosi: We have wonderful people that come to work with us. We seemed to be able to draw people that are creative like us and are interested in learning about a bunch of different things and being part of this crazy, artistic atmosphere that feeds us. I do wish that music had made us more money, but it didn’t and it definitely has been a struggle and we share that with many other musicians. We feel like we did a lot of things right and it didn’t produce money. Voiceovers fill a business need, music doesn’t.

Brian: Plus, it’s getting harder all the time to make a living doing music. For one thing people are going out much less to hear music live, so they’re fewer opportunities.

SCN: How is it raising two teenage girls and maintaining a family business?

Rosi: We’re a pretty tight family and we have involved them in our family business. So far, they seemed to be saying yes and they’re really talented singers. They both play guitar and one of them are composing already. They’re both into visuals arts. One is into animation and the other one is into drawing and painting. We love supporting them. In the summer we take our tours as way to have family vacations.

SCN: How will the Amador family celebrate the holidays?

Rosi: We celebrate the Jewish holidays and we see Christmas as a time of renewal – light in the dark, the solstice and we do celebrate it in that way. We always have a tree, as a symbol of those and we do love decorating. We see it as a time to send our intentions into the universe for our biggest wishes on the planet – world peace, that those who have not can find some solace and love, a time of gratitude for what we have – friends, family, love, a warm home and the ability to sing and narrate uplifting stories to plant our little seed out there to help others. We do a special ritual with candles where as a family we express gratitude in this way and wish for those who have less than we do. We remember our dear departed ones too.

NAKIA HILL is an assistant editor at Spare Change News.

PHOTOS/ COURTESY SOL Y CANTO

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