Friday, February 24, 2012

Inspiring Latinos Series: The Amador Family

The Libro del Mes, or Book of the Month, for February on our sister site, the Latin Baby Book Club, is the audiobook, Lola's Fandango/El fandango de Lola. It was through this book, that I learned about the wonderful Amador family.

Brian and Rosi are the co-founders of the band Sol y Canto, a Pan-Latin ensemble that has played across the country in places such as the Kennedy Center, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and even the White House.

But they are also professional voice-over actors. And together with their twin daughters, Alisa and Sonia, they are the narrators of Lola's Fandango and many other audiobooks.

I found their story to be inspirational and one that I really wanted to share with you. The Amadors generously agreed to a short interview, which I'm happy to include below...

How did your family become involved in recording audiobooks?

Rosi: Since the late 1980’s Brian and I were approached by an artist educator colleague who knew us as Latin musicians, to do Spanish and English narrations for Scholastic online. After that, a number of children’s online eLearning publishers (whose products are used nationally in school and educational settings,) including National Geographic School Publishing, Houghton Mifflin, Hampton Brown, among others, also came through a local audio recording studio specializing in eLearning who had heard of us.

When we had our twins, Alisa and Sonia, in 1996, we of course started reading to them in Spanish at a very early age. We even translated books that were in English into Spanish as we read back in those early days. When the Harry Potter series was published, Brian read every single one of them in bed each night, using different accents for all of the characters. They loved it! I continued reading too, but mostly in Spanish.

Our love of narrating stories for children grew and we decided to approach audiobook publishers in 2010. The first was with Live Oak Media, an award-winning producer of distinctive read-along recordings of children’s literature for the school and library market for over 30 years. The husband and wife business owners (just like us!) "carefully select books and produce exceptional recordings that provide children with a meaningful reading and listening experience," says their website, and we agree!

Our very first bilingual audiobook under their umbrella was Mañana Iguana, which won a 2010 Notable Children's Recordings from the American Library Association. After a few more audiobooks with Live Oak Media, we found it easier to approach other audiobook publishers, including, most recently, Barefoot Books, based in the Boston area, where we live. They are an award-winning children’s book publisher with the mission of using the power of stories to nourish the creative spark in everyone and strengthen connections with family, the global community, and the earth. Barefoot Books has only recently gotten started publishing audiobooks, and we were thrilled to narrate two books in both English and Spanish for them, Lola’s Fandango/El Fandango de Lola and Delicious Hullaballoo/ Pachanga Deliciosa.

What is your family’s heritage and (how) does it influence your work?

Rosi: I am from Puerto Rico. My father was from Buenos Aires, Argentina and my mother was Nuyorican. Both of my parents were performers on stage and screen, in theater, movies, and live music. Brian is a Chicano/Gringo mongrel from Albuquerque, New Mexico. He grew up listening to rock, but realized later on that he had always loved Latin Music and the Mexican music he heard in his Grandma’s house as a child.

Our heritage affects our work in that from the outset Brian and I were drawn together by our bicultural/bilingual backgrounds. Initially we chose music as our vehicle for sharing our Latin heritage. Together we led two Latin bands that toured nationally and internationally, the second of which, Sol y Canto, is still active, though not touring as much as in the past. For both of us, singing Latin music reconnects us to our roots, since we have been living in the Boston area for several decades, far from where we were born and raised.

Also because of our bilingualism, and the fact that we are unusual in that we speak both English and Spanish without an accent, we have attracted audiobook publishers seeking to reach the bilingual market, particularly around educational themes.

Your family doesn’t just do the voiceovers for these audiobooks, but you also record and integrate your own original music, and even sound effects. Can you tell us what the process is like? How does an audiobook come to life through your efforts?

Brian: I usually start by going through the book with the audiobook producer to map out musical cues and the atmosphere they’re looking to create in different sections of the book. By musical cues I mean short compositions written to support the text. Then we usually record the narration before I begin working on the music, so that I can write the music to fit with the narration. Once this is done I set to work composing, sometimes sketching out several possible cues for a given section, which I send to the producer for review and feedback. Once we’ve decided which cues we want to use I flesh them out, record them and finally, mix the narration and the music together.

As for the sound effects, I prefer to use home made effects whenever possible. For example, the falling fruit sounds in The Parrot Tico Tango/El Loro Tico Tango were created by dropping objects of different sizes and shapes into the empty case of our bombo, a large Andean drum and adding some reverberation effects! In Lola’s Fandango/El Fandango de Lola in a scene where the downstairs neighbor was annoyed by the ruckus of a party he bangs on the ceiling with a broomstick. To simulate this I pounded on a closet door with my hand. In a different scene where the rain is dripping on the window in a flamenco rhythm, I experimented with dripping water on different surfaces until I found the one I liked (a cookie sheet), then I edited the recording digitally to make the drops fall in rhythm!

[In terms of] the voiceover narration itself, the characters sometimes call for a variety of voices, which we come up with depending on each personality. We often have to voice more than one character and we draw on our acting skills, as well as our much practice producing different sounding voices. This goes for our daughters as well, because, for example, one of our twins, Sonia, who is 15, had to portray a 9 year old girl, so she purposely chose a younger voice when narrating her part. I played two roles: one as narrator, and one as Lola’s mama, for which I used two different sounding voices, one with a touch of Hispanic accent (for the mami) and one in straight English for the narrator. In Spanish this was of course not necessary, so I simply made sure to make the voices sound distinct.

You now have several children’s "talking" books on the market. What other titles can MommyMaestra readers enjoy?

We have the following audiobooks now available for kids from pre-school to 6th grade (see our website for age recommendations) at

On Barefoot Books:
The Parrot Tico Tango/El Loro Tico Tango (published in English and Spanish, separately).

The following titles on Live Oak Media:
Mañana Iguana – English with splashes of Spanish
Delicious Hullaballoo (Completely bilingual)
César Chávez: The Struggle for Justice (completely bilingual)
Hill of Fire – English with splashes of Spanish

On Lorito Books:
The Case of the Pen Gone Missing/El Caso de la Pluma Perdida

Do you have any more titles coming out soon?

Yes, we do! Live Oak Media has just sent us two new books! Hola Mar/Hello Ocean, which will be narrated by our daughter Sonia, and Fiesta Fiasco – the sequel to Mañana Iguana.

Lastly, Rosi, you mentioned in an email that your family is committed to Latino education. Why is this important to you, and how do you see your role in it?

We feel that it’s very important for children of a Hispanic background understand and appreciate their culture as it’s important for all kids in this country to learn about the contributions of different cultures. By raising our daughters bilingually we know that we have given them a treasure: another way to look at the world and understand it. They often express their gratitude to us for having insisted that we speak only Spanish at home, even though when they were younger they did sometimes complain. By narrating educational audiobooks we hope to contribute to the cause of providing high quality educational resources to kids far and wide.

We have also done this through our music, since in 2003 we recorded a bilingual children’s CD called El Doble de Amigos/Twice as Many Friends, which is available on our website, This CD was released nationally by Rounder Records and is still a popular item in our catalog. It won a Parents’ Choice Award and received critical acclaim. Our twins, 7 at the time, also sang on several of the songs! It features a combination of original and traditional Latin children’s songs in the toe-tapping, danceable styles of plena, son, calypso, reggae and more. Our intent is to immerse children in the joys of a bilingual musical fiesta and introduces them to rhythms from Puerto Rico, Cuba and much more in a completely interactive musical and joyful experience. Songs address topics including numbers, days of the week, parts of the body, self- esteem, the environment, peace, flying kites, celebrating bilingualism and Puerto Rican circle game songs. We also continue to perform in school settings where we offer highly interactive educational programs on Latin music and culture with lyrics expressing our belief in peace, hope, cross-cultural understanding and environmental stewardship as well as programs that highlight the roots of our Latin music.

To learn more about the Amadors and the making of their book, Lola's Fandango, check out this video that they made for Barefoot Books.


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