Amparo Mercedes Sanchez, the creative core of Spain’s Amparanoia, is smiling. I get the impression she smiles a lot, and she has every reason to. Her latest Latin-infused album is flying off the shelves helped by a recent BBC World Music Award and her band pack concert venues as reports of their thrilling live performances spread across Europe. It also means Amparo is very busy.
We are sat in the back of a limo darting through London with a Radio 4 session behind them and a gig at the Barbican’s La Linea ahead. Tomorrow the band jet off to play a festival in Belgium. Yet even with her hectic schedule, Amparo remains friendly and charming, smoking cigarettes while we talk about her new found global success.
“There’s a big influence from Cuban music, son, guaracha, and through this I’ve found this as a way to express myself that fits in well with me. But there are also ideas from Africa and the Balkans.”
“People around the world are realising that Amaparanoia is a fiesta,’ she enthuses. ‘There is always a great atmosphere. People always dance and sing along everywhere we go.”
Her energetic album La Vida Te Da successfully manages to capture that live sound by recording all the music live. Written in the creative atmosphere of Madrid’s Malasaña neighbourhood – also home to Ojos de Brujo and Manu Chao – the new album absorbs a wide range of influences. Joyfully flitting from rumba to mariachi, to son, to rock, to reggae; her fifth album is the new soundtrack to your summer.
“More than the type of music, we are the spirit of fusion but always in my style. We experiment with the music, the instruments and different sounds. The CD before this was more electronica, this is more acoustic and it was all recorded live.
“as a child you swallowed a microphone, and because of this you have that voice streaming out.”
“Each album is a reflection of the moment I find myself in,” Amparo explains. “There’s a big influence from Cuban music, son, guaracha, and through this I’ve found this as a way to express myself that fits in well with me. But there are also ideas from Africa and the Balkans.”
Amparo’s musical journey has been spectacular. Entering a Granada studio aged 16 with her first group Correcaminos, they recorded a blues rock record, a nod to her idol Billie Holliday.
Her itchy feet led her to the vibrant capital Madrid, in particular the Malasaña barrio; home to a potent cocktail of highly politicised theories and musical innovation.
It is also where she met her maestro y amigo Manu Chao who produced her debut album as Amparanoia, El Poder de Machin. (When he first heard Amparo’s soulful and powerful voice he said “as a child you swallowed a microphone, and because of this you have that voice streaming out.”)
Piling into a van with Manu Chao and his band Radio Bemba in 1997 Amparo and friends toured as Amparanoia for the first time. Although it is probably best to consider Amparanoia as a musical collective, with Amparo at the centre, such have the changes been in the line up.
However, it was on a trip to Mexico in 2000 that perhaps saw the most fundamental change, if not so obviously musical, then certainly philosophically. Seeing the poverty within the indigenous Zapatista communities and hearing the words of their outspoken revolutionary leader Sub-comandante Marcos, she saw a political ideology that she carried home in her heart. On her return Amparo promptly teamed up with Ojo de Brujo’s Eldys ‘Muneco’ Isak to form SoundSystemLaRealidad. They toured extensively highlighting their plight, raising money for the Zapatista communities at the same time.
The following tour led them to being signed to Virgin/EMI and the release of their first Europe-wide album Rebeldia con Alegria (Rebellion with Happiness). A suitably apt album title.
Subsequent albums have sold more and more, and world tours that have taken them from Glastonbury and WOMAD festivals in the UK around the world to Buenos Aires and Chile bringing them wider popularity. There have also been some fascinating collaborations with the likes of indie-rockers Caleixo and the Dutch-Brazilian electronica band Zuco 103. La Vida Te Da alone has four bonus tracks: the stand out being Permites Madrecita with the Argentine reggae/ska band Mimi y los Mimi Mauras.
So, with all their success, what on earth has Amparo got to be paranoid about?
“My music is positive, but my paranoia is making my music, singing my songs, my idea of fusion in the music, all the influences I have, all the music I’m going to encounter and how I’m going to translate all these into songs,” she tells me, still smiling.
The car stops and drops us near her friend’s house. “Keep walking with me,” she says, knowing there is more to talk about. We wander down the Edgware Road, stop at the cash machine, buy fruit; very informal and relaxed.
“There are lots of people I would like to work with but it has to be in a natural way,” she says as though thinking out loud. “There are lots of people who don’t have a name but if we get along, well then, we’ll work together.”
“I don’t look for the name of a person to work with,” Amparo continues. “but for the meeting of the music and…and la magica.”
Amparanoia’s new album La Vida Te Da is now available on Wrasse Records.
–Photo by Author–