Charlotte’s Tony Arreaza Turned His Pandemic Downtime Into Music

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By Page Leggett
2021 ASC Creative Renewal Fellowship recipient, musician Tony Arreaza. Photo by Nancy Pierce.

Independent musicians can’t just write a song, record it and hope people buy the CD. They have to market their music.

Charlotte’s Tony Arreaza has a process for putting out an album. It includes making videos of a couple of songs and releasing those in advance of the album.

“It’s very typical when you release a full album to release one single a few months before the whole album,” said the Charlotte musician, band leader and cultural events organizer. “I’m trying to create a buzz.”

An ASC Creative Renewal Fellowship helped generate that buzz. The $10,000 fellowship Arreaza was awarded in April helped fund production of the video for “Soñando Despierto,” (“Daydreaming”), the second single from his band’s full-length, 12-song album, which he said is 80% complete.

It features guest singer Dunny Mendez in what Arreaza calls a “catchy song with a summer feel.”

“I just wanted people to have a good time,” Arreaza said of the song, for which he wrote the music and Fred Figueroa wrote the lyrics.

Last year, in November 2020, he released UltimaNota’s Black Lives Matter-inspired “Esperanza,” along with a self-produced video. (Look closely, and you’ll see some NoDa landmarks.)

The two songs – and videos – couldn’t be more different. Together, they show Arreaza’s versality.


Latin fusion

The album, in many ways, is a culmination of the community-building Arreaza has been leading for three decades. It features local Latin-a/o/x/e artists and highlights the diversity of Latin music styles created in Charlotte – starting with Arreaza’s own seven-piece Latin band, UltimaNota (translation: Last Note), which he formed in 2009.

Its members hail from Venezuela, Mexico, El Salvador and Dominican Republic, and each brings the musical style of his home country to the band.

“Soñando Despierto” may have a laid-back, breezy feeling to it, but making the video was hard work. “We had to sing that song maybe 30 times,” Arreaza said of filming.

The videographer, Edgar Marcano, wanted to begin when it was light outside and capture the setting sun. The band and crew had to arrive at 5 p.m. for the 7 p.m. shoot. That magical setting with the twinkling lights is the backyard of an Arreaza friend.

The album highlights the breadth of Latin-a/o/x/e musical talent in Charlotte. It was also a gift to the musicians who participated.

“When the pandemic hit, musicians were the first ones to shut down and the last ones to get back up,” Arreaza said. “We do what we do for passion – not the money – because we could do so many other things and make more money.”

“We were really struggling,” he continued. “I’m a musician and an event organizer, so both of my worlds crashed. It was a very dark moment in my life and I’m very, very blessed that I have rehearsal space in my house so I could rehearse with my band.”

He also invited other bands to come in and rehearse. And join in the recording.

“If I’m going to make a song that has a Brazilian feel, I want to use somebody from Brazil to give us that sound,” he said of his insistence on authenticity. “We have a couple of salsa songs and I wanted to use musicians dedicated to that style of music.”

Silver linings

When the pandemic hit, Arreaza suddenly found himself with time on his hands. It turned out to be an unexpected blessing. “In order to do original music, you have to be inspired,” he said. “And you have to have time to do it right – something I didn’t always have.”

“I basically taught myself how to produce an album,” he said. “I started buying a bunch of equipment. My wife was like, ‘Tony, this doesn’t make any sense. You are not working, but you are spending all this money.’”

“Once I was awarded the grant, it made all the sense in the world.”

The writing of new material, recording an album, involving other musicians – it suddenly seemed like it was all meant to happen. “Musicians – we weren’t playing, we weren’t making money, we weren’t doing what we loved,” he said. “That’s when I decided that I wanted to feature or collaborate with different Latin bands in Charlotte. And that was a wonderful thing; they were happy to hear from me.”

“It sounds a little cheesy,” Arreaza said. “But this project actually saved me. I didn’t want to get depressed. But [the pandemic] was hard. Music is my life. In being so busy recording and producing, it helped me deal with the shutdown. So, I’m very grateful for this fellowship from the Arts & Science Council. It was like a gift of God.”