Miami’s Tony Succar Helms Unity: The Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson

Do the salsa "Thriller" with Tony Succar.
Do the salsa "Thriller" with Tony Succar.
Courtesy of Universal Music

If the King of Pop had ever produced a Latin album, it probably would have sounded a lot like the Magic City's Tony Succar.

As the producer behind Unity: The Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson, the first-ever Spanish homage to MJ, released on Universal Music Classics, Succar is spreading his Jackson-inspired salsa fever across el mundo.

“Every time I've ever spoken about the project to anyone, they look at me like I'm crazy,” he laughs. “It's like you get invited for dinner and someone orders a sushi ice-cream sandwich.”

That may be the case, but Succar always wins the crowd over with his “exciting and high-energy” salsa renditions of Jackson's classics. And on June 12, el músico will be hitting up Little Havana's Ball & Chain for a night of rumba, baile, y “Thriller” action.

Though salsa and “Beat It” aren't two sounds that most people would immediately associate with one another, Succar and his crew of over 100 musicians, including Tito Nieves, Jon Secada, and Obie Bermúdez, are helping people see MJ in a new light.

“It's Michael Jackson through a different perspective, from someone who grew up in a totally different background and culture,” Succar says of the album. “If you like Latin music and Michael Jackson, it's a treat. It's the best of both worlds.”

Released in April, Unity debuted on three Billboard charts: number one among Latin Tropical albums, number three among World albums, and number 11 on the Heatseekers list, which ranks releases by up-and-coming acts. This success makes Succar proud, especially since this tribute is the result of so much sacrifice, so much persistence, and so many years of hard work — half-a-decade, to be exact — that started at the now-defunct Van Dyke Café's annual Halloween party.

“They wanted me to play 'Thriller' and I thought, Why not put a Latin flavor on it?” Succar recalls. “The people really loved it and I decided, ‘Hey, I should record this or something.'”

Soon, the MJ fanatic had launched a Kickstarter campaign and raised over $10,700 to turn his dream into a reality. He admits he “thought it was a lot of money” at the time, but he quickly discovered that it wasn't everything he needed.

“I didn’t know how big of a margin this was gonna be,” Succar says. “I ended up with 100 musicians. It was a crazy journey. Five years of constantly recording and traveling to New York, Texas, Puerto Rico, New Jersey, Peru, Ocala — I just wanted to find the right guys and ended up recording a lot. I didn't think it was gonna work, but God made it happen.”

But when the project was completed, the fight to get the album signed had just begun.

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“I was trying to get the labels myself for a while and no one would pay attention to me,” he laughs. “They would like it but say it's too impossible or that the musicians weren't well-known enough. All it took was just one person that really connected to it. And there's God. He was there. That's how it happened.”

In the end, Succar's prayers were answered. He went from not being able to find a label to having to choose between Sony Music and Universal Music in what he describes as “a little tug of war." He ended up with Universal because "they had a more emotional connection” to the project, which he says was his whole intent with Unity.

“It represents what Michael Jackson did with his music,” Succar explains. “I think he was the best of the best, not only in pop, but in music in general. People can say what they want, but I have my own opinion and believe he was an awesome human being. His life ended early, but he left a legacy no one can deny.”

As for the album: “It's about unity and love."

“To top it all off, this is a unity of a lot of talent and people from different cultures and musical instruments – it represents the whole project. Just the people involved, everybody was super vested into this emotionally, so I sort of had to name it something like that.”

Tony Succar. With Mixtura and DJ Edward. Presented by Miami Boheme. Friday, June 12, 9:30 p.m. Ball & Chain, 1513 SW Eighth St., Miami; 305-643-7820; Admission is free. Ages 21 and up.

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