Barely 10 years of out of FIU, alumnus Tony Succar in November won the Latin Grammy Award for Producer of the Year. Nominated in four categories, he also took Salsa Album of the Year for Más de mi. The 33-year-old Peru-born, Miami-raised sensation accepted the honors live on national television and weeks later landed on campus to play President Mark Rosenberg’s annual holiday party for employees in the convocation center, where more than 1,000 Panthers rocked to Succar’s infectious beats. Born into a musical family, the entrepreneur-arranger-composer-musician has another big year ahead.
FIU News: How does it feel to have those Latin Grammys in hand?
Tony Succar: It feels rewarding. It feels very good to be able to get that industry recognition from the academy. It’s one of the things that we all dream of.
Your previous album, a Latin tribute to Michael Jackson, featured more than 100 artists and took five years to complete. (Controversially, it was ineligible for Latin Grammy nomination.) How long did you work on Más de mi?
Close to three years. I took my time on it. I wanted to make the statement that quality music can still be popular and cool and fresh and that the tropical genre is not dead. I made a very contemporary sounding tropical record that was still respecting the essence of it while doing something completely different and new. That’s the whole idea with me. You’ve got to try and reinvent, there’s nothing you can truly, truly do from scratch any more because everything’s sort of been done. But what you can do is take ideas from different things and put them together in a different way and then that will sound fresh.
So does Más de mi epitomize that?
The cool thing about this album is that it’s an album. These days there’s such a “single” push. The market is about that one track you want to listen to and everything else sounds like whatever. What makes a really good album is that it has a certain order, the songs take you on a journey where you put the album inside your car and you listen to the CD from top to bottom. You kind of get a story, full connection. That’s what I tried to concentrate on and that’s what I think the academy saw in this. It’s a complete album because every song has its own character. It kind of goes through the tropical salsa stuff. It goes from Cuba to Puerto Rico to New York to Peru to Africa. It goes to jazz and pop and funk and soul and R&B. Not one song sounds like the other song, but at the same time they all have an underlying denominator that I bring to the table: a fresh way and excellent music in terms of the quality of the sound recording and the way it’s presented.
Is there a song that defines what you’re talking about?
It’s called Más de mi, same as the album. I’d say that song is very special because it’s got this whole talk-box intro, which is an instrument that was used a lot in R&B and soul back in the day. Bruno Mars is the one who brought it back with 24K Magic. I just tried it out and then I loved it. That was a cool way to bring that into the salsa genre. Nobody’s ever done that before.
What’s the next project?
With me, you’re never going to be able to predict my next move. There’s a big band jazz album I’m finishing up for next year. Maybe after that I'll go back to Michael Jackson, or the Beatles, or maybe do an ’80s tribute or maybe I hook up with Bruno Mars and do an album with him. You just gotta go with the flow and see where it takes you.
What I’m trying to concentrate on now is my artist side, so I’m doing a lot of shows. I just got back from six concerts in Spain and soon have some shows in Peru that are going to be really big, in one of the most beautiful theaters in South America, the Gran Teatro Nacional in Lima. I’m super excited about that. And then I’ve got a European tour for July. I want to go to Colombia to do some master classes for university students, and I’m also going to do some educational stuff with the Latin Grammy Foundation.
And the secret to your success?
Just work hard and try to be the best at what you can be at the specific moment and know that you’re taking the right steps to get to where you need to go, period. When I was a master’s student at FIU, I remember everybody would do their graduate recital in the recital hall, a room for maybe 30-40 people. I decided I wanted to do it in the concert hall, for 600 people. It was huge. I brought dancers and lighting engineers, and I got a whole DVD and CD out of it, called Live at the Wertheim Performing Arts Center. My professors were like, dude, this kid is crazy. Why does he complicate his life? Why doesn’t he just do it like everybody else? I said, no, I want to stand out from the crowd.
That’s the moral of the story here. People might see me right now and think, damn, how did he get to the Latin Grammy thing so young, independently, with no labels, no investors? How is he the producer of the year? I was just going step by step and making sure I was heading in the right direction.
Who are your biggest influences?
My dad for sure. By the time I applied to FIU, I had spent all my time on soccer and my grades weren’t good enough. So my dad went to the admissions office with my soccer trophies and starting saying I was a champion but that now I was going to concentrate on schoolwork. The people at FIU weren’t convinced, but my dad tried so hard that they suggested I take a test at Miami Dade College and do a summer course there. If I did well, they said, they would accept me. And that’s exactly what happened. The School of Music gave me a scholarship, and then everything was great.
As for other influences, there’s a ton of guys I’ve never met but just reading their biographies has been super inspiring. Those would be Quincy Jones, Tito Puente, obviously Michael Jackson, Buddy Rich. These are guys who have always pushed the envelope. Tito Puente was a percussionist but he wrote over 2,000 arrangements, did 100 albums. When I was a percussionist at school, I was like, o.k., I have two options here, either I decide to be the best percussionist ever, or I become a star like Tito Puente, who was just so well rounded, such a visionary, created so much good music.
You’re still connected to FIU. Why?
That's where it all started. There’s just so much that I learned there that I continue to use every day in my career, stuff I learned from the faculty. The late Mike Orta was one of the guys that truly gave me the opportunity to become who I am. He was such an incredible pianist and such a great role model. The other faculty were also amazing, his brother Nicky Orta, Sam Lussier, Gary Campbell and all those guys. I’ll always go back to FIU for sure. Whenever I can help, for me it’s an honor.