How Tony Succar, FIU alum and Latin Grammy winner, is reimagining Salsa music

Tony Succar playing at the Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson (Succar/Amazon)

A scholarship rejection letter changed the course of Tony Succar’s life in 2004. He was a talented midfielder, but Florida International University’s soccer team decided he wasn’t good enough. “I was a rebellious kid, I wanted to be an athlete,” says Succar, who is now a Grammy-winning salsa artist and producer. “But music was always in my destiny.” 

At 33 years old, the salsa wünderkind became the youngest musician to have ever taken home the Latin Grammy award for “Producer of the Year” and “Best Salsa Album” in 2019. This past April, his album, “Live in Peru,” was nominated for a Grammy. Born in Peru, he’s become an international superstar and a father. He credits his success to his family.

“Our parents have dreams. I am nothing without my parents,” Succar says. “Everything I’ve learned is thanks to them.”

Succar has released eight albums and over 30 singles in the last 12 years that he has shared with tens of thousands of listeners and fans. His 357,000 YouTube subscribers flock to a repertoire that includes salsa classics, pop covers, and his own personal work. His Latin tribute to Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” was an enormous hit, garnering over 5.4 million views on YouTube.

Succar was born in Lima and emigrated to Miami at just two years old. His family came here looking for security, fleeing terrorism back home. Growing up in Kendall, a diverse place, his upbringing exposed him to many genres of music. He believes this blend of cultures made him the musician he is today. 

Mimy Succar, a talented salsa singer and Succar’s mother, tells the story of his days learning musical instruments: “When Tony was eight, he learned how to play cajón, a Peruvian instrument made of wood,” she says. “He came into this world with a talent and a knack for music theory. He was born with it in his blood.” 

When Succar was 13, he began playing drums with his parents’ band, Mixtura. They would perform at weddings and other private and corporate functions. Both his parents pushed him to hone his talents. Succar attended Miami Sunset Senior High School. Although he wasn’t an academic type, his peers liked him. He took part in musical extracurriculars. Band practice was his favorite. 

Succar’s parents, Mimy and his dad Antonio, have supported and encouraged him since the very beginning of his career. While they had little money to support him, they still gave him everything that was available to them. His father became his manager as soon as Succar turned 18 years old. His mother has collaborated with him in many musical productions and projects. 

After graduating from high school in 2004, he enrolled at FIU. He completed his Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude in Jazz Performance in 2008 and his Master’s Degree in 2010. Succar liked and excelled in most of his classes. His favorite lessons were music production and ensemble. 

His Jazz Percussion professor, Rodolfo Zúñiga, speaks highly of Succar’s time at FIU. “A lot of students come through the school of music and move on, but he has always been very dedicated,” Zúñiga says. “It’s really hard to achieve what he has achieved.” 

Succar was never a teacher’s pet, but his work ethic always pleased his professors. He felt like he could learn a lot from them. 

“Let me tell you, once I stepped through that door, I started seeing how competitive it was inside of the university,” he says. “That’s when it all clicked for me.”

Miami’s Wertheim Performing Arts Center served as the venue for his graduate recital in 2010. Succar released an album recorded at this graduate recital, a live concert featuring Mixtura. He remembers the event as being “groundbreaking.” 

At this year’s 64th Annual Grammy Awards, Succar’s album “Live in Peru” was nominated for Best Tropical Latin Album. Several of the songs on this album are reimaginings of Michael Jackson’s music.

One of them was “Billie Jean,” the second single from Jackson’s sixth studio album. Succar transformed this dance-pop classic by making a salsa version. With these Latin tributes, he successfully blurred the line between the musical genres of salsa and pop. 

Regarding his Grammy presence, Succar tweeted he felt immense support from his home country. “Peru’s support is immense. We are going to continue making art and we are going to continue growing. Let’s go Peru!”

With over 5 million streams on Spotify, “Live in Peru” has been extremely successful; He released the concert film on video-streaming platforms like Apple TV and Prime Video this past August. “It’s one of my most important concerts ever,” Succar exclaims. “I’m so proud of this production!”

Succar’s favorite piece of work so far is “Uno de los Dos,” a song he wrote and produced for his acclaimed album “Mas de Mi” released in 2019. The rhythm is upbeat, a staple of salsa, but the lyrics are profound and talk about his relationship with the love of his life, his wife, Lauren. “Hablamos sin hablarnos, nos vemos sin mirarnos” (We talk without talking, we see without seeing). Succar says that when they were engaged, they went through a period where their relationship was strained. Moved by the lyricism, his relationship improved. The song currently has over 1 million streams on Spotify. 

Tony married Lauren, who had been his college sweetheart, Christine in late 2019. This past January, their first daughter, Emma, was born. When asked if he wanted her to follow in his footsteps, he said, “She is worth more than a thousand Grammys. I just want her to follow her heart as I did in the end.”

Inspicio Arts, our sister magazine, interviewed Succar seven years ago. You can watch the interview here.

Giulia Barbieri is a senior majoring in Digital Journalism with an area of concentration in International Relations and Political Science. At the moment, she is an intern at Jaime Bayly Productions. After graduation, she hopes to work on CNN en Español here in Miami.

Daniella Hakim is a junior at Florida International University majoring in Digital Communication and Media with a Minor in Marketing. She looks forward to pursuing her passion for writing as a journalist and novelist.