Manteniendo La Salsa
with Richard Rivera
My name is Ricardo Rivera, aka Richard Rivera. I was born on January 7, 1953 in Woman’s Hospital on W. 110th Street, on Manhattan’s Upper Westside. My parents migrated from Puerto Rico and met shortly thereafter upon arriving in New York City in 1947. Lived in New York City all my life, except from 1956 to 1959, when my parents returned to the island. Returning to the Westside, I entered the first grade not really knowing much English, but managed to excel, nonetheless, and graduated second in my class.
Music was really not a priority in my household, but whenever family visited, the music of the “trios” and jibaro music was what they played. The music that I was listening to was whatever was being played on our transistor radios, and on the nightly music programs on TV. Needless to say, American rock, Motown and the groups from the British Invasion were what my friends and I would listen to.
It wasn’t until I entered high school, in 1967 that in the process of making new friends, I became exposed to the boogaloo sound, the fledgling cries, of the musical infant known as salsa.
Though I enjoy all types of music, it is Latin music that has a stranglehold on my heart, mind, and above all, my ears. I’m very passionate about the genre and want to see it persevere. That’s why I’ve embraced social media, especially Facebook, and the role it could possibly play in keeping the genre alive and vibrant. And I use Facebook and YouTube to help achieve longevity of the music by promoting it. ◊◊◊
UNITY: A Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson
The Man: Tony Succar
Antonio “Tony” Succar was born in Lima, Peru on May 18, 1986, into a family of talented musicians. At the age of two, his family emigrated to the United States and settled in Miami, Florida. Music was always around him, and while growing up he became a huge, huge fan of Michael Jackson and spent countless hours listening to his body of work. His musical career began at the age of thirteen when he started playing drums in his parents’ band. At that time he was attending Senior High School and his ambition was to be a professional soccer player. He played on several teams, including his school team, when they won the State Championships in 2004. Unable to secure a soccer scholarship to Florida International University he was urged to apply to FIU’s School of Music. Trying to get an interview with the school’s drum instructor, he was quickly accepted after auditioning for the Latin Jazz ensemble. In 2008 Tony graduated with a B.A. in Jazz Performance. He went on to study for his Masters which he received in 2010.
Meanwhile, his musical career was already in motion. As a junior in college, he took over as musical director of the family band and renamed it Mixtura. After graduating from FIU, Tony became an artist in residence there in 2012, continuing to work with the school’s music students on a number of projects.
He is the youngest artist ever to hold the appointment at FIU.
The Project: UNITY
As previously noted, Tony had become an avid Michael Jackson fan while growing up in Miami. He “binge” listened to his music, marveled at the songs’ lyrics and embraced the message of unity that the King of Pop was trying to convey. Then one day, in 2010, he received a phone call from an agent. His life was about to change forever.
During the phone call the agent asked Tony to prepare a performance of ‘Thriller” for a very large Halloween festival. He agreed, but wanted to do something very special, something different, and from the heart. Being Latino at heart, he decided to do a salsa arrangement for the song. It literally brought the house down. After the performance, people kept coming up to him, asking if he had any more songs like that, telling him they loved it and that he should record it. That’s when he knew that he should do a tribute album. So he started putting together a playlist with all the Jackson songs that gave him goosebumps, or had beautiful lyrics, or great musicality. For each song he selected, he made sure he could find the “key,” or clave, which is the basic foundation of all salsa music. Practically all non-salsa songs have ”clave.” One just has to find it.
Once he did that, he came up with the arrangements. After failing to secure private investors for the project he began a Kickstarter campaign which helped him get funding to start recording. At first, all he wanted to do is record an album so he could play locally, in the club circuit. But after hearing his arrangements, he realized that they were better than anything being played out there, and that in itself meant he needed accomplished vocalists to sing these tunes. Especially bilingual ones. But it wasn’t easy at all. The only singer he knew was Kevin Ceballo, and if he couldn’t convince anyone else, he was ready to proceed, with just him. After hundreds of emails, using numerous email addresses, and with help from an enthusiastic listener in a recording studio, Tony was able to contact the artist he had been trying to pitch the project to…Tito Nieves. It just so happened that studio listener knew Tito, and decided to help Tony get an audience with him after Tony told him that he never answered the emails he had been sending for the last three months. Once Tito heard the song, it was a done deal. Tito was so enamored of the concept that he reached out to India and Jean Rodriguez and recruited them. Take time to watch the attached video to understand Tony’s belief in the project, his tenacity and passion with this endeavor, as well as insight into the many obstacles and pitfalls of the music business and how easy it might be for one to get discouraged even though one has talent.
My Two Cents
Masterpiece- A work of outstanding artistry, skill or workmanship.
This is what UNITY is all about. This is by far the best music I have heard in a very long time. A very long time. Detractors may say, “well okay, but it’s not original.” Really? Tony wanted to loyal to certain aspects of the songs, such as lyrics and music, that is true. But those arrangements are worth the price of admission, and then some. In order for me to be satisfied with my assessment of this project and do it justice, I am taking into account everything about it. This is a work of dedication and love. This is a testament to pride and commitment. This is a memorial to hard work and wanting to be the best you can be in what you do--and the ones who reap the benefits are the listeners. Five years ago Tony had a vision of musical perfection and put together a plan to make it a reality. He also put into place a business model that utilized today’s technological tools and methods that so many of us take for granted, and used them to promote his opus.
I first came across UNITY three years ago when I came across his video of “I Want You Back,” with Tito Nieves on vocals. Right away I noticed the standout arrangement and the high energy displayed by the musicians and singers. I was impressed, very impressed to say the least.
A few months later I saw “Sera Que No Me Amas,” or “Blame it on the Boogie,” with Michael Stuart singing. Wow! These guys are something else. That’s a tight band. Very tight. I knew the song, but it was so different, at the same time. And the arrangement was a killer. This video prompted me to research this kid. For more about him. How come I had never heard of him?
I found some more “live” videos of Michael Jackson tunes as time went by, but no info on a CD. Last Year, in January, I saw the new video of “Smooth Criminal,” with Jean Rodriguez doing the vocals. Now, I don’t know what it was, but the video just blew me away. Literally. I think I must have watched it about seven times in a row. Jean killed it on the vocals. So much energy up there with the musicians. Los coristas, especially Maribel Diaz, were having so much fun up there. Tony was smoking the timbales y los metales… uufff. The funny thing is I really never liked that Jackson tune.
But I loved Tony’s version. This was great, a well-oiled machine operating on all high-octane cylinders. For me, audio perfection. Three months later the CD was released, amid much buzz.
I had preordered my copy, so it was in the mail. Then the news came out in late summer that PBS was going to record and broadcast their performance in Miami. The DVD of that show is now also available. That’s quite a feat for this fantastic salsa band and its leader. New videos are being released frequently and tour dates are being planned for the U.S. and abroad for this year.
UNITY is the best salsa recording of the year. For me, the best salsa recording I’ve heard in the last twenty years or so. The instrumentation is superb and very little is lost in musicality and performance value when comparing a live performance to an mp3, or vice versa. That’s a tribute to the band’s professionalism and desire to do their best each time out. These guys are just flat out good. They rehearse regularly and enjoy doing so. Tony’s arrangements are memorable, classic and intricate. The singing is very much on point, especially Jean Rodriguez, whose voice is as beautiful as it is passionate and energetic. This CD is a step in the right direction, and the shot in the arm our music needs at this point in time. This recording is also showing us where the music is headed, where it’s supposed to go, in order to prevail.
So go out and buy it. Support the musicians. Que viva la salsa!!!
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