Tony Succar 'Comes Full Circle' at the Latin Grammys With Best Salsa Album, Producer Of the Year Wins

Unity
Tony Succar

Succar’s four noms and two wins for 'Mas de Mi' comes after his previous album was disqualified from the awards competition.

When Tony Succar won two Latin Grammys last week -- for best salsa album and producer of the year -- some in the audience may have been surprised that the 33-year-old Peruvian-born and Miami-raised musician, who had no nominations in previous years, was chosen over veterans like Eddie Palmieri (in the salsa category) and Julio Reyes, producer for Alejandro Sanz.

But Succar contends that no one was as surprised as he was.

“I had never felt so nervous in my life as when they were announcing the categories,” says Succar, who had been nominated in a total of four categories this year for his self-produced album Mas de Mi, his second studio recording. He also played timbales in the award show’s opening number. “When they said my name, it was just too much.”

During a phone conversation that took place days after the Nov. 14 ceremonies, Succar still sounds a bit in shock. And that’s understandable. The first studio album he produced, a daring salsa take on Michael Jackson hits called Unity: The Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson, had been deemed ineligible from competing for a Latin Grammy in 2015 because the album’s bilingual lyrics were not predominately in Spanish. A Latin Grammy spokesperson told Billboard at the time that the record, which went to No. 1 on Billboard's Tropical Albums chart, had too many lyrics to qualify as an instrumental album, but lacked the 51% Spanish lyrics it would have needed for consideration in the best salsa album category.

Succar was a recent graduate of Florida International University’s School of Music when he began working on the Unity project, which took him five years to complete and release. He did not give up easily on his Latin Grammy dream, sending a lengthy email to Latin Academy President Gabriel Abaroa contesting the ruling, and even starting a change.org petition demanding that the Latin Recording Academy reverse its decision. It did not.

The musician and arranger explains now that while the experience was “a big emotional setback,” it also set off a “life changing” chain of events that led to the recording of Mas de Mi

Succar says that in the wake of the Latin Grammy controversy over his Jackson project, Abaroa, who he now describes as “a true and genuine good guy” reached out to him: “Gabriel met with me and said there’s nothing we can do at this point.”

But he did help Succar connect with some of the best Latin music producers and writers in the business. “They really taught me that industry is about ups and downs,” Succar recalls. “And that at the end of the day you have to follow your heart and do your music.”

His new mentors included Jorge Luis Piloto, with whom Succar worked closely on the material for Mas de Mi; they co-wrote seven songs for the album. “[Piloto] was telling me don’t do music for any awards. Just do music to do music.”

Clearly influenced by Bruno Mars, Sam Smith, Justin Timberlake and other mainstream stars, Succar describes Mas de Mi’s sound as “making salsa fresh again. “We were writing the songs in a way not traditional for salsa music,” he says. “We thought, let’s try to bring salsa back in a different way that gets young people engaged.”

Today (Nov. 19), Succar is in Guatemela performing his Jackson tribute. On the weekend, he’ll appear at a salsa festival in Lima. “I’m like Michael Jackson in Peru now,” he jokes, adding that his phone has been ringing off the hook.

“I didn’t expect it to come full circle like that,” Succar adds. “I had to wait for this moment. But God’s timing is perfect. Now I’m going to take the opportunity and say there’s a new kid on the block.”


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