é | Tony Succar
Tony Succar, the mastermind behind Unity: A Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson, talks us through what it takes to bring Jackson to life in a whole new way...
If you haven’t already fallen in amore with Tony Succar’s beautifully arranged album, Unity: A Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson, you might want to run- not walk – yourself to the nearest speaker system, plug in your music-player-of-choice and blast it.
This is a reimagining of some of Jackson’s most wildy loved classics, songs that are sure to get stuck in your head time and time again. Succar has managed to take songs we’re familiar with – songs that everyone in the known world has been obsessing over for decades – and transform them into something new, while still keeping their heart and soul intact. That’s no small feat, and we’re more than a little impressed (and jealous of) his incredibly talent for it.
When it comes to Michael Jackson, Tony is a bonafide expert, and today he’s sharing that expertise with all of you. Have your dancing shoes ready, because things are about to get a whole lot hotter up in here, and once you’ve starting playing these tracks you’re not going to want to stop.
é: You love to create Latin-infused arrangements of classical or well-known music. What inspired that originally?
Tony: I’ve always loved fusing different styles of music. It all started in school when I would be given assignments to take old classic jazz standards and convert them into the Latin format. I always got a kick out of that. However, with this project, it was a pretty cool story…
I came up with the concept over four years ago. When Michael passed away three years ago, like many MJ fans around the world, I sat in disbelief, dumbfounded, experiencing one of the saddest moments of my life. A couple of months after his passing, I felt an unquenchable urge to pay homage to Michael’s legacy. I had no idea what I was going to do, or how I was going to do it; I simply knew I needed to follow my heart. It just so happened that in October of 2009, I got a call from an agent who hired my band. His name is Randy Singer, and he wanted to put together a Halloween party for a local club on South Beach. He had the idea of making it a Thriller themed costume party, everyone looking like zombies and all that… To make a long story short, the band I had at the time was a strict salsa band. We played some other styles, but very few, it was mainly salsa. Randy wanted to me to perform Thriller for that night, so I went ahead and got the idea of creating a salsa arrangement to Thriller so we could perform it live. When I sat down and wrote that arrangement, performed it, and saw how much the people went crazy for it… that’s when it all began.
I had finally discovered what I could do for Michael, his legacy, his music, and his messages. My goal with paying tribute was to embody Michael’s essence by focusing this Tribute on his message of UNITY. Unity is something that I saw in his lyrics, his music, in his dance, and his way of being. He always looked to unite people, unite cultures, and unite talent. I wanted to expand on his message by interpreting his music in a new way; in a way where I could express myself fully, because expression is in my Latin DNA. This way it would result in something new. I was hoping that I could continue his legacy, and show the world how he influenced me and how important he still is to all of us.
Can you name a few of your major influences?
I have a lot… Tito Puente, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Chucho Valdez – Irakere, Stevie Wonder, Busta Rhymes, Hector Lavoe, Celia Cruz, Adalberto Alvarez.
Those are some great artists. Now, we were thrilled to hear your rendition of Smooth Criminal. It should really be a crime for a song to sound that good! What other songs are featured on Unity: A Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson?
Thanks! I Want You Back, Billie Jean, Man In The Mirror, Sera Que NO Me Amas (Blame it on the Boogie), Earth Song, Human Nature, Todo Mi Amor Eres Tu (I Just Can’t Stop LovinG you), Black or White, They Don’t Care About Us, Thriller, and You Are Not Alone.
How did you choose the songs that would go on the record?
The repertoire was chosen by listening to his discography over and over again, and then trying to choose the most iconic songs which could also sound good in the latin format. Not all songs sound good with latin arrangements, and I didn’t want to force anything that didn’t flow. I also wanted to choose songs that really spoke about MJ’s strong message, like Earth Song, Black or White, Man In The Mirror, They Don’t Care About Us, etc… That’s what this project is about, unity and love.
I also wanted to include some songs from when MJ was with the Jacksons. I thought that was important. Plus, those automatically make you wanna dance!
You opted to use Kickstarter to fund the initial stages of production. That sort of campaign is becoming more and more popular these days. Was the initial response on Kickstarter positive?
SUPER POSITIVE… I was actually thinking that it wasn’t going to work, but you’ll be surprised about how many people really do care about you and your vision…
Always believe in yourself!
Wise words. Can you tell us a story or two from recording the album? Any memorable moments?
There were two songs that I did after we recorded the album, which were specifically custom-made for specific artists. Theses weren’t planned for the record, but then I got inspired after meeting/working with the artists.
Smooth Criminal – I always wanted to do this song, but I never thought anyone could actually sing it the way I wanted it. When I recorded Jean on Billie Jean, after that session, that’s when I said to myself, “Wow, Jean would KILL Smooth Criminal.” So then I arranged that song and we went back in the studio to do that one additional track.
You Are Not Alone – Now, this was a special request by Tito Nieves. He said that he really liked that song, so I arranged it for him as a surprise. He ended up singing it with Tito Nieves JR, and it became such a special song…. it was the first time he ever recorded something with his son.
For the song Todo Mi Amor Eres Tu, I was planning to have Obie sing the song with another female artist, but he asked me if we could involve his wife, Jennifer Peña. I didn’t know he was married to her, and for me that was a huge blessing!
We heard that you had a hard time securing the licensing rights to Jackson’s work. How did you manage to obtain those in the end?
Yes, that was super difficult. It took me about two years. After receiving so many nos, I decided to put it to rest for a while and “cool the waters down.” I had a trip to NYC planned, and I met this guy who was super close to one of the guys at the publishing company, someone who had a lot of influence on what goes or doesn’t go. Then, the guy I met fell in love with the project, and he sent it to his friend at the publishing company, and that was it: Doors opened!
I also sent a letter to the MJ estate informing them about the project and sending them the record. I think that helped. John Branca was very nice to me, and he said the project sounded fascinating.
With Unity: A Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson out now, what’s next for you?
Many more projects to come! Unity #2 for sure, but also more of my original stuff. I love to write a lot of Latin jazz music…
We’ll be looking out for that. If you could go back in time, and give your sixteen-year-old self any piece of advice, what would that be?
Work hard and don’t lose focus, if you’re passionate about something go after it! Dreams do come true so NEVER GIVE UP! Bottom line… Always believe in yourself!
And last, just for fun, what song is currently stuck in your head?
They Don’t Care About Us by Michael Jackson.
Of course! It’s stuck in my head too, now. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us! We’re excited to see what you’ll come up with next.
There you have it, folks! Download your copy of Unity: A Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson, and watch out for more great interviews with Unity artists here at Latin é.