UNITY LIVE: THE LATIN TRIBUTE TO MICHAEL JACKSON
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Tony Succar's Unity Live: The Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson to be Released July 12
Hits including "Thriller," "Billie Jean" and "Human Nature" Re-Imagined as Salsa Songs
Cast including Sheila E., Jon Secada, Judith Hill, Obie Bermúdez and Jennifer Peña,
Jean Rodriguez, Michael Stuart, Angel López, Kevin Ceballo with a 37-Piece Orchestra and Choir
Sizzling Concert before a Packed House in Miami Was Captured for PBS Television Special
UNITY LIVE: The Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson 2016/2017 Tour
Fri Aug 5 Orlando, FL Majestic Event Center
Sat Sept 24 Oranjestad, Aruba Caribbean SeaJazz Festival
Sat Oct 8 Miami, FL FIU Jazz Festival w/ Jon Secada
Sat Oct 29 Carolina, Puerto Rico Vivo Beach Club
Fri Dec 16 Chicago, IL Midwest Clinic Gala (music conference)
Thu-Mon Feb 10-13 Miami - Bahamas Sheila E.'s Glamorous Latin Life Cruise
Unity Live, the soundtrack of the PBS TV special Unity – The Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson, is an album like no other, a one-of-a-kind encounter of great pop and R&B and urban, Afro-Caribbean tradition.
Re-imagined as salsa songs, modern pop classics such as “Thriller,” “Billie Jean,” “Human Nature” and “Man in the Mirror” sound fresh again, invigorated by smart, powerful arrangements by Peruvian-born, Miami-raised arranger, multi-instrumentalist and producer Tony Succar and joyful, heartfelt performances by a superb cast including percussionist Sheila E. and singers Jon Secada, Judith Hill, Kevin Ceballo, Obie Bermúdez and Jennifer Peña, Michael Stuart, Jean Rodríguez and Angel López and a 37-piece orchestra and choir.
The occasion was a July 2015 concert tribute to Michael Jackson at the historic Olympia Theater in Miami, Fla. The Unity performance was videotaped for a PBS national television special that aired as part of the PBS Arts Fall Festival in October 2015. The television special was produced by Unity Entertainment Corporation and Oregon Public Broadcasting The Miami performance also served as the first major live presentation of Unity: The Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson, an album released by Universal Music Classics / Universal Music Latin in April 2015.
The results were stunning and have been captured in Unity Live, The Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson, to be released on the Unity Entertainment label on July 12.
“This was so well rehearsed, the ensemble was so good and so dynamic that I get a different feeling from the studio versions when I listen to it,” says Succar, who spent four years painstakingly developing the Latin tribute project and made it against impossible odds. “The arrangements sound a little different from the studio album because, on stage, you are not restricted, it's what happens there, in the moment, and a lot of subtle things come out. I've been very lucky to work with really good people who are not just talented, but who also gave their whole heart to the project.”
The set list includes versions of “Thriller,” sung by Kevin Ceballo and Michael Stuart; “Smooth Criminal,” performed by Jean Rodríguez and featuring Sheila E. on timbales; “Human Nature” and “You Are Not Alone,” interpreted by Jon Secada; “I Want You Back” featuring Angel López; and a stirring version of “Earth Song,” re-imagined as a landó, an Afro-Peruvian rhythm, and showcasing Judith Hill with a gospel choir.
Hill, a Grammy-winning singer, Prince protégé and a rising star in her own right, was rehearsing with Michael Jackson for the scheduled This Is It tour at the time of his death in 2009.
“Working with Judith was such a blessing,” emphasizes Succar. “I'm a big fan of her singing and she's crazy talented, but she also brought something else to this project: because she had been working with Michael, her spiritual connection to the music is beyond. When she sang ‘Earth Song’ it seemed like the entire theater was holding its breath. “
While most of the versions in Unity Live are sung in the original English language lyrics, the program also includes two songs in Spanish, “Todo Mi Amor Eres Tú,” a version of “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” with lyrics in Spanish by singer and songwriter Rubén Blades. Jackson himself sang the Spanish-language version of the song, in duet with Siedah Garrett. It was included in the 2012 reissue of Bad. It’s sung here by Obie Bermúdez and Jennifer Peña. As it turns out, Judith Hill was set to perform “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” with Jackson in the tour and a rehearsal of their performance was captured for the This Is It documentary. Meanwhile, Michael Stuart interprets “Será Que No Me Amas”, a Spanish-language reading of “Blame It On The Boogie,” a hit for The Jacksons in the late ‘70s.
Succar´s muscular arrangements not only underscore the power of these pieces but also include subtle musical details that help make his musical translations feel natural. But in music, what feels or looks easy is often the result of a lot of work and thought. Finding the balance, respecting the originals while putting his own Latin imprint on them was “the key thing in this project,” explains Succar.
“At the end of the day the question always was: Do we have enough of Michael's essence, do we have enough of the Latin sound? And it was something that I had to answer for each song in order for me to feel good about it. “
The heavy drumming in the classic intro to “Billie Jean” is replaced by a teasing guiro, subtly setting an irresistible salsa groove; the sound of the guitar in the opening of “I Want You Back,” exactly recalls the original, but here it plays over a clave that immediately puts the listener in a different place. A cajón adds the urgent punctuation in “They Don´t Care About Us,” while in “Man In The Mirror,” a gospel choir makes a very rare appearance in a salsa song. Throughout the recording, Succar also discreetly drops sly musical salutes such as including an “Oye Como Va” refrain on “Earth Song,” a nod to his idol, timbalero, composer and arranger Tito Puente; or quoting “Hey Jude,” a wink to The Beatles, on “Black or White.”
As for the singing, in Unity Live, Succar opened up the songs to include soneos (vocal improvisations, here mostly in Spanish) a staple in salsa music that had to be sharply limited in the studio versions.
The recording closes with a personal, heartfelt spoken- word track in which Succar talks about the project and the impact Michael Jackson’s music had in his life.
“We have fans that didn’t know about salsa at all and now are super salsa fanatics,” he notes at one point in his telling of the Unity story. “And I’ve even received messages from Latin fans telling us that … after the project they became super Michael Jackson fans. This makes me feel very happy … and has made all the sacrifice so worthwhile.”
VIDEO: PBS Trailer to UNITY: The Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson
VIDEO: YouTube Channel for PBS TV Special UNITY: The Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson
VIDEO: Full program UNITY: The Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson (54:05)
1. Billie Jean - featuring Jean Rodriguez 05:17
2. I Want You Back - featuring Angel López 04:36
3. Human Nature - featuring Jon Secada 04:03
4. Sera Que no Me Amas (Blame it on the Boogie) - featuring Michael Stuart 06:25
5. Thriller - featuring Kevin Ceballo & Michael Stuart 05:56
6. Todo Mi Amor Eres Tu (I Can’t Stop Loving You) - featuring Obie Bermúdez & Jennifer Peña 04:30
7. Cajón solo - featuring Tony Succar 03:47
8. They Don’t Care About Us - featuring Kevin Ceballo 04:55
9. Smooth Criminal - featuring Jean Rodriguez & Sheila E. 05:57
10. You Are Not Alone - featuring Jon Secada 05:19
11. Earth Song - featuring Judith Hill 07:06
12. Black or White - featuring Kevin Ceballo & Jean Rodriguez 05:01
13. The Man in the Mirror - featuring Kevin Ceballo, Angel López, Jean Rodriguez & Judith Hill 06:38
14. Unidad (spoken word credits) - featuring Tony Succar (Disc 2) 11:12