An interview with Antonio Sánchez

By Roy Moonen

Last Monday we had the honor of having two great artists as guests at Jazz Maastricht: The incredibly talented vocalist Jazzmeia Horn and genius drummer/composer Antonio Sánchez. As the new marketing assistant, I (Roy Moonen, nice to meet you!) had the chance to sit down with Antonio and ask him a few questions.

I had the chance to talk to him right before he went on stage to perform. I’d already enjoying seeing him in action during the sound-check so, as a drummer, I couldn’t wait to ask him lots of technical questions. However, because the ‘theme’ of the concert was ‘Jazz with a Message’, I thought it was a good idea not only to talk about his music but focus more in his message. What does he want to share with his audiences? What does he care about? Here are the results of our conversation:

This was my first time conducting an interview so I was both nervous and excited. However, When Antonio walked in he gave off such a nice and calm vibe that, even though he had to go on stage directly after, we quickly relaxed into the conversation.

Roy: Firstly, thanks for taking the time to talk with me. How is the tour going so far?

Antonio: Well, we just arrived from New York two days ago, and have already been to France and Italy, so we’re still a bit jet-lagged (which explains the double espresso he asked for at the beginning of the interview).

R.: You have 14 shows coming up only with a few breaks, do you have any plans for your days off?

A.: Yes, Sleep, sleep, sleep… Sleep is a rare commodity on tours. Just rest. We also like to hang out and visit the cities we’re staying in but in 21 years of tour experience, I know that you don’t always get the opportunity to do that.

R.: What do you enjoy most about being on tour?

A.: Playing the music and developing the music. For example, today is going to be the fourth day that we play the music live, ever. We recorded the songs and I did some post-production and mixing. Then gave the record to the band, so they could learn the songs instead of writing it down. Because this kind of music is really hard if you’re reading it: There are two tracks that are over 20 minutes, so it’s like 17 pages. It’s a nightmare to try to read that.

What I enjoy most about the tour is when you start getting familiar with the music and you start finding out what you can do with it. It’s like you dance with somebody for the first time, you step on each other sometimes. But then after a few days, you start finding your space within the music with the other people and discover what the music is about.

R.: On your website, you’re quite outspoken about what you see as the artist’s role in society, especially regarding politics. Can you tell me more about that?

A.: I have always been curious about politics and how politics and law work. Especially because I’m a Mexican citizen. I was born in Mexico and immigrated to the US in 1993. The immigration process was very hard for me because I’m Mexican. My family was well-off, I wasn’t coming to the States to suck on the resources of the country.  I was just coming to study music, so I didn’t pose a threat. But still trying to do it legally was just so hard and now it’s getting worse. What’s been missing the last couple of years, especially since Donald Trump took office, is a general sense of empathy for other human beings. The album ‘Lines in the sand’ is all about that. Obviously, it’s borders. I’m an American citizen and I’m very disheartened by what’s going on especially in the States with the far right. But in Europe too and the rest of the world. It’s like a world trend.

It’s very worrisome also with the climate thing. How can you not pay attention to that? How can you be so short-sighted? This makes no sense to me. But, one positive aspect of it is that people are a lot more engaged it seems like. I am more engaged definitely in what’s going on. It has changed my art. The record ‘Bad Hombre’ was the beginning of these kinds of statements on my albums. The record ‘Lines In The Sand’ has a couple of poems about immigration. A friend of mine did a beautiful poem at the very end of the record, which is like a pledge of allegiance, like what you do to the flag, but then from the point of view of an immigrant. It’s beautiful and really touching. I played it for a friend of mine that unfortunately has been in the States for a long time as an illegal immigrant and he was very moved. We can all identify with it.

It’s important to have a platform, either a stage or making a record and to speak up. Some of the greatest art has been changed and shaped by conflict and by bad things happening. If everything was beautiful all the time, we would all be making smooth Jazz. Bad stuff gets channeled through art and we are seeing some of that. I’m certainly one of the people that haven’t been hit very hard by what’s going on. I have nothing to complain, I was always one of the lucky ones.

R.: Do you think the Jazz scene specifically is or could be more outspoken about their political issues?

A.: I think a lot of band leaders in Jazz are usually shy with the microphone, to begin with. They don’t love speaking on the mic. I don’t love speaking on the mic, but I feel like if I have the mic and I have something to say it’s my chance to say it. I don’t want to make it seem like, this is right and this is wrong. But to me, it’s all about empathy and love nowadays. If you see somebody that has a very hard situation and needs help, what’s your human reaction? And what’s your human reaction if it’s a blond person or a black person or an Asian person or a Latino person? You should hopefully be able to look at people just as human beings, but society has obviously taught us that, that’s not usually the case. Even when the United States is such a diverse country.

R.: If you could place a billboard anywhere in the world and put anything on it, where would you put it and what would it say?

A.: I would put it on the white house right now with ‘EVERYBODY IS WELCOME’, because to me that has been lost in the United States. It used to be the land of opportunity. The United States has an interesting story, but also because it’s so diverse it has a very bloody story as well and a lot of racism and discrimination. Right now, Donald Trump and the white house are closing the doors without asking any questions. It’s obvious what kind of immigrants are the ones that they don’t want. They pick and choose who they would like and who they wouldn’t like, and this has usually got to do with money and skin color.

R: Do you have any recommendations on artists you’ve met or seen, albums you listen to, or new music you think we should check out?

A: Anderson Paak, I like a lot of his stuff. Bonobo has some cool stuff too. Bibio an English artist. There is an album that I love. It’s a couple of years ago already: Beck’s ‘Morning Phace’ I listen to that album all the time. And I’m kind of rediscovering Radiohead. The last album ‘A moon shaped pool’, I love that, beautiful.

R.: Thank you so much for doing this interview.

A.: Sorry we didn’t have that much time.

R.: I’m glad you made some time for us and I hope you’ll have a good time on stage!

A.: Are you going to stay for the gig?

R.: Of course!

Then the show began:

First, Jazzmeia Horn: From the start of the show it was clear that she is an amazingly talented vocalist with great stage-presence, sound, technique and a great sense of feel. Her scatting was impressive, to say the least: she threw lines back and forth between herself and the band with ease. All in all, a fantastic performance!

Then a break and the second half began: I was looking forward to seeing Antonio Sánchez “Migration” live. Their whole set was one dynamic journey through different atmospheres. They played a 1.5-hour set, but because there was such diversity it was surprising and interesting until the end. Their combination of acoustic and electronic instruments was a nice shock after Jazzmeia’s purely acoustic set, and together with Thana Alexa’s vocals created a surprising depth and diversity to a drummer-lead band.

Then, in the middle of the set Antonio went up to the mic. He took the chance to talk about their music and the message they want to send out to the people, closing with: ‘Our music is mostly about hope and about trying to remember that empathy for other human beings is a basic thing…’ As he put down the mic  his message was met with loud applause from the hall. This small moment was a highlight in a show which was a musical and technical tour-de-force. Full of experimentation and daring ideas, Antonio and Migration managed to keep their driving energy going until the end of the set which left me feeling inspired and glad to be part of such a great evening.

Upcoming concerts

Tin Men & the Telephone + Christian Klinkenberg – November 20th
Hailey Tuck & Tim Finoulst Trio – December 6th
Maastricht Jazz Awards – Finals – December 11th

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