Carlos Santana: 'I Am A Reflection Of Your Light' Musician Carlos Santana shares his journey from a difficult childhood in Mexico to international stardom in the new memoir, The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light.
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Carlos Santana: 'I Am A Reflection Of Your Light'

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Carlos Santana: 'I Am A Reflection Of Your Light'

Carlos Santana: 'I Am A Reflection Of Your Light'

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Carlos Santana arose from playing music on the streets and strip clubs of Mexico to become an international superstar. He sold millions of records with a sound that fuses blues, rock and jazz with the sounds and textures of Latin America. And his best-known song may be this one, "Black Magic Woman."

(SOUNDBITE OF CARLOS SANTANA SONG, "BLACK MAGIC WOMAN")

MONTAGNE: Carlos Santana has a new memoir. It's out today, and it's called "The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light." Much of it focuses on how Santana's difficult early life shaped his music and career. When he joined NPR's Michel Martin, she asked him why he dedicated the book to his mother.

CARLOS SANTANA: Because I think she probably prayed for me more than anyone to keep me from getting lost. And I dedicated it to her because she deserves to know that her prayers worked. I am a good man.

MICHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: You are a fourth-generation musician. I'm not sure that people know this. Your father is a musician, his father and his father before him...

SANTANA: And my son.

MARTIN: And your son, yeah. Your father was your first teacher. I mean, he played violin, but you also write about how your violin was stained with tears because he was so tough on you. Can you talk about that?

SANTANA: Yeah, well, he didn't know how to be gentle. You know, let's try that, and no. My heart would just go, what? Oh, my God. I appreciate now because even though his methods were not gentle, it was very efficient.

MARTIN: You obviously have a lot of love and respect for both of your parents, but you are unsparing and very detailed in your description of how they rode you hard. Some of it was circumstance. I mean, you had seven kids in the family. Dad was a professional musician, not a lot of money - lots of pressures on them. What do you think it was about? Do you think it was the circumstance, or do you think it was like this will for excellence - to will you to excellence?

SANTANA: I think the will for excellence sounds really, really good. As, you know, my mom would say, OK, we're poor, but we're not dirty and filthy. Clean the house. Like, you know, this one that she would say, what are you doing? And if you say nothing, I know, make yourself useful, don't just sit there like a lump. Do something.

MARTIN: Were you drawn to music, or was it something that they drew you to?

SANTANA: No, I was drawn to music just by watching everybody - children, older people and especially women. Looking at my dad, every time he played, women were like, oh, Don Jose. You know, and I'm like, oh, Don Jose? I was like, oh, I want some of that. I didn't know what to call it, but I know that now we call it being adored. I love that dimension of music more than anything, you know, to adore supreme integrity and elegance. I want that - even though I grew up in Tijuana and in the poorest part - but I want integrity and elegance, and I want to carry myself like I got more money than anyone in the world.

MARTIN: Was there a song that you played early in your career that kind of does that for you?

SANTANA: "Samba Pa Ti."

(SOUNDBITE OF CARLOS SANTANA SONG, "SAMBA PA TI")

SANTANA: I just want to be adored like my dad.

MARTIN: There is one pain point. You first went public as a survivor of molestation in 2000, and you described being molested by a wealthy American who seemed to prey on young boys. And I just wonder what effect you think this had on you.

SANTANA: Well, for a long time, it made me feel like everybody woke up to screw me - to mess with me, just to put me down or to take advantage of me, you know? However, the main thing that I learned from this is that I am not what happened to me. I am still with purity and innocence. No one can take that away from me.

MARTIN: You were very angry for a lot of years, and I did wonder whether it was related to that, or was it something else?

SANTANA: It's probably totally related to that. There was a lot of things to be angry about when you come to United States. On the one hand, you have gratitude because this nation opens the door for you, even though we were here first. And then they try to convince you - I mean, look, for me when I used to get angry is when I was in Mission High School and they give me, like, some kind of test. And that test was assigned and designed to make me fail because I'm Mexican. I don't know the things that don't really don't matter to me. So I said, I'm not doing this. If I give you a test of what I know, you're going to fail it.

I went to the principal a lot of times, but I come from a generation that question authority, you know, because this is what's wrong with the world - white people think that they're better than blacks. Men think they're better than women. Christians thinks they're better than somebody else. Straight things are better than gay. See, this is the problem with the world.

But when you say, no, no, no, no, no, I am a reflection of your light. That's a whole other level of communication. When people give me a compliment, I always say, thank you, I am a reflection of your light.

MARTIN: But where do you think that came from in you, that desire to question authority? Is that something that was always in you, or do you think that's something that you developed when you came here and you had to struggle?

SANTANA: It comes from my mom. You know, my mom is a lot like Miles Davis and Miles Davis wouldn't take no [bleep] from anybody. Black or white, you know?

MARTIN: Because you talked about coming here as a 13-year-old and being made to feel like such an outsider, in part, because of being Mexican you're an American citizen now. What do you think now? Some people might argue we're having kind of a Latin moment. I mean, do you feel like the outsiders made it inside?

SANTANA: You know, I've changed my whole perception of that. I don't speak Latin. I only know some (speaking Latin). That's Latin, you know, I don't - I learned a little bit in church, which means Lord have mercy, you know. So I'm not Latino or Spanish. What I am is a child of light. I want this book for people to understand that you don't have to be Dalai Lama or the pope or Mother Teresa or Jesus Christ to create blessings and miracles. Keep repeating, I am that I am. I am the light.

MARTIN: Carlos Santana, thank you so much.

SANTANA: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF CARLOS SANTANA SONG, "YO SOY LA LUZ")

MONTAGNE: This song, "Yo Soy La Luz," came from Santana's latest album "Corazon." He was speaking with NPR's Michel Martin about his new memoir, "The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story To Light." You can hear Santana talk more about the music that reminds him of his early life on NPR Music's Alt. Latino at npr.org/altlatino.

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