Santana's 'Africa Speaks' Album Is A Divine Voodoo Carlos Santana speaks with NPR's Ari Shapiro about his latest album Africa Speaks and explains how to maintain a constant thirst for music discovery.

For Santana, 'Africa Speaks' Album Is About 'Manifesting Divine Voodoo'

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Fifty years ago, Carlos Santana and his band walked onstage at the legendary Woodstock music festival. Unlike almost everyone else playing there, Santana had not yet released a full-length album.

CARLOS SANTANA: We had the element of surprise because nobody knew us. But one thing we knew, a year later after we played, was that the Rolling Stones, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, everybody had congas all of a sudden. So I said, hm, something's working.

SHAPIRO: Half a century later, after 10 Grammy awards, a star on Hollywood Boulevard and a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Carlos Santana is still creating new music with new collaborators.

SANTANA: I'm 71. But I swear to you, if you come and see our band, you couldn't believe and you wouldn't believe just how much energy is flowing out of our bodies.


SHAPIRO: His latest album is called "Africa Speaks." I asked Carlos Santana which sounds of Africa provided his way into this music.

SANTANA: I turned to the wa (ph). I learned a long time ago when I went to Ghana - the women showed me where the wa was. They said, Santana, and I turned around and there was, you know, maybe five women, and they go - heya, na na, na, na, na, na, heya, na, na, na, wha - wha - heya (ph) - and while they were doing that, they were opening their hands like they have something. And they show me that every music in the world must have the wa. Without the wa, it doesn't - see, music has the capacity to transport you beyond time and outside of gravity, if you visit the wa correctly.

SHAPIRO: Wow. I love that so much. Which track can you point us to where we'll hear that wa?

SANTANA: Every single one. The main one on the end, "Candombe," is the ritual ritual.

SHAPIRO: Let's listen to this track. It's called "Candombe Cumbele."

SANTANA: "Condombe" - yes, exactly.


CONCHA BUIKA: (Singing in foreign language).

SHAPIRO: Where do we hear the wa in that?

SANTANA: Wa - tchk, tchk, ding, ka - wa (ph). There.


BUIKA: (Singing in foreign language).

SHAPIRO: Some of these tracks are in Yoruba; others are in Spanish. How did you make those decisions? Or was that the decision of Buika, your vocalist?

SANTANA: It was the decision of Buika. And Spanish and Yoruba, they are the same.

SHAPIRO: What do you mean when you say that?

SANTANA: Well, Spain music comes from the Moors where the - because the Moors conquered Spain. And so that's why you have flamenco because flamenco comes from brothers and sisters singing to Allah three or four or five times a day. It's the same frequency.


BUIKA: (Singing in foreign language).

SHAPIRO: Did you think about playing the guitar in a different way that would reflect the rhythms and sounds of the African traditions you were tapping into?

SANTANA: No. You know, I was so busy. We recorded 49 songs in 10 days. So I was more concerned with the tempo, the feel and the groove of each musician in each song. So I just played. And I would - what do you call it? - overdub very minimum in the very end with Buika

SHAPIRO: Can you take me into the head space of creating nearly 50 songs in 10 days. I'm just having a hard time imagining that.

SANTANA: I'll tell you the secret. I ask Tommy Anthony, our rhythm guitar player, listen - before you go to bed, I want you to take those five songs that we're going to record tomorrow and map them out like directions to your house. We start the song, I'll crystallize the tempo, the feel and the groove (ph). So he was what I called GPS.

SHAPIRO: Wow. So were some of these tracks, like, a single take in the studio?

SANTANA: Most of them, other than two.


BUIKA: (Singing in foreign language).

SHAPIRO: Buika is a vocalist who you've not worked with before. She's from Mallorca, the Spanish island, which has its own roots and connections to Africa. Why were you sure that she was the right vocalist for this particular project?

SANTANA: Her impeccable integrity to being true. For example, when I hear Nina Simone and Etta James and Tina Turner, Buika is that frequency, yet she doesn't sound like them. But she's got the same raw sincerity and honesty.

SHAPIRO: That growl, that...

SANTANA: Trueness (ph).


BUIKA: (Singing in foreign language).

SHAPIRO: Tell us about the track "Los Invisibles," which is in Yoruba, the language that is spoken in Nigeria.


BUIKA: (Singing in foreign language).

SANTANA: Yeah, it's in the language of New Guinea because I think she has ties with this particular DNA in her family. So when I heard it, I needed to make it, like, funky. I asked Benny, the bass player, please play it like the way you play when you were playing with Miles Davis. Like - make that bass snap.


BUIKA: (Singing in foreign language).

SANTANA: Everything that we played on this album is pretty much like creating nutrients and ingredients of a divine spell, a divine conjuring and manifesting - divine voodoo.

SHAPIRO: Divine voodoo.


SHAPIRO: What kind of a spell are you trying to cast on the listener? When somebody listens to this album, what do you hope it creates in them?

SANTANA: It's the same thing when people get really, really passionate and they make love and, when they get to that point, they say, oh, my God - same thing.


BUIKA: (Singing in foreign language).

SHAPIRO: Do you feel like this album explores something new within your identity - focusing on Africa, songs that are in Spanish and Yoruba, kind of free of the expectations of radio play.

SANTANA: Yes. Thank you for saying that. A long time ago, I heard someone said that in the Bible, it said that nothing was new under the sun. And I said, whoever wrote that has a crooked and twisted mind. Everything's new to me with purity and innocence every second. It's all in how your heart perceives things to create fresh, new. But you must have a consistent thirst to remain with innocence.

SHAPIRO: Is it hard for you to keep everything new and innocent when you are playing "Oye Como Va" for the 5,000th time?

SANTANA: I learned a long time ago that I have the capacity to every time I play "Oye Como Va" or "Black Magic Woman" - for example, "Black Magic Woman" - the first time we played it was in a parking lot in Fresno.


GREGG ROLIE: (Singing) Got a black magic woman, got a black magic woman.

SANTANA: And Gregg Rolie said, hey, man, I have this song that I think we should do. So he started playing it, and then I immediately in my mind said, why don't you try a couple of Wes Montgomery here and some Otis Rush here and everything. And so every time I play a "Black Magic Woman," I go to Fresno, the parking lot the first thing that we did it. Thank God my imagination is very, very solid.

SHAPIRO: That's incredible - what a great story.


SHAPIRO: Carlos Santana, thank you so much for talking with us today. This has been a real pleasure.

SANTANA: Thank you for sharing me with the folks. Stay precious, and know that you can create miracles and blessings. Peace.


SHAPIRO: Carlos Santana's new album is called "Africa Speaks."


BUIKA: (Singing in foreign language).

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