“I am very grateful and excited. I have a lot of joy in my heart.” – Carlos Santana on releasing Santana IV.
Back in the mid-to-late sixties, a young Carlos Santana, David Brown and Gregg Rolie jammed together, and from San Francisco’s Latin district the small band emerged. The group soon grabbed the attention of promoter Bill Graham, however it was their performance at Woodstock in 1969 that propelled them and their self-titled debut to worldwide recognition, selling more than 90 million records. With a catalogue spanning 23 studio albums, and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, the band’s soulful artistry continues to resonate today.
April this year marks the exciting release of Santana IV, the first album in 45 years to feature the classic ’70s lineup of Santana, Rolie (keyboards, lead vocals), Neal Schon (guitar, vocals), Michael Carabello (percussion) and Michael Shrieve (drums).
We chatted with the guitar god himself, who told tales about learning his craft on the streets of Mexico, his philosophy of self-discovery, and how sensuality and spirituality come together on the new record.
Celebrate Your Magnificence
The transition between the infectious energy on ‘Choo Choo’ and the melancholic ‘Sueños’ allows us to move from dancing on top of the world to contemplating everything inside it, and this resonated deeply with Santana.
“When we got to the end of ‘Choo Choo’, I came out with the riff”. He paused here to hum its striking rhythm. “You know, certain riffs that remind me of AC/DC, or Jimi Hendrix or Jeff Beck… they just rock! It’s an invitation to drop the luggage and baggage, and just celebrate your magnificence. Real rock ‘n’ roll to me is releasing fear, guilt and remorse (all that kind of junk). So that’s what it is.”
‘Choo Choo’ and ‘All Aboard’ clearly reflect just how good the musicians are at bouncing off each other, while ‘Sueños’ takes us to another world through beautifully balanced guitar harmonies and a heartrending vocal.
No Future without Forgiveness
“When I was a child, I heard this boom sound in the sky and I was afraid. Turns out it was just an aeroplane breaking the sound barrier. Then later on in the ‘70s, they broke the sound barrier with the speed of light, but now there’s another velocity: the speed of compassion and forgiveness.”
Listening to Santana IV‘s closing track ‘Forgiveness’ was a visceral experience. I expressed to the guitar legend that sometimes after immersing yourself in the music, you can’t verbally explain how you feel. He agreed strongly, reflecting on his faith in our capacity to “forgive and forget”.
“It’s faster than the sound, faster than light. I think the velocity of when humans really forgive and forget… It’s enormous for human beings because they tend to crawl like alligators or turtles, and tend to hold grudges so much. You’re crawling on your existence, but as soon as you really forgive from your heart, you’re moving so fast now, and the universe will reward you immediately with an abundance of blessings and opportunities.”
This sentiment weaves its way through the song’s entirety, awakening every fibre of our being on a wave of searing vocals as well as a striking synthesis of each musician’s talents.
‘Echizo’: Wielding a Sword Made of Fire
The magnetic instrumental track was another highlight that I queried Santana about. Upon mentioning it, he took the conversation to the song’s essence.
“It takes me to a place where I’m able to pull out a sword made of fire and cut through the illusion of fear. We promote so much of it everywhere, so when I hear that song, I feel like I’m breaking free” he captured.
The feeling on ‘Echizo’, with Neil Schon’s playing style reminiscent of Jeff Beck while Santana himself channels Sonny Fortune, will give any older fan flashbacks.
Sexuality & Spirituality
Santana agreed that these two elements are entwined with every aspect of the band, and he illuminated just what and who stimulated him to tap into these core ideas.
“Water and air are probably the most essential things for humans, spiritually and sensually. Without that, I wouldn’t want to be on this planet, or any planet.”
He then paused for a brief moment – I imagined him gesturing over the phone.
“Like you, everyone has been encoded with divinity, and magnificence. The people around me like Michael Shrieve, Ron Isley [The Isley Brothers] and my wife Cindy [Blackman, drummer with Lenny Kravitz], they all have a very impressive eagerness to change the conditions of this planet with joy, and so they inspire me.”
This resonates strongly on standout tracks from Santana IV, particularly through the caressing touch pervading ‘Leave Me Alone’, as well as the elasticity and contagious vibes of ‘Come As You Are’.
Growing up on the streets of Mexico
Santana’s father was the one who put the violin in his hands and taught him how to both read and play. He then started performing in the streets, really learning how to get “inside the note”, and the soulful guitarist reflected on this.
“You know, if someone was giving me enough money so that I could buy some tacos…” He chuckled here, yet his compassion towards those who were drawn to his music earlier on shined through. “I said ‘Wow. You play music and people will feed you, pay money for you to get your clothes and pay your rent.’”
“My father’s the one who taught me that there’s an immediate reward to play from your heart, because people do need music.”
“Play like you don’t know how to play” – Miles Davis
Davis’ wise words were something I knew resonated with Santana for a long time, so I invited him to explore why they were so powerful to him.
“You know, it took me a while to really understand what that means,” he mused. “Miles meant for you to play with innocence and maturity, and not be so mechanically inclined. Play with the innocence of a seven-year-old child. Self-discovery is learning to surrender to a holy ghost. You can only practice so much, and that’s okay for mechanics and muscle memory, but there’s something infinitely more important that people need to hear and feel. That’s the holy ghost, it’s a very tangible friend near you and me. When you invite this in whatever it is that you do, you become more magnanimous.”
Part of this self-discovery harks back to being able to “give yourself chills”, Santana’s own word of advice to aspiring musicians.
“That’s exactly it. How can they receive something if you can’t get it yourself? It’s not a particular situation, it happens when it happens because you can access it. We are born dialled in. I had two incredible friends Bill Graham and Clive Davis, and they taught me a lot, along with Miles and B.B. King. But Bill Graham used to wet his finger, he just put it in his mouth, and then point it to the sky and say ‘When the angels kiss it, then you’re going to hear it’.
Santana IV captures not only the talent of all its musicians but the essence of the man himself: sensual, spiritual and highly perceptive. Take yourself on the album’s journey here, or keep up with all things Santana through their website.