Tony Succar’s “Unity” is the Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson. It’s an album, touring concert, and PBS television special hosted by Sheila E. in which stars of Latin music play our favorite Michael Jackson hits ~ Salsa style, con el sabor Latino (with Latin flavor).
Review of Tony Succar’s “Unity”
by Keith Widyolar
Listening to Tony Succar’s “Unity” or watching the concert gives me the chills. These are the classic Michael Jackson songs that we all know and love. But they are done with “el sabor Latino,” the Latin flavor that is inside so many of us ~ even many of us who are not born Latin. Listening to these songs is like meeting an old love again for the first time.
The message of “Unity” is powerful. Together we are strong. It’s not about only Black and Latin. Black and Latin is the same thing anyway because most of us came to the Americas through Cuba or Brazil.
“Unity” has the power to resonate with all Americans. This is such an awkward moment in our political history. The message of “Unity” is that it doesn’t matter whether our heritage is African, European, Native American, Latin, Asian, Middle Eastern or whatever, we are Americans first and citizens of earth second. We can spin off of each other’s ideas and create something wonderful together.
Playing Michael Jackson as Salsa is a brilliant concept. Michael’s music charmed many of us over entire lifetimes. Though Michael has moved on, his music has become part of our universal heritage.
Salsa can be just fun, but Latin music has an inherent spirituality. Fun, love, and the Spirit are in the same line for us. The syncopated upbeats in Salsa float rhythms above the downbeat. Something happens in Salsa when the musicians become one, and you become one with the music, the energy of the entire room levitates. It floats. It’s a magical mystery tour created from nothing but the rhythms of many hearts beating as one.
Tony speaks to this character of Jackson’s music, “Michael wasn’t only a musician, he was a spiritual person. He was speaking to people’s hearts through his music.”
“Michael wasn’t only a musician, he was a spiritual person. He was speaking to people’s hearts through his music.”
~ Tony Succar
There is something magical and mystical about the entire “Unity” project. Tony is Peruvian-born and grew up in a musical family in Miami. He grew up listening to Michael Jackson with his parents. Tony has a Masters in Jazz Performance from Florida International University, but was basically a local Miami musician.
Then a client hired Tony to play a Halloween gig and asked him to be sure to play Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” The audience reaction was so overwhelming that Tony recorded it at home and started giving away copies on the Internet and CDs. DJs began playing the track. Soon Tony started getting requests from around the world for an entire Latin-flavored album of Michael Jackson songs.
Tony did a Kickstarter campaign that generated enough money to record some basic tracks.
Tony says, “The one thing that stood out in Michael’s music was love. The reality was unity,” he says. “I also wanted the title to stand for something: a real marriage between Latin roots and American pop culture, and to keep Michael’s legacy alive.”
From there “Unity” grew up out of the Latin community. While developing the project, Tony got the idea of doing a compilation album. The first artist he reached out to was legendary Puerto Rican salsa singer Tito Nieves. Nothing happened for months. Then one day in the studio, someone suggested Nieves for “I Want You Back.” A visitor happened to know Nieves, called his manager and in 10 minutes Tito was on the phone asking when he could record the vocals.
Nieves became the project’s Padrino (Godfather). Soon India, Jean Rodriguez, and Obie Bermúdez were on board. Tony hit similar walls trying to get Jon Secada into the project. After switching studios, Tony ran into a recording engineer who knew Secada. Liking Tony’s story, the engineer gave Succar the singer’s email. Secada immediately replied that he wanted to record his favorite Jackson song, “Human Nature.”
The music and performances are moving and fun, but the deepest message of Tony Succar’s “Unity” ~ The Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson is that if we open our hearts to building something together, our country will grow in ways that seem impossible right now. Tony Succar reached unimaginable heights through the power of the Latin community working together. We don’t have to be exactly the same, but together in unity, we can make the American Dream a reality.
The photo is Tony with Sheila E. by Ciprian Iacob. Courtesy of the artist.