Victor-Sabi If Barack Obama spoke Spanish, he might sound something like Victor Sabi, who narrates the former president's Spanish translation of the audiobook "A Promised Land."
Image via Rebecca Russ

Victor Sabi’s childhood dream was to tell stories. Today, as an award-winning voice actor, he is telling the stories—in Spanish—of world leaders Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela.

Last month, former President Barack Obama published his latest memoir “A Promised Land.” He even narrates the English audiobook version. But Victor Sabi, a 27-year-old Dominican, is the voice behind the Spanish-language version. The voice actor, who was born and raised in Santo Domingo, was beyond grateful when he learned he landed the gig. He was selected from a pool of candidates from around the world to narrate the book. But the process wasn’t easy. 

Sabi had participated in a narrative casting in the middle of the year along with many other talented voice actors from the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean—including the Dominican Republic. 

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“I didn’t know what the project was specifically. All I knew is that it was for an audiobook narration. After a few months, they confirmed to me in a virtual call that I had been chosen for this important project. Recording all the material lasted about a full month, and it was quite challenging because the idea was that the worldwide launch of the version narrated by the former President would see the light on par with the version narrated in Spanish,” Sabi told The Americano in an exclusive interview.

His passion for telling stories began at a young age. When he was a little boy he would dream about creating his own animated series. 

“However, at the time, in my country there was not yet the academic nor economic resources to venture into the area,” he said. “As I grew older, I realized that I had to choose something to dedicate myself to but that was also in line with my original goal. So, I thought about the voice actors who bring the characters to life in animated series like “The Boondocks,” “The Simpsons,” etc., using their voices.” 

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At the time, Sabi was already looking into a career in advertising that would include both his love for graphic design and sound arts. He eventually went on to study voice acting at the ENL, then studied commercial voiceover techniques, acting skills, long-form narratives, and dubbing skills through World Voices in the Dominican Republic, a nonprofit association of professional voice talent. He also studied integral creativity at Brother Creative School.

“So, little by little I was preparing myself until I was fully trained as a voice talent. The origin of everything was that of a little boy who dreamed of giving life to his own characters, using his voice and his illustration skills,” he said. “What I love the most about this discipline is that through voice acting you can convey intense emotions only by using the instrument we work with. When we use our vocal instrument correctly, we can touch the fibers of the listener and with this, achieve great changes.”

Barack Obama’s “A Promised Land” isn’t the first autobiography Sabi narrates. His very first audiobook narration was the autobiography of Nelson Mandela, “A Long Walk to Freedom,” which nailed him a nomination for the Society of Voice Arts and Sciences Award for Audio Narration, Non-fiction, Best Spanish Voiceover. He is currently working on another audiobook for another international leader and admits to really enjoying “A Promised Land.”

“It’s like the more you read it, the more you become part of the story. I was always a follower of Obama; for me he represents an inspiration. If I had the chance to talk to him, I would ask him what he thought of my narration and if he thinks I should improve on something,” he said. “I would also ask how much a dollar really costs?”

Sabi believes that the warm elements in his voice probably helped him land this gig along with his experience narrating Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. Sabi sounds like what you’d imagine Obama to sound like if he was fluent in Spanish—graceful, eloquent, and warm.

Obama has always been known for his way of speaking. He’s not just a straight talker, but he very much understands the power of language. He uses his words carefully and wisely. And he always speaks with confidence. He’s a president known for his rhetorical speech skills, and Sabi does an exquisite job capturing that in his Spanish version. 

He hopes that this opportunity will not just open doors for himself, but for other talented young artists in the Dominican Republic and across Latin America, as well. 

“The former president is a well-loved and respected leader around the world. Somehow, I already knew that the news would generate a media impact. I am a bit shy and I always like to be on the sidelines. However, at the same time, it gives me great satisfaction to know that the Spanish-speaking community can access this interesting story and that I had the privilege of being able to narrate it,” he said.

“The greatest satisfaction comes from being useful to others, and if I can be useful using one of my gifts, then I must be grateful for it,” Sabi said.

Sabi, who considers himself a storyteller, sees himself continuing to tell stories like these that inspire people. But he also wants to venture out into acting, as well as dubbing in documentary narration, and hasn’t given up on his dreams of starting his own animation project. He admits to already writing a few scripts for it. But he’s also the first to admit that the COVID-19 pandemic has come with its fair share of challenges. 

“For us, in particular, it was quite challenging since we had to do long hours of recording and we had to record as much as possible in one day and then go home and not interfere with the curfew here in the Dominican Republic. Regardless of that, safety was always a priority for us,” he said. “The fact that I can continue to be productive during these times of [the] pandemic makes me feel very lucky and grateful. I think the biggest challenge here is empathy; if we all abide by this value, we will soon get out of this.”