Amparo Sanchez, a Spanish diva with traction throughout the Latin world, has spent decades making merry with words set to a kaleidoscope of musical influences. In this same vein, and after a lapse in recording of over six years, we find in Mi Génetica, a reconfiguration of Sanchez’ flagship group, Amparanoia (ouch! An amparo is a refuge or shelter; the suffix needs no translation), and a generous serving of invited players, adding oomph with a tuba on two tracks, punched up percussion and a more pronounced electric guitar sound. In good cheer, the musicians, known together as the Himnopsis Colectiva, take us on a romp through selected rhythms from the Hispanic world and beyond: from cumbia to chicha, to flamenco, to sounds from the Maghreb, Jamaican reggae and more.
Like her compatriotas Concha Buika and Martirio, Sanchez is a one-of-a-kind artist, inescapably kindled by flamenco; she is a self-proclaimed cantaora with the soul of flamenco infusing her identity. At the same time she’s been schooled in the sway of the Caribbean, taken extended stays in Mexico, picked up the brassy sounds of the Balkans, and is beholden to the US for the blues and Billie Holiday. With a voice that’s sensual and imperious, bold and gravelly, she lets you know immediately she’s a woman to reckon with, a #MeToo champion long before the movement coalesced.
Her songs have purpose; they reflect Sanchez’ values as a champion of the those who struggle and of women’s rights. Defining was the time spent in Chiapas, with the Sandinistas in the Lacandón forest, imbibing indigenous culture and activism; it was here where she came to understand that message and music can overlap seamlessly. To the point, in an interview with La Jornada, in 2005, she said: “‘El mensaje' va acompañado de música y alegría, también de rebeldía y reivindicación. Es un reflejo de mi caminar por la vida.” (“Music and alegría accompany my message as does rebelliousness and the righting of wrongs. It’s a reflection of my path through life.”)
Sanchez vaunts that she has succeeded in usurping the province of men by producing and recording her own and others’ music (Mamita Records is her label), and she is committed to act as a bellwether for other women. She’s also keen on seeing women insinuate themselves into the nuts and bolts of the recording process, as in stage settings, lighting, sound, etc. In further advancing her commitment to empower women, Sanchez has spoken and written about her experiences with abusive men. Lest one imagine that Amparo Sanchez likes to hang out on the couch, she is also a novelist and a poet.
Sanchez drolly bookends the album with two short pieces. The first, “HC Intro,” is an instrumental, with an eerie electronic swath of sound and Sanchez’ voice in high, high, register draped behind the unmistakable ticking of a metronome. The suggestion, of course, is of a hipnosis session. The Himnopsis collective gives us the countdown, “3, 2, 1,” and we awake from our somnolence before they proceed with “Mi Genética,” a bouncy reggae tune that I find a bit repetitive musically, but full of good, breezy cheer as, backed by what could be a children’s chorus, in a child-like voice she counts off the many members of her family who gave her the love of dance. She’ll reprise “Mi Genética” further along, this time with a grounded dub beat.
“Cumbia Perfecta” riffs on the Latin world’s favorite pop rhythm, veering urbanward, i.e., more socially engaged and wired. As have many tunes of the genre, "Cumbia Perfecta" has an unabashedly infectious beat, helped along by the trademark shuffle delivered by drum set and brushes. Inescapable here is the refrain “…feel the cumbia, feel the cumbia…,” as the collective calls Latinas to get out and onto the streets to clamor for women’s rights. And to dance!
In the closing bookend, “Estrellas,” Sanchez brings the fervor down to a simple, personal ballad, just her vocal and guitar, a minute long, with occasional electronic suggestions of space flight. She sings of from where she comes and will ultimately return: the stars of far off times that have sent her to Earth and towards a better future. Both lyrics and arrangement convey a lovely lassitude that somehow also speaks of pride in her otherness—that she can be “with us,” yet still be an outsider.
Whether earthbound or in the ethers, Sanchez and the Himnopsis crew’s many elements coalesce into a unified sound in Mi Genética, claiming a satisfying pop niche that’s playful, tongue-in-cheeky and in-your-face.
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