A teenage girl with a neon green pixie cut opens the lavender door.
“Oh, hold on, I’ll go get her,” she says, then follows it up with, “I’m her daughter.”
Within seconds I’m greeted by the sound engineer, the family dog and Brian, the father. Then Rosi Amador greets me in the kitchen with a huge smile and the voice that has been called “friendly,” “sparkling,” and “warm” by her clients – the reason they seek her out. Though she’s a voice actress, it seems she doesn’t have to put on much of an act to warrant these descriptions.
The Amadors are a bilingual family, who have made a niche for themselves in the voice-over world by being able to provide male and female voices for a range of ages and personalities, to write and perform original music and do all of this in both English and Spanish.
“Voiceover is definitely a performance art. It’s really acting without the visual aspect, which can make it even more challenging,” explains Rosi.
Rosi and Brian bring me downstairs to their home studio, where the original wooden walls from 1850 provide, as Rosi puts it, wonderful natural acoustics, as well as some insulation from the trains that run past their backyard. (“We call them, ‘train parties,’” Rosi says. “We actually wrote a song about it.”)
Hardcover books line the shelves and a soundproof curtain blocks out the sounds of sedans and children eager to enjoy the last hours of sunlight after school. If not for the sleek microphones and sound monitors, this could be a cozy library, but this unassuming basement room is where the Amador family has recorded the voices for thousands of commercials, PSAs and e-learning guides. Rosi tells me about a regular client of hers, Mattress Firm, which is a large company in the South. They ask her to record all of their commercials first in English, then in Spanish.
“In Spanish we have one-and-a-half to one-and-a-third more words than in English,” Rosi says, “Usually the copy is written in English, and it fits like a glove into the amount of time, but if you’re doing it in Spanish …”
“These particular ads are very upbeat and energetic. If you’re upbeat and energetic in English, you have to be frenetic in Spanish,” Brian laughs.
“And make it sound casual, totally normal,” Rosi says. I suggest that she must be quite the rapper. “As a matter of fact …” she laughs. Rosi raps on “the Banana Song,“ written by Brian, which has been one of the most popular tunes in their band, Sol y Canto’s repertoire for years. This fall marks their 30th year of performing music together, much of which has been written and performed in Cambridge bars and music halls, as well as more unconventional venues such as local yoga studios.
In 1997, when they released their bilingual children’s CD, Cambridge declared the day of the show “Sol y Canto Day” in recognition of their contributions to the city. “We love where we live because it’s quiet and peaceful, and yet has easy access to so many areas where there’s always something to do, great musical venues, fabulous food and a diverse community,” she adds.
Though the family has tight ties to Cambridge – Rosi has been here since 1981, Brian since 1985, andtheir daughters learned to read and write in these public schools – they haven’t always called their house with the lavender door home.
Rosi grew up in a bilingual household in Puerto Rico, and channels her father’s attempts at English when clients ask for “English with a Hispanic accent,” a request they see more and more often. Brian says his regular New Mexican accent is often enough for these types of recordings.
Recently Brian and Rosi were commissioned to do PSAs about wage theft targeted at Hispanic immigrants in Southern California. These are the sorts of jobs that Rosi prefers to do, sending a message to migrant workers about their rights or narrating tales of overfishing and ocean pollution, as she recently did for the Seafood Watch program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Her voice, bright and warm, informs Spanish-speaking pescavores on how they can find sustainably-sourced seafood. Rosi, Brian, and sometimes their daughter Alisa, who has a “mature voice” according to Rosi, do voice-overs for PBS documentaries or commercials for domestic abuse shelters. Sonia, their other daughter, has a younger-sounding voice, and has recently done the voices for a children’s computer game teaching Spanish. Both girls are thinking about continuing their voice-over work as they begin college this fall.
At 18, the twins already have quite the resume. The Amadors have recorded e-books together, such as Lola’s Fandango – for which they voiced all of the characters and recorded original music – for Cambridge-based publisher Barefoot Books. Brian also wrote and performed the music for Barefoot’s The Parrot Tico Tango, and recently recorded the Spanish version of their The Wheels on the Bus e book. Alisa, following in her father’s footsteps, writes and performs her own music with her parents’ band. When she greets me, it’s with her mother’s same wide smile.
“We raised the girls bilingually,” Rosi says, “and when they were younger, they hated it. They’d come home and ask why they needed to speak Spanish at home, why they couldn’t speak English. But now they’re grateful for it. It opens up so many doors.”
And, as native speakers of both languages, the Amadors are uniquely suited for the anonymity called for in commercial voice-overs to appeal to large swathes of people.
“We don’t have an accent in English or Spanish, so we could be from anywhere. Folks don’t know where we’re from,” Rosi says.
Fortunately for Cantabridgians, the Amadors always remember the community they’re from, and we can count them amongst our cultural treasures. “The city of Cambridge and its community definitely inspired us, embraced us and encouraged us to keep on singing over the last 30 years,” says Rosi.
The Amadors perform regularly around Boston and will be playing a concert and benefit on July 25 at the Democracy Center (45 Mt. Auburn St.) For more info, visit amadorbilingualvoiceovers.com or solycanto.com.