Santana credits humanity’s birthplace — and Metatron — for his life and sound
Published: September 7, 2011
Has everything been invented in music? Yes and no. You can always trace what anyone is doing to an earlier master, an earlier sound. But every decade has new waves of music that change the musical map thanks to the inspiration of people who listen to their own muse. Or their own angel.
On August 16, 1969 (the second of the three days of the original Woodstock), Carlos Santana and his band stopped the show with a performance that catapulted him to guitar god status. And even though the mix of congas, electric guitar, and Afro Latin rhythms (African, if you ask him) had been toyed with in different countries, none had the power, skill level, and influence of that fierce rendition of “Soul Sacrifice.” But then and now, Santana refuses to take credit.
“God invented everything, we discovered,” he told the Current on the phone, back and forth in Spanish and English, days before his Sunday show at AT&T Center. “I just always kept my ears open.”
He’s touring for Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time, an album where he and guests cover songs like “Little Wing” (sang by Joe Cocker, another Woodstock veteran), “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” (Scott Weiland), and “Whole Lotta Love” (Chris Cornell). After the tour ends, he’ll release Shape Shifter, an all-instrumental album of mostly originals that, judging from the quality of its title song, is the most challenging and least commercial Santana album since the ’70s.
“I’m finally ready to do something like that,” he said. “No singers, just the band and my guitar.”
Santana has kept busy ever since the San Francisco tardeadas in the ’60s opened his eyes and ears to a musical universe he internalized with integrity. He’ll never forget the day he saw a mariachi orchestra, a salsa band, and a rock group playing in three different sections of a park in the Bay area.
“People would choose who to listen to, but I heard all three at the same time,” he said. “Then I began to integrate B.B. King with Tito Puente, Cuco Sánchez with Ray Barreto, and Mongo Santamaría with Miles Davis. People said that it was something new, but for me it was only natural.”
The most popular names of the era (Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Doors) were basically playing the blues, only increasingly louder. They were taking inspiration from the same blues and rock ’n’ roll artists admired by the young Santana. “The only thing that was different was that I began to listen more to Tito Puente, Miles Davis, and [John] Coltrane. I began to integrate the thing with more latitude. Instead of being a one-trick dog, I learned the whole book.”
But he has always known where it all comes from. He not only refuses to take credit for it, he doesn’t want anyone besides the true owners to claim ownership either. “Ninety-nine percent of my music comes from Africa,” he said. “Sorry, Puerto Ricans, and sorry Cubans, who think they invented it. But those are lies. They didn’t invent chicken broth. Chicken broth was invented in Africa. Danzón, cha-cha-cha, mambo, bolero, cumbia … I can name 1,000 rhythms — they all come from Africa. The only thing that doesn’t come from Africa is Riverdance. Even polka can be integrated with ska. A lot of people get mad at me and say, ‘Why do you give so much credit to the negros?’ Because it’s their music! If I play at all, it’s thanks to them! Thanks to them I have what I have! That’s why I send a lot of money to Africa, because I clearly articulate the music of my African brothers.”
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