FELIX CONTRERAS, HOST:
From NPR Music, this is ALT.LATINO. I'm Felix Contreras. 2019 is going to be a busy year for Carlos Santana. This year marks the 50th anniversary of both the band's legendary performance at Woodstock in August of '69, as well as the release of the groundbreaking first Santana album called, simply, "Santana." It's also the 20th anniversary of his multi-Grammy-winning album "Supernatural," the album that introduced the band to a whole new generation of fans. And not wanting to rest on those amazing laurels, earlier this year, Carlos Santana gathered his band in the studios of super-producer Rick Rubin and recorded the 25th studio album under the Santana name. "Africa Speaks" is the name of the record, and it's a game changer for Santana - a vibrant, celebratory sound that signals that on the eve of his 72nd birthday, Carlos Santana still has plenty of music in him. Carlos, welcome back to ALT.LATINO.
CARLOS SANTANA: Muchas gracias. It's a joy and an honor to be here.
CONTRERAS: Africa has always been part of your influences, going back to the first album, those earliest days. What was your inspiration this time to focus completely on Africa?
SANTANA: Knowing that the African rhythms and melodies, they have a nutrient and ingredient that supplies vast amounts of hope and courage, which equals joy.
CONTRERAS: And that joy has been part of your - been part of the music since the very beginning.
SANTANA: Since Tijuana, when I discover - at that time, they used to call it música del Caribe, or Caribbean music, whether it's from Cuba, Puerto Rico or all the islands. But the more I researched, the more I realized it all comes from Africa.
CONTRERAS: Now, on this album - I've been a big fan of Buika, like, forever, and I was really excited to see that she's on the album. And, you know, the vocalists in Santana, it always fits the sound of the band of that time, from Leon Thomas, Greg Walker, Alex Ligertwood. Talk to us about Buika, why you chose her, and how did you find her?
SANTANA: There's no more mega Virgin Records in Paris. There's no Motor records. So like everybody, I have to go surfing at night. And I was looking for Africa now - music from Africa now. And Buika showed up, and then I played this CD, and I couldn't believe her voice. I woke up my wife, Cindy Blackman Santana. I said, honey, you got to wake up and listen to this. And so we downloaded the CD, and we drove to Napa, you know, to spend a weekend over there. And on the way over there, we just couldn't stop playing her music. And then later on, when this situation presented itself for us to create this music, our brother, Rick Rubin said, well, in "Supernatural," you had a lot of guest artists singing. Who do you want on this one? And I said, only Buika and Laura Mvula, if possible.
CONTRERAS: OK, time for some music from Buika with Santana. This is called "Oye Este Mi Canto."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OYE ESTE MI CANTO")
CONCHA BUIKA: (Singing in non-English language). Oye, este mi canto. (Singing in non-English language). Oye, oye mi canto. (Singing in non-English language). Oye este mi canto. (Singing in non-English language). Oye este mi canto. (Singing in non-English language).
CONTRERAS: OK - 49 songs in 10 days. What drove that? Did you guys have the rhythm parts down first? Did you and Cindy and Karl - did you guys work some stuff out, or did it just all come together in different ways?
SANTANA: Everything that you said - all of the above and more. The thing that kept the flow happening - because everything's about the flow - was Tommy Anthony.
CONTRERAS: That's Santana rhythm guitarist Tommy Anthony.
SANTANA: I requested to him to check out - I said, we're going to record this song, this song, this song. You know, sometimes, we're doing, like, five to seven songs a day. Take these songs tonight. Map them out like it's going to somebody's house, and you're going to be the GPS guy. All I do is pay attention before we started the song to the correct tempo, the feel and the groove. Once that's there, then I say, OK, before we start it, let's just get the groove. You know, don't play any - just play the groove, the tempo and the feel. Then I said to - let's record. Then I said to Tommy, Tommy, you're going to have this microphone here on the corner, and you tell us, here comes the verse. Here comes the chorus, another verse. Make it live. Here comes the bridge - you know, kind of thing. So he was the GPS person for every single song in the album, and that's how we got through it - really, really effective and efficient.
CONTRERAS: OK. For such a percussion-heavy album, you relied on both your wife, Cindy Blackman Santana, on drums and your longtime percussionist Karl Perazzo. Talk to us about how Karl contributed to this.
SANTANA: Karl - everybody in the band has a big portfolio and Rolodex like me. You know, Karl played with, of course, Sheila E. and Prince, and he was beloved by Tito Puente. So he knows all that - the Prince and the funk, and he also understands the Mongo and the Tito Puente thing, you know?
CONTRERAS: Bass player Benny Rietveld always shines, in the studio and live on stage, but he really stands out on this album.
SANTANA: Benny played with Miles Davis and Sheila E. Everybody in the band, again, has a deep, deep portfolio and Rolodex like myself, and we know what to do when and where.
CONTRERAS: You've worked with different producers over the years, self-produced the first couple - first three albums. You've done all this stuff yourself. What about working with Rick Rubin? Why did you choose Rick Rubin?
SANTANA: I felt that he would bring an element of cohesiveness in bringing us closer to radio frequency. You know, another - where radio is right now, they have a lot of Linn machines, and they don't even have real drums. Everything that we're living right now is an illusion, quite frankly, on radio and TV. And the only thing that's genuine and true is your heart, you know? So I felt that this particular music from Africa is - it would be the mystical medicine music for a twisted, crooked world. How about that?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CANDOMBE CUMBELE")
CONCHA BUIKA: (Singing) Que yo sin queriendo no, no sé. Que yo bailé sin querer. Dice que tomo y tomo y tomo. Me emborraché sin querer. Dicen que la hechicera lo hizo beber. Me emborraché sin querer. Que el candombé lo confundió. Que yo bailé sin querer. Y suplica, y jura que todo fue sin querer. Y suplica, y llora y jura, que todo fue sin querer. Que la soledad lo hizo beber.. Que yo tomé sin querer. Que recuerda muy poco de lo que pasó. Se me olvidó sin querer. Cadombé, cumbelé, cumbelé. Candombé, cumbelé. Que ya no se acuerda si fue en makandé. Candombé cumbelé. Candombé, cumbelé, cumbelé. Cumbelé, cumbelé, cumbelé. Y no sabe cómo se echó a perder. Me perdí sin querer. No recuerda ni donde ni por qué. Me perdí sin querer. Que yo sin querer no sé beber, me perdí sin querer. Que mi candombé no me confunde. Me perdí sin querer. Que la culpa fue, que la culpa fue. Me perdí sin querer. Ay, candombé. Ay candombé. Ay, makandé.. Ay, makandé. Ay, bembelé, bembelé, bembelé. Ay bembelé. Ay Dios mío no. Ay. Ey, ey. Que si lo hace no me pongo. Que no sé, no sé, no sé. Si lo hace no me pongo. Que yo que sí que sé, que sé, que sé, que sé. Si lo hace no me pongo. Y que ahora, y cumba. Si lo hace no me pongo. Y suplica, y jura y jura. Si lo hace no me pongo. Es que a la noche es muy dura. Si lo hace no me pongo. Y dura, y dura, dura. Si lo hace no me pongo. Y dura. Si lo hace no me pongo. Si lo hace no me pongo. Si lo hace no me pongo. Si lo hace no me pongo. Si lo hace no me pongo. Si lo hace no me pongo. Si lo hace no me pongo. Si lo hace no me pongo. Si lo hace no me pongo.
CONTRERAS: You know, as a longtime fan, this album feels a little different, and it feels like a renewal - like a renewal of the fire that inspired, like, your greatest albums, right? Am I wrong in that? Is there something different about this album. Is there something different about you that makes this some sort of, like, a renewal, some new path, some touching back?
SANTANA: This album has the fury and passion of Armando Peraza, Mongo Santamaría, Francisco Aguabella, Patato. And it also has Art Blakey, Tony Williams, Roy Haynes and, you know, Elvin Jones. So just - that's just the rhythm alone. And then melodies, you know, you have Marvin Gaye or you have Aretha and you have Miles, you know? So this album is a tapestry collaboration of all those that I love. And quite frankly, I have become them. You know, I'm becoming Dolores Huerta and Harry Belafonte, not only in music. I play music so I can be of service to humanity, you know, quite frankly.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LUNA HECHICERA")
CONCHA BUIKA: (Singing) Todo fue mentira, un maldito sueño. Todo fue mentira, un maldito sueño. La noche bajo la luna. La noche bajo la luna. La noche, noche, noche, noche, noche bajo la luna, forma la fortuna, la luna, luna, era viva está en tu boca. Se juntaron, la noche bajo la luna, bajo la luna hechicera, y no lo soñé, no lo soñé...
CONTRERAS: The album is driven by Buika's voice and all the percussion. But your guitar - and, obviously, you're known for playing - but this one sounds even more special. I mean, it reminds me, really, of the vitality I hear in something like "Lotus" from '73. It's like you're - it's - you're tapping into something on this album with these solos, with the wah-wah. It's like a different - it's a different sound, and it's just fire. It just burns this time around. What's different?
SANTANA: When we finished the album and I was driving around listening to it, I got a little concerned, almost worried - not afraid but concerned that my guitar was too piercing, too - like a knife - way too sharp, that it would hurt people's ears because it sounds like claws and sharp teeth. You know, it's just tearing it up. And then my inner voice says, be quiet. This is the way it's supposed to sound because it matches perfectly Buika and the band. I said OK. I played a Stratocaster mainly.
SANTANA: You know, it's a Stratocaster that I found in Chicago, and I've been playing this for the last four or five albums. I play Paul Reed mainly on stage. But in the studio, I've been recording with a Strat and a wah-wah because I think it helps me be a little bit more ferocious, quite frankly, you know?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LUNA HECHICERA")
CONCHA BUIKA: (Singing) Que me mira es cuando habla de mí, me mira así en el cielo me mira. A ver que en el cielo recuerdo, memoria que soy castigo frente a los amigos, qué mala suerte la mía, porque no puedo olvidarla. Me quemó desde (Unintelligible) la luna fue testigo y no, no, no, ya no los olvidé. Todo fue mentira. Absolutamente todo. Maldito sueño. Maldito sueño. Todo fue mentira. Completamente todo, maldito sueño. Maldito sueño. Soledad. Soledad me dura. Soledad. Morena. Soledad. Libertad es buena.
CONTRERAS: Another great performance by the Spanish vocalist Buika who you asked to be part of this journey. I understand that she recorded her vocals after the music was recorded. Tell us about how you worked that out.
SANTANA: Buika said, maestro, it's incredible that you recorded your guitar first and when I came in - and it sounded like we did it at the same time in the studio, even though we were in New Zealand, in Australia when she came in a week - for a week. You know, I haven't even shake hands or hug her or look eye to eye. We just recorded half of 49 songs, and we went to Australia and New Zealand. And then she came in, and she stayed at the Shangri-La. And she told me, maestro, as soon as I heard this music, I started doing things I had never done before. I wrote some lyrics I'd never written before, melodies I never - this music made me. It compelled me like a spell. Me lo hizo hacer, you know? I was - like, I found myself just driven to it, you know? I said, well, welcome to the club. You know, that's what happened to us, too, you know?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YO ME LO MEREZCO")
CONCHA BUIKA: (Singing) Y cada paso que doy, es un regalo del cielo. Pues por muy lejos que vaya, me acompaña tu recuerdo. Y ya que el mundo sigue en pie. Y ya que somos tú y yo, y aunque hayan pasado cosas entre los dos. Hoy voy a cantarle al amor, porque hoy, porque hoy me lo merezco. Voy a cantarle al amor, porque hoy me lo merezco. Hoy voy a cantarle a tu amor, hoy yo me lo merezco, sí, voy a cantarle a tu amor, porque hoy yo me lo merezco. Y hablaremos de más, sin prisas, pausas ni miedo. Y te pediré locuras, ay, y te daré todo lo que tengo aquí. Y ya que el mundo sigue en pie y que seguimos siendo tú y yo, y aunque haya habido distancia entre los dos. Hoy voy a cantarle al amor, porque hoy, porque hoy me lo merezco. Yo voy a cantarle al amor, hoy yo me lo merezco. Yo voy a cantarle a tu amor, porque hoy yo me lo merezco. Porque voy a catarle al amor. Hoy yo me lo merezco. Yeah, yeah. Hoy me lo merezco. Hoy yo me lo merezco. Porque hoy me lo merezco. Hoy yo me lo merezco. (Vocalizing).
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AFRICA SPEAKS")
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Deep in the jungle, beyond the reach of greed, you hear the voices of spirits, with their frequency of light, making sounds like the crackling of stars at night, communicating with plants, animals and mankind, affirming the universal truth. All and everything was conceived here in Africa, the cradle of civilization.
BUIKA: (Singing) De la paz pasajera, del amor hablo el libro de los hombres y del fuego en el mar, veneno y sal.
CONTRERAS: Where do you think this album fits in the arc of the Santana story?
SANTANA: When you look at the Statue of Liberty, and you see the lamp on top of her hand - the bright thing - that's what this is for Santana. This is the brightest thing that I've done in - since the beginning, you know? You're absolutely, totally correct. This is an extension of Olatunji's "Drums Of Passion."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AFRICA SPEAKS")
BUIKA: (Singing) Del amor y la guerra, veneno, veneno, mmm, mmm. Del amor y de la guerra habla el libro de los hombres y del fuego en la mar, veneno y sal. En las noches traicioneras vuelan los besos sin rumbo. Hay fuego en el mar, veneno y sal, veneno y sal, veneno y sal, veneno y sal, veneno y sal.
(SOUNDBITE OF SANTANA SONG, "BREAKING DOWN THE DOOR")
CONTRERAS: As I mentioned at the top of the show, this is a big year for Carlos Santana as he and the rest of the world celebrate the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. Now, Carlos Santana is one of the performers who played that original festival, and he's always carried the Woodstock ethos in his music and his life. And 50 years later, Carlos, you would like to take that one step further to maintaining that vibe.
SANTANA: Yo, picture this. Picture that in every city, there is a Woodstock every Saturday and Sunday, OK? There's balloons. There's music. There's barbecues. There's grandparents and parents, tie-dye shirts. But you have congas - a bunch of congas and conga players, and then we invite the gangs. You know, we fence it so the police can help us, you know, with harmony and unity. And we say, you know, come on in, and, you know, make yourself at home. If you have a gun, put it in here, and we'll give you a ticket. You know, just put it in here so you can check it back when you leave. We're going to invite you to play congas. Once you start playing congas, and you sit down with some master musicians, and they teach you how to articulate. And if you like what you're doing, take the conga with you. Leave the gun. So we're going to call it Drums For Guns, OK? And when we have enough guns, we melt them into an angel of peace with a fro.
SANTANA: OK? So...
SANTANA: ...I have Woodstock - every city with - like you were saying, 'cause I know what the congas did to me in Aquatic Park in San Francisco. The first time I heard 20 conga players and people smoking pot and drinking wine and jingo jingo ba (imitating drumming), I was like, holy shit, man, what is this, you know? So can you imagine talking to the mayors of every city and making this thing happen - Woodstocks in every city and also inviting people to do Drums For Guns? To me, that's more important than all the shootings that happen every day. It would stop.
CONTRERAS: Carlos Santana, thanks so much for joining us again here on ALT.LATINO. You're always welcome back anytime.
SANTANA: Thank you. Stay precious.
CONTRERAS: Let me remind you. Don't forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter. We are NPR's Alt.Latino. And also check out our weekly playlists of new music on both Apple Music and Spotify. Just look for ALT.LATINO on those two music outlets. I'm Felix Contreras. This has been ALT.LATINO from NPR Music. As always, thank you so much for listening.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BREAKING DOWN THE DOOR")
BUIKA: (Singing) In the end, Tina was buried by the church where she got married. Aba Tina, oh, who you have there breaking down the door? Tina should have outlived us. Now we pray she'll forgive us. Aba Tina, oh, who you have there breaking down the door? Tina was no deceiver. Few were inclined to believe her. Aba Tina, oh, who you have there breaking down the door? Aba Tina, oh, who you have there breaking down the door? Aba Tina, oh, who you have there breaking down the door? Aba Tina, oh, who you have there breaking down the door? Aba Tina, oh, who you have there breaking down the door? Aba Tina, oh, who you have there breaking down the door? Aba Tina, aba Tina, aba Tina, aba Tina, aba Tina, aba Tina, aba Tina.
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