Carlos Santana: Life, Music & Cindy

“The universe will bring you an abundance of opportunities and possibilities. It’s really all about trusting that before you got there, when you were sleeping, the universe was conspiring to give you something to blow your mind. Would you be open to receive it?”

That sums up the 72-year journey of Carlos Santana. He became a pioneer of Latin rock primarily through talent and determination, of course. But there was a large element of being in the right places at the right times. As a boy in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, Carlos was turned on by the Latin tones and rhythms of his ancestors. His father, a violinist, taught him to play the violin, but the instrument’s nuance eluded Carlos, who describes his playing as that of “a scroungy cat in an alley in the middle of the night.” He picked up the guitar instead. He learned to make that instrument sing like Agustín Lara, the Mexican composer and bolero singer who was his father’s favorite. But Carlos also couldn’t resist the popular blues-guitar sounds coming from the U.S. “I wanted to sound like B. B. King and Otis Rush and all the people I loved,” he says. “Go inside a closet, turn the lights off, and play, and try to sound like them. And then I didn’t sound like them. I sounded like me. I didn’t realize that it was a blessing instead of a curse. But when I stopped trying to sound like somebody else and really paid attention to me, I heard that sound that goes through all people’s hearts.”

The universe did bring Carlos abundance.

He moved to San Francisco (again, the right place at the right time) and became a key part of a flourishing psychedelic-rock scene. His style—melodic guitar lines soaring over Afro-Latin beats in thrilling free-form jams—was not intended as commercial music, but fans responded and made the songs hits. Among them were “Evil Ways,” “Oye Como Va” and “Black Magic Woman.” He played the Woodstock stage at age 22, which ignited his career even before his band had released an album. He went on to record some 40 LPs, including 1999’s multiple-Grammy-winning Supernatural. That was three decades into a music career, a point by which many legacy artists are relegated to the oldies circuit. Never the lead singer himself (others have performed that role in the band Santana), Carlos has been an unusual front man by rock standards—more like the bandleader of Latin-music tradition. It was a decided departure from convention. And yet, more than 50 years in, Carlos Santana is still recording and performing and drawing crowds.

“He sings with his guitar,” says Colombian rock star Juanes, who collaborated with Carlos on the 2014 hit “La Flaca.” “His melodies and solos are as catchy as a singer’s. Somehow his fingers are an extension of his soul. They have his stamp, and that’s everything when you’re an artist.”

Another Carlos Santana hallmark is his way of talking—of thinking, really—in metaphors, more than specifics. He loves to dispense pearls of wisdom, not because he fancies himself a preacher or a shrink. Quite the contrary; he says he’s been to therapy maybe twice in his life. Rather, it’s that he’s figured out his path to happiness and wants to share the goods.

“You stay relevant by trusting you have something people need. You know, people need air; people need water; people need some serious rrrrrromance,” he says, rolling the “r” for emphasis.

“Humans without romance become curmudgeons and predictable with misery.” Carlos believes his music helps. “I know that we bring something to the four corners of the world. When you play music and can actually see people cry, and then laugh and dance at the same time, honey, that gives you confidence.”

Now Carlos is delving even deeper into his roots with his 2019 album, Africa Speaks, released in June. He explores African rhythms—which he considers the origins of Latin music—with the help of sultry singer Buika, born in Spain to Equatorial Guinean parents. The two hadn’t met before. Carlos typed “new African music” into Google late one night and Buika’s name popped up. They connected and, with legendary producer Rick Rubin at the helm, recorded fresh versions of 49 African songs in 10 days. “I want to bring new African music to the mainstream because I think people need this nutrient, this ingredient, to learn how to dance differently,” Carlos explains. “Music needs melody, rhythm and heartfelt sounds. There is too much synthesized music. Basically, it’s like the shopping malls in America—so much of it sounds the same.”

His ambitions have also moved beyond music in the past two decades. Through his Milagro (“Miracle”) Foundation, established in 1998, Carlos has given nearly $8 million in grants to almost 400 organizations around the world that support children in the areas of education, health and the arts. The grants range from $7,500 for local literacy organizations to over $100,000 for earthquake relief in Mexico. But even with these tangible efforts, there’s still a bit of Cosmic Carlos in there: “People who are really, really committed, 1,000 percent, roll up their sleeves and will go anywhere in the world, even if there is no landing strip. They land and bring medicine, but the main medicine they bring is the way they look at people and touch people. That’s medicine!”

On July 9, 2010 Carlos proposed to his drummer Cindy Blackman who was on tour with him. Five months later on December 19, 2010, Carlos and Cindy got married on the island of Maui.

“What attracted me to Cindy was her clarity and certainty,” Carlos told me. “I felt that I could be at ease living with her and that it wouldn’t be uncomfortable like, ‘Okay, it’s time to call you a cab now.’ When we hugged in the kitchen it felt unconditional…I knew right then that I could share my life with her forever.”

Cindy (52) told me that though she had been in a couple of long-term relationships, she’d never been married. “One of my Kabbalah instructors said, ‘…Cindy, you only have to ask one question. Is he spiritual? I asked that question about Carlos, (64) and the answer was absolutely yes.’

When Cindy came in, we were so ready for each other. I’ve never had a partner where there are no issues ever, no drama mill, no issues about insecurity or someone with a laundry list of things I need to change. Nothing like that! We’re like two kids in a sandbox, and she’s got the shovel and I’ve got the bucket.”

With Cindy, he entered a new stage of his journey, personally and musically (Cindy plays on his albums, and he can also be heard on her latest set, Give the Drummer Some). “

Cindy Blackman Santana’s new album, “Give The Drummer Some” will drop on September 18, 2020. Three years in the making, the record is a rapturous testament to Blackman Santana’s unparalleled musicianship and compositional mastery, featuring 17 tracks (both instrumentals and vocal songs) that take listeners on an exuberant, compelling and beautifully sustained journey that will leave them breathless. In many ways,

Give the Drummer Some represents a grand summation of Blackman Santana’s talents and history, but it’s also the start of an exciting new chapter in her musical life. The record features Carlos Santana (on 8 tracks), John McLaughlin (on 2 tracks), Kirk Hammett (1 track), Vernon Reid (3 tracks) with multiple tracks Produced by Narada Michael Walden, Cindy Blackman Santana & Carlos Santana.

Blackman Santana’s sparkling vocals light up Give the Drummer Some’s next single, “She’s Got it Goin’ On’” – a doozy of a party jam but one with a distinct point of view. “It’s a fun, clubby, party song that celebrates the confidence that a strong woman has,” says Blackman Santana. “She’s dressed for success, she’s got her hair just right, she’s got a strut – she knows who she is. I wanted to celebrate confident women in a really cool way. And a celebration can be empowering.” “If I had any kind of agenda at all, I wanted this album to be all-encompassing,” says Blackman Santana. “Pop, funk, rock, jazz – I embrace the creativity in all of it, and I feel so inspired when I play it. That’s what I wanted people to feel when they listen to the album – inspired. It was a lot of fun to do so many vocal songs on this album,” she says. “I am, and always will be a drummer, but it’s also exciting to showcase the singer side of me. I want people to have a great time listening to it. I set out to make a record that was fun and uplifting, but more than that I wanted the messages to matter. If people come away from it feeling all that I put into it, then I’ve done my job.”

Give the Drummer Some can be pre-ordered now.

Here’s the full track list:

“Imagine” — featuring Carlos Santana “We Came To Play” — featuring John McLaughlin “She’s Got It Goin’ On” “Miles Away” “Everybody’s Dancin'” — featuring Carlos Santana “Velocity” “I Need a Drummer” “Superbad” — featuring John McLaughlin “You Don’t Wanna Breaka My Heart” — featuring Carlos Santana “Evolution Revolution” — featuring Kirk Hammett & Vernon Reid “Change Is in Your Hands” — featuring Vernon Reid “Dance Party” — featuring Carlos Santana “Fun Party Splash” — featuring Carlos Santana “Social Justice” — featuring Carlos Santana “Twilight Mask” — featuring Carlos Santana “Mother Earth “Black Pearl” — featuring Carlos Santana & Vernon Reid

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