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Marc Anthony's Big Move: Inside His Salsa Return & Future Plans

Marc Anthony photographed by Douglas Friedman on Feb. 8 at Casa de Campo in La Romana, Dominica Republic. Grooming by Jami Harper. Styling by Ben Goglia. Clothing by Kohls. Photographed by Douglas Friedman

Marc Anthony photographed by Douglas Friedman on Feb. 8 at Casa de Campo in La Romana, Dominica Republic.
Grooming by Jami Harper. Styling by Ben Goglia. Clothing by Kohls.

Photographed by Douglas Friedman

Marc Anthony is backstage at the American-Airlines Arena in Miami, hopping from one foot to the other, like a boxer. His feet are clad in black patent leather shoes, and his slim frame dons a starched white shirt, black tailored pants and a fitted tuxedo jacket. He stares at the floor, adjusting his Aviator sunglasses, dimly aware of the din — the roar of 15,000 people awaiting the second of two sold-out shows kicking off his Vivir Mi Vida world tour — but focused only on the music and the cue from the 14-piece band already onstage.

He hears the cue and his head snaps up. Anthony briefly raises his hand to touch the silver rosary around his neck, makes the sign of the cross, kisses his thumb and climbs up to the stage.

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He stands there until the screaming has subsided just a touch, and then he begins to sing. There are no dancers, no special effects, no moving sets. There are no distractions between him and his fans. This wisp of a man — 5 feet 7 inches, 120 pounds — with a torrent of a voice who makes the crowd bend to his will, compelling them to dance, sing, hush — until they are as delirious and sweaty as he is.

"There's nothing physical about it," he said in a conversation after that August 2013 tour debut, when asked how he prepares for his onstage marathon. "I have a beer and a cigarette before I go onstage. Once I put on the sunglasses it's almost like a football player putting on his helmet. The preparation is in my dressing room. I go over the set and decide where I can push. I change my set on the fly depending on how I feel and what I feel the audience wants."

Instinct.

It's the essential word to understand an artist who started out singing salsa, then pop, then crossed over to mainstream, then went back to his Latin roots, and finally branched out into film and TV — the projects seemingly disparate, but all personal.

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"I call him a 360," says his longtime concert promoter and business partner Henry Cardenas. "The guy sings salsa, sings ballads, sings in English, the guy screams. He has all the ingredients no one else has. I always tell him, 'Marc, you are blessed.' "

And he may be in his best moment yet. Anthony has been on the road for a full year — almost from the moment he premiered his single "Vivir Mi Vida" (Live My Life) at the 2013 Billboard Latin Music Awards last April. "Vivir" exploded, spending 18 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Latin Songs chart, the first tropical single in a decade to top the tally and the longest-running No. 1 tropical song in the history of the chart.

The track ushered in "3.0," Anthony's first salsa studio album in a decade, which longtime label Sony Music Latin released in June 2013. The set, produced by Sergio George, would go on to become the biggest-selling Latin album of that year, according to Nielsen SoundScan. And Anthony, 44, is in the midst of his longest, most lucrative tour ever.

The Vivir Mi Vida world tour, which was supposed to end in December, has already made more than 60 stops. All told, Anthony has sold 1.2 million tickets, according to tour promoter CMN. On April 17, Anthony kicked off a second Latin American tour leg. Then he'll head out to Europe and hit the United States again.

"It proves there's still an appetite for good f—ing music," he says. "I haven't been affected by the changes in the industry, thank God. Had the album not been successful it would have been a very, very convenient bullshit excuse."

All artists dream of hits, and Anthony has had plenty since his debut salsa album, "Otra Nota," in 1993. But "Vivir Mi Vida" has become one of those rare tracks that catapults an artist in his prime into a whole new territory.

"He really accomplished a salsa crossover between fans of the music and others," says Marta Artaso, Sony's marketing manager for the Latin region, Spain and Portugal. "We had our regional convention in Miami in April [2013] and all the global label heads came, including Edgar Berger, our president/CEO of international. And Marc had everybody dancing salsa. Edgar said, ‘I've been to hundreds of conventions and I've never in my life seen something like this.' "

"Vivir," a remake of Algerian singer Khaled's "C'est la Vie" (see story, below), transcended languages and territories, and shot to No. 1 in at least 10 countries. "There's a whole new wave of fans and it's fun again," says Anthony. "That's what this record did for me."

The success of the song — and the album from which it's from, "3.0" — have reinvigorated Anthony in other ways, too. He has expanded his business ventures, investing in a growing real estate portfolio, a technology company that makes 3D cameras, Mar Azul tequila and a premium hydration drink called Afterparty.

There's also his ongoing partnership with Kohl's, which last year delivered more than $100 million in retail sales, according to CAK Entertainment CEO Charles Koppelman, who brokered the deal in 2011.

A recent Friday afternoon found Anthony in the vacation home he purchased last fall in Casa de Campo — a resort in the Dominican Republic — looking out at a lush backyard surrounded by hammocks and slow-turning fans. And, yes, he was wearing clothes from Kohl's: khaki shorts, grey top and black belt. He's dressed in resort-wear, but this is no vacation trip.

Anthony came to the Dominican Republic to christen a new home and school for 50 boys funded through his Maestro Cares foundation. Like everything else, the project was borne out of instinct and friendship, after Anthony spent Christmas in the Dominican Republic with Cardenas, his partner in Maestro Cares.

The one project sidetracked by his recent success is his next English-language album, which had been slated for last year, and now is expected in 2015. Multiple collaborators have stepped in, from rappers to R&B artists, but he isn't naming any names until he decides which tracks make the cut.

"We have a lot of material," he says. "But I record the songs and I have to live with them for two or three years."

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Now, with the achievement of "3.0," comes additional pressure for mainstream success. But the singer dismisses such talk.

"The opposite is true. I feel more confident than ever," he says. "Sticking to my guns [with "3.0"] and releasing this album gave me more confidence. If anything, it's ‘You're on the right track. Just continue trusting your instincts.' "

It's how Anthony continues to navigate his dual careers, his dual cultures and two languages. He doesn't try to analyze who will like what or why. It simply happens.

This summer, as he works on his new album, Anthony will continue to tour. He'll sing in Spanish and in English, playing new venues and letting his instincts guide him in front of the fans who come to see his shows.

"If you give me a chance, you feel what I do, no matter what language I sing in," he says. "I just sing, man. I dedicate my life to music. If you really want to know who I am, you have to experience it. You should check it out."

By Leila Cobo | April 21, 2014 3:26 PM EDT



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