Marc Anthony brings salsa to State Fair

Editor’s note: Carolina Astrain is a newsroom coordinator for MPR News who loves Latino arts and culture. She will occasionally contribute to State of the Arts.

By Carolina Astrain

When singer Marc Anthony takes the Grandstand stage at the Minnesota State Fair tonight, he’ll be greeted as a superstar by salsa music fans, and an adored favorite son by Puerto Ricans.

Though many people in the Twin Cities likely have never heard of him, Anthony is a big name in Latin America and Latino communities in the United States.

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Anthony, who has sold more than 11 million albums worldwide, earned his shot to fame. For the last two decades he has been a standard bearer for contemporary salsa, giving younger fans contemporary versions of the music their parents came to love in the 1970s, when Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican and other performers in New York infused Latin dance music with streetwise sensibilities.

The salsero’s music is a big hit among salsa fans in the Twin Cities, where local Latino performers count him among their influences.

Local hip-hop star Maria Isa used to sing Anthony’s tunes to the mirror, dreaming of her own music career. She’s seen the salsa singer perform twice in Minneapolis and thinks his show at the State Fair will be his best Twin Cities gig yet.

“He’s just been taking over the world as one of the biggest salsa artists for my generation who’s carried the torch tremendously,” she said.

Born Marco Antonio Muñiz in East Harlem, Anthony grew up listening to rock and rhythm and blues. He began his career in dance music in the 80s, but converted to salsa. His big break came when he was the opening act for Latin jazz and salsa legend Tito Puente at Madison Square Garden.

In the late 1990s, the singer helped lead a Latin music boom in the United States by fusing traditional Latin rhythms with rhythms and blues. He also was among a number of Latin performers with crossover appeal, recording albums in English that were well-received by critics and fans. His single, “I Need to Know,” (Dimelo) was a huge hit.

Anthony’s music often explores themes of desire, love and heartbreak — set to powerful salsa of accomplished musicians, with plenty of percussion and blaring horns. He has also recorded albums of Spanish pop.

His music is a big hit with dancers, said Cuban dancer Rene Thompson, a salsa instructor in the Twin Cities who has appeared the singer’s music videos.

For Thompson, Anthony’s hit pop crossover track, “I Need to Know,” is a favorite track because of its cha-cha-cha beat.

“The song speaks about needing to know about the people you love,” Thompson said. “As an immigrant who left Cuba, ‘I needed to know,’ and he does an amazingly well-done modern rendition of cha-cha-cha.”

Anthony also is an actor who has appeared several Hollywood films, including: “Man On Fire,” “Big Night” and “Bringing Out the Dead.”

He starred with his wife Jennifer Lopez in “El Cantante,” a biopoic about Puerto Rican salsa great Hector Lavoe.

Isa, whose family once had one of the few salsa collections in the Twin Cities, said the singer’s show tonight is another sign her community has arrived.

“I’m very proud that the Minnesota State Fair brought Marc Anthony, to make Latinos feel that this is just as much as our State Fair, as it is to anyone else who’s been here — whether you’re first generation or fifth,” she said. “Expect to see a lot of Puerto Rican flags and a lot of people not sitting at the Grandstands, but dancing.”

Listen to Maria Isa talk about Marc Anthony’s show this afternoon on All Things Considered.

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