Peruvian-American percussionist and composer Tony Succar spoke to Morocco World News about the role of culture in his past, present, and future musical journey.
Music is in Tony Succar’s DNA.
The 33-year-old percussionist, composer, and producer is perhaps best known for his “Unity” project, a Latin tribute to Michael Jackson.
The collaborative project features notable Latin artists and propelled Tony, as the arrangement’s producer, to global fame.
The salsa and jazz artist now has a collection of awards under his belt—including two Latin Grammys.
Born in Lima, Peru and raised in Miami, Florida, Tony has mixed Latino, Arab, and Japanese ancestry—and a family of talented musicians to boot.
Coupled with his upbringing in one of America’s largest melting pots, Tony’s diverse roots and profound connection with the country of his birth strongly shaped his passion for music.
“I think having a mixed cultural background is a huge benefit when it comes to music,” he said in an interview with Morocco World News. “You learn more about the world and have more musical influences, which gives you opportunities to create cool fusions.”
Tony got his official start in music at the age of 13 when he began playing as a percussionist in his parent’s wedding band.
“Playing in the band really paved the way for me as a musician and trained me as a musical person,” he said. “Although I wasn’t formally trained—I didn’t take private lessons and my dad didn’t even know how to read music—performing with my parents sparked my passion for playing and being on stage.”
“Going to gigs, carrying speakers, connecting cables—that was my life for a while,” he continued. “Music has been my only job ever since. It’s been a blessing.”
Tony’s parents primarily performed at Peruvian weddings in Miami, allowing him to develop an attachment to the community that he would carry into his professional career.
“I grew up playing Peruvian music and being connected to the Peruvian community in Miami. Throughout my entire life, the Peruvian community has accepted me, which as been pinnacle in my career,” he explained, adding that he frequently incorporates Peruvian elements into his current music.
The road to the Latin Grammys
Tony formally became a professional musician when he enrolled at the Florida International University (FIU) School of Music in Miami, but even after earning a master’s degree in jazz performance in 2010, he was far from where he aspired to be.
“I was in the back of people’s minds, I was the last call. When everyone else couldn’t do something, that’s when I got a call,” he told MWN. “I decided to form my own band so I could start working for myself.”
“In the beginning, the band wasn’t so great,” he admitted with a laugh. “But we had smiles on our faces and we made people dance.”
Despite the fun he was having with his group of friends, Tony was earning next to nothing with the band. Once he got a local following, he realized he needed to step his game up, collaborate with better musicians, and push himself to the next level in the industry.
“I started to understand how the whole mechanism of how the music industry works. If you want to be one of the best, you have to be surrounded by the best.”
A decade after launching his professional career, Tony is a two-time Latin Grammy Award winner for best salsa album and producer of the year for his self-produced album “Mas de Mi.”
“The Grammys completely changed my career,” Tony told MWN. “I didn’t expect to win at such a young age. I’m officially the youngest person to have won in both of those categories.”
Snagging producer of the year is no easy feat. The coveted award is almost always granted to seasoned industry vets—that is, until 2020.
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Tony pointed out the parallels between his own wins and those of 16-year-old singer Billie Eilish and her 22-year-old brother and producer, Finneas O’Connell.
“On the American Grammys side, Billie Eilish won five Grammys for her album. Her brother, as the album’s producer, won five as well. They recorded the entire album in their bedroom, I recorded my entire album in my garage.”
“It’s really cool how that happened on both sides of the market. I think it sends a big message to all the young people out there who are making music in their homes: You don’t need to have all the bells and whistles, as long as you’re passionate about your craft.”
Music as a vehicle of cultural exchange
Tony is a firm believer in the power of music to connect people across borders, cultures, and languages.
“Music is the universal language,” he said to MWN. “You can see throughout time from the early greats to the new stars of today how music can just transcend cultures. It doesn’t matter where your from if the music has that spark, that magic.”
“Quincy Jones once said the only true magic in life is music: You can’t explain it, it’s completely based on feeling and emotions,” Tony added.
“At the end of the day, music is a tool to create a trend that makes the world a better place,” he continued. “That’s something I learned from Michael Jackson. He truly wanted to make the world a better place and he always included that in his music.”
“Michael Jackson wasn’t just here to make music, dance in front of people, be the best in the world. He was here to leave a message—that’s his legacy.
“We saw that when he passed away. People around the world mourned him because they felt that message from him, and his music touched them in a way that a lot of other artists’ music hasn’t done.
“No matter where you were from you felt that pain. That’s how I see music as such a powerful force in connecting people.”
Music is also a way for Tony to discover the less prominent elements of his own heritage. While his Latin roots undoubtedly take center stage when it comes to inspiring his artistry, he has not forgotten about other elements of his identity.
“If you listen to Spanish music, it actually has a lot of Arabic influences,” he pointed out. “Arabic music is in my DNA. I’m definitely interested in learning about the percussion of that side of the world.”
“India, Morocco, and Tunisia are the top three places on my bucket list,” he added.
With a new Latin jazz album on the way this coming spring, Tony’s career is far from its peak. His Latin Grammy momentum has only inspired him to keep growing—after all, there are still so many more musical influences to explore and fusions to create.