A Stirring Tribute to Latin American Music Legends: Natalia Lafourcade’s ‘Musas’

Natalia Lafourcade (Courtesy Sony Music)

Physically, Mexican singer-songwriter Natalia Lafourcade is only 4 feet, 11 inches in height, but the soul she emanates with her ethereal music is fathomless. And audiences and critics agree – she won a Grammy last year for her album, “Hasta la Raiz,” in the Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album category – and this is in addition to the 8 Latin Grammys she has won.

In her newest album, “Musas” (“Muses”), she pays tribute to various musicians who have etched a musical memory in her heart at some point in her life and are beloved to many in Latin America and the U.S., such as, the late Chilean composer/songwriter Violeta Parra and Mexican dancer and actress Rocío Sagaón – well-known for appearing with actor Pedro Infante in the 1951 film, “Las Islas Marias.”

“I had many different teachers,” says Lafourcade. “I started writing songs at 14 about things I was living at school, and the things I felt at that age. In this album, I tried something different. I wanted to write about Veracruz, and my friend, Rocío Sagaón, who was like a grandmother to me and passed away two years ago. She was one of my inspirations.”

It was almost predestined that Lafourcade, 33, was to be a musician. She was born to two respected music educators in Mexico City, and spent a lot of her childhood in neighboring Coatepec, Veracruz amidst music and art. But the exact moment she herself was certain of her future, she remembers precisely.

“I knew that I wanted to be a singer when I was 10 years old,” Lafourcade tells NBC from Mexico City. “There was a party at school, and they invited me to sing for a play. I was really nervous, but when I was on the stage, I knew.”

And her feelings have never steered her wrong since. It is the profound way in which Lafourcade feels the experiences of life, which inspire her songs, that provide the magic touch to her compositions.

Her timeless, sweet and gentle sound is hard to fit in a specific box. She, herself, describes it as, “a mix of many genres. I would say maybe alt/pop, but now I’m trying to explore folk and traditional sounds of my country. Something that would include everyone.”

For the past decade, she says she’s been listening to a wide assortment of sounds, which cross countries, and genres, from Bob Dylan to Edith Piaf and La Lupe.

In her new album, she collaborates with the legendary Mexican guitar duo Los Macorinos.

“The idea to collaborate with Los Macorinos happened when we were having a concert as a tribute to Chavela Vargas four years ago,” said Lafourcade about Miguel Peña and Juan Carlos Allende, famous for accompanying the late legendary singer, Chavela Vargas. “That’s when I heard them on stage. I knew of them because of Chavela, but when I saw them on the stage, I thought it would be a great idea to work on a project with them.”

Last year, while on vacation in Brazil, the memory returned.

“When I got back to Mexico, I reached out to them,” says Lafourcade about how she got Los Macorinos to be her guitar and chorus accompaniment throughout the “Musas” album.

“It has given me so many things. It’s a very magical project. We decided to record the album live, and I never did that before,” she says. “I believe that’s why this album has this incredible spirit. Now I don’t want to record any other way.”

This all happened in a moment in her life that she needed music in a different way, “more ‘cotidiano’ (‘simple’ or ‘everyday’),” says Lafourcade. “I say that because working with Los Macorinos wasn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be. I would do everything faster. I had to go very deep, and I had to connect my heart and my soul in a very deep way – pay attention to the meaning of the songs and the energy. It made me more awake. That growth made me change the way I make my music now.”

She now adds Los Macorinos, who are in their 70’s, to her long list of teachers.

“It was very beautiful to share these moments. It was different for them, and for me,” says Lafourcade. “Before, I was working with artists who were my same age. Spending time with Los Macarinos was beautiful – to hear the music they were bringing to the table. There was a moment we had 200 songs we all loved, and we tried to decide which songs to include, so we were hanging out a lot and they told me a lot of stories.”

Her favorite musician to work with, however, she says was Cuban legend Omara Portuondo (from “Buena Vista Social Club”). They sing a duet on the track, “Tu me acostumbraste” (“I Got Used to You”).

“She is so amazing with powerful energy,” says Lafourcade of her 86-year-old mentor. “We get along very well.”

Although she’s going on a U.S. and Mexico tour, starting next month through October, Lafourcade says she will make a second volume of “Musas” later this year.

“I am 15 years into my career, and I want to go back to the piano and take the time to learn more,” she says. “I have many projects in mind like this one. By collaborating, you can do very interesting things. And it’s not just about me…We will see…”

For now, she just seems grateful for her experiences, and in love with life – as well as the person who inspired her original track, “Tú sí sabes quererme” (“You Know How to Love Me”).

“My mother always said I was singing before I was speaking,” laughs Lafourcade. “I came to this world to sing, and I feel very fortunate, because I am able to do that.”

Originally published on NBCNews.com.

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‘Unity’: A Latin-Style Tribute to King Of Pop Michael Jackson

Composer and arranger Tony Succar (Photo/ Julie Hunter)

Composer and arranger Tony Succar (Photo/ Julie Hunter)

At 28, composer and multi-instrumentalist Tony Succar has accomplished a pretty remarkable feat. For the past four years, he has worked tirelessly to bring to life the masterpiece that lived in his musical mind – to unite 100 talented musicians, including Jon Secada and salsa stars such as Tito Nieves, Obie Bermudez and La India, to make the first-ever Latino tribute to the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson. In other words, think “I Want You Back” with a salsa twist.

After licensing obstacles and hours and hours of rehearsals and editing with Michael Jackson’s very own Grammy-winning audio engineer Bruce Swedien, Succar’s 12-track album, aptly titled “UNITY: The Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson,” is being released April 14th on Universal Music Classics in collaboration with Universal Music Latin Entertainment.

As part of the project, Succar and his production company produced an hour-long documentary about the legendary experience which is going to be released on DVD in Mexico this month and with plans for the U.S. in the future.

It’s fuego!” (“It’s fire!”) is how Succar describes his debut album.

Born in Peru to a Japanese mother and a father with Lebanese, Mexican, and Spanish roots, Succar immigrated to Miami, where he presently lives, when he was two. He was surrounded by music all of his life, as his parents Antonio and Mimy Succar were musicians in Peru. While in the U.S., the family started their own family band called Mixtura – the same name Succar named his current production company after.

Soon after graduating with a master’s degree in jazz performance at Florida International University in 2010, Succar says he got a call from a booking agent asking him to produce an outdoor Halloween tribute to Michael Jackson called “Thriller on Collins.”

“But I said, ‘I’m a salsa band – how am I going to do that?’,” Succar recalls replying to him. “So it was like God saying this is going to happen. I did a salsa version. The people loved it,” he says. “When I saw the reaction, I thought if they liked it with ‘Thriller,’ they would like it with other songs. It was a dream for me starting from nothing.”

After the success of show, Succar wasted no time in starting a Kickstarter campaign which raised $10,700.

“The main thing that connected with me is his (Michael Jackson’s) musicality. He kept pop music at a high level. Being a musician, you love that and all of us [musicians] understand that,” says Succar. “And secondly, I really admired that he wrote music with a very positive social message that spoke about love and change. Something we need to respect Michael Jackson for, and why I named the album “UNITY.”

The other musicians share a similar sentiment.

“Michael Jackson was an influence for a lot of singer-songwriters,” says singer Jon Secada in the “UNITY” documentary. “I think what attracted me to this project starts with the music – how much I love the music. I think Michael Jackson would love it, because he was an innovator. He enjoyed taking chances.”

Tito Nieves added, “All we can do is make sure his music never dies.”

How did Succar get so many well-known musicians to participate in his project?

“It wasn’t that I chose them, it was a domino effect,” says Succar. “I tried to get Tito Nieves for three months until I said ‘Olvídate!’ (‘Forget it!’) I ran into Kevin Ceballo. We started recording the songs. I was planning just to do it with him. Then a guy peeked in the studio one day and said, ‘Hey, it sounds pretty good.’ He was really good friends with Tito Nieves!”

Apparently, Succar says he had e-mailed Nieves so many times, they told him he had been labeled as spam. However, thanks to that random listener who knew Nieves and called him on the spot, Nieves agreed to participate in the project immediately.

“The music spoke for itself – that’s how everyone was chosen,” says Succar. “No money in the world could have made this happen.”

Succar says he listened to every Michael Jackson song multiple times in order to choose the tracks for the “UNITY” album. At first, he was going to choose the ones that gave him goosebumps.

“But all of them gave me goosebumps,” says Succar laughing.

“All African music has la clave – bam bam…bam bam,” he continues, while tapping his hand on his knee as if it were a cajón – the first instrument he ever learned at age three. “When you analyze Michael Jackson’s music, I would call it African American music. When I listened to the music, I’d play la clave to it, if it sounded good, those were the ones I’d keep.”

Then, he says he thought about how to create a story with the songs he picked.

“‘I Want You Back’ was a song he sang as a little boy on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’…the most important I wanted to include were songs that spoke about Michael Jackson’s mission – about unity and change,” says Succar, who also ended up including “Earth Song” sung by La India and “They Don’t Care About Us” sung by Kevin Ceballo, among others. “At the end, it’s to be a grain of sand to continue what he wanted to see in this world – ‘No’ to discrimination and ‘yes’ to equality.”

Succar says he had become the ultimate fan of Jackson after he died, and even more so after this project.

“I’m so thankful for the opportunity for me to put a drop of sand in his legacy and inspire others to learn about his music,” he says. “Many times Latinos know the songs, but not the lyrics so sometimes we change the lyrics to Spanish.”

In total, 100 musicians participated in the “UNITY” album, but Succar says there are 16 of them that travel to play.

“I want to be able to tour the live Michael Jackson experience,” says Succar. “I strongly believe that ‘UNITY,’ that title, is not only a representation of what this album means, but a representation of a movement that I’d like to create where we can unite cultures and do special projects. I want to try to do the same with other artists and bands like The Beatles, and the Bee Gees – songs that translate to the Latin format. Un granito de arena. UNITY is not going to end here. You’ll see more in the near future.”

Originally published on NBCNews.com.