Marc Anthony was halfway through a Q&A session during Wednesday’s session of the 25th Billboard Latin Music Conference (April 23) when a fire alarm alerted hundreds of music executives, aspiring musicians, and photographers gathered inside a 19th floor ballroom of the JW Marquis Marriot in Miami to head for the nearest exit.
“Do we have to go?" a subdued Anthony asked Leila Cobo, Billboard Executive Director of Latin Content & Programming, as a collective murmur of indecisiveness and pockets of commotion echoed off the walls as many in the crowd could be heard debating whether to leave the engaging and charismatic performer, who literally controls the crowd’s collective emotional state with his mere presence on stage.
The salsa superstar fired up the room with everything from his pre-show ritual of a “cigarette and beer” to his affinity for Marvin Gaye to the on-going success of “Vivir Mi Vida”, a single which spent 18 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart, after its debut at the 2013 Billboard Latin Music Awards. “Vivir” is the longest running No.1 tropical song in the history of the chart.
“It [proved] people want good music,” said Anthony, nominated for 15 Latin Billboard music awards this year on the heels of his "Vivir Mi Vida" world tour, which made over 60 stops and sold a million tickets, according to Cardenas Marketing Network. Last week, Anthony started a second Latin American tour, and has another European and U.S. tour slated for the summer.
“It’s a blessing; it’s like given me new life," he said. "It’s introduced my music to a lot of people."
”Vivir Mi Vida”, an adoption of French/Arabic hit "C’est La Vie”, grew on Anthony and his children, Ryan and Christian, during a team brainstorming session in the star’s Long Island home. “I didn’t think much, a simple song,” said Anthony. “But Ryan went crazy when he heard the song, and went to get his brother, and he couldn’t stop [playing it]. When I saw how they loved the song, that’s when the idea was started.”
And there’s no kidding around about Anthony’s mission in the Dominican Republic where he recently opened a housing project through his Maestro Cares Foundation to ensure approximately 50 kids sleep in their own bed.
“It’s very important to me,” said Anthony.
Marc Anthony was born to sing, dabbling in freestyle and house music before he found the niche he created with a brand of salsa that draws from Motown influences like Luther Vandross, Marvin Gaye, and Gladys Knight -- and may nonetheless owe its roots to Mexican balladeer Juan Gabriel. Anthony says he hadn't been considering recording anything in Spanish until he heard "Hasta Que Te Conoci" on the radio. “I saw lights. I saw clarity. I knew this song was going to change my life,” he told Cobo.
He couldn’t just do it again. It had been done by Juan Gabriel, of all people. A recording executive asked him, why not do it in salsa for his debut album? “Then I’ll record it in salsa,” Anthony said.
When he first started, he said, he “hated being on stage.” His manager had a prediction: “The day you feel comfortable on stage, nobody can stop you.” “Once I started singing salsa, the fear went away,” said Anthony.
“I have never doubted it at all. I was surprised my Spanish was decent,” joked the New York native.
Cobo reminded him that he still gets emotional on stage, but that, Anthony said, is because of the music and because he still can’t believe that he is lucky enough to have such success. “It’s personal for me,” he told her. “Sometimes you don’t want to go on stage . . . but life doesn’t stop because you have to go on stage.”
But he is an emotionally open person. His visit to an orphanage in the Dominican Republic, where the children were living in unacceptable conditions, moved to do something. “They were sleeping on the floor and it impacted me as a father,” he said; so he founded the Maestro Cares organization that recently built an orphanage in the Dominican Republic and plans more in Colombia and in Mexico.
He is also a budding entrepeneur, with a tequila brand, a clothes line and an antioxidant so far in his inventory.
So what about the music? Don’t worry. Anthony remains focused on that.
Anthony has been busy recording for the last two years, but he wouldn’t give a sneak peak into what he would release. He rubbed his hands together and uttered a wicked Little laugh.
“I’m inventing," he said. "I don’t think its time to talk about it . . . I’m in the laboratory still.”
Additional reporting by Fernando Ruano Jr.