Photo: Roberto Finizio
Carlos Santana On New Album 'Blessings And Miracles,' Healing A Divided World & Remaining Vital: "Joy Is The Ultimate Medicine And Remedy Against Fear"
Carlos Santana has been doing press interviews for long enough to be sensitive to misquotation. In fact, he's of the opinion that one of the most famous utterances of all time — one from the Gospels — was penciled in during post-production.
"Some people in the past say it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. They blame it on Jesus, but Jesus would never say such an ignorant thing," he tells GRAMMY.com. "The kingdom of heaven is an avalanche, an abundance, a multiplicity. So ask away. Don't worry about the zeroes to the right and don't worry about how."
This conceptual dissonance is on Santana's mind a lot these days. He's reading Joseph Murphy, the New Thought minister famous for Positive Mental Attitude books like 1946's Supreme Mastery of Fear and 1966's Your Infinite Power to Be Rich. At 74, the illustrious guitarist and Santana bandleader is trying to square two enterprises: Spiritual and material wealth. In both planes of existence, he claims, you can have Blessings and Miracles.
That's the title of Santana's new album, which was released Oct. 15 and features collaborators from Chris Stapleton("Joy") to Kirk Hammett ("America For Sale") to Chick and Gayle Corea ("Angel Choir/All Together"). That’s to say nothing of his son, Salvador, and daughter, Stella, who each contributed a tune — plus the return of the ageless Rob Thomas ("Move"), who you may remember from a certain oddball 1999 collaborative hit.
When surveying Santana's spiritual studies and six-decade career, it's apparent this is a man whose heart is open to the full spectrum of bounties: Not only radio stardom, critical accolades and a multi-million-dollar house on Kauai, but what a certain man called "treasures in heaven."
But don't take that so two-dimensionally as a rock star desiring to have and eat cake. There's another component at play in his words: An epidemic of bottomed-out self-respect, which Santana proposes to combat via "shelters for self-worth."
But until then, we have Blessings and Miracles, which Santana calls "mystical medicine music to heal an infected world of fear and darkness." Read on for an in-depth interview about his relationship to nostalgia, what keeps him creatively vital in his seventies and what he learned from spiritual and musical teachers Chick Corea and Alice Coltrane.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
When you survey the pop/rock landscape for potential collaborators, how do you identify someone as the right fit?
On "America For Sale," I knew intuitively that it would be an incredible thing to have two solos. So, I invited Kirk Hammett to play with me again and share with me again. We called Steven Tyler, but he couldn't do it. We left him a message. I think he was in Maui; we were in Kauai. I think he had other priorities in his life, so he couldn't commit to doing it.
So, I asked Kirk Hammett. I said, "Do you know anybody who can sing the song? I'm looking for that vibe like the singer with AC/DC, like [Mimics catlike yowl.]" He said, "Oh yeah, I know one. He's my best friend." So, he invited Mark Osegueda.
It's funny because where I am now, it seems like more than ever, nothing's outside the reach of the hand of God, sweet baby Jesus, the universe, divine intelligence, or whatever you want to call it. Just submit your request with intentionality and you'll be surprised. Your mind will be blown with an abundance of miracles and blessings.
What do those words — miracles and blessings — connote to you? I think of them through the Christian lens.
Oh, it's beyond Christian. People have been doing miracles and blessings before Jesus was here. Nobody can corner God's grace. It's not like a monopoly — only one religion or ideology can [hoard] it. Nobody owns God like that. It's not like Bank of America or Wells Fargo. God is for everybody, like rain. For me, miracles and blessings are the connection with grace. Grace is in all denominations and beliefs.
The way to access grace is with gratitude. I say this pretty much every night: The two components, ingredients, nutrients, for a human being, an individual — even atheists, of course — is to be connected with grace via gratitude. That makes so much sense.
Africa Speaks was a very earthy, live-in-the-room album. What made you want to get back out there on the pop battlefield?
Intuition, again. Intuition told me to go to Rick Rubin and create Africa Speaks with [vocalist] Buika and not necessarily have any need to go into radio. And the same voice guides me to say: It's time to get back on the radio in the four corners of the world and touch people's hearts. Because of this [pandemic], people need hope and courage. So, implant in them the seeds to validate and celebrate their own light.
Blessings and Miracles is a divine attempt to help people have a deep sense of self-worth. There are a lot of people out there who have very low self-esteem.
That rings true in a divided era where young people are struggling to find work, moving back in with their parents, losing faith in themselves.
When I finally got to talk with my brother, Chris Stapleton, and he wanted to know what kind of music I wanted to do, I said, "Mystical medicine music to heal a twisted, crooked, infected world, with fear and darkness and separation." He said, [Slightly taken aback.] "Oh. Oh! OK."
I said, "I'm coming from the same place as Bob Marley and John Lennon. We believe that we really are all one, and I want to create music with you, together, where the lyrics, melodies, and direction — the whole frequency of it — is mystical medicine music to heal an infected world of fear and darkness."
He loved it, so he created a song based on our conversation on the phone, and it's called "Joy." Joy is the ultimate medicine and remedy against fear.
Many artists of your generation are content to rest on their laurels and say, "Job well done," but it seems like you're more prolific than ever. How do you maintain your vitality and creative urge?
All her life, my wife Cindy [has exhibited] discipline to her body with her diet and exercise. She's an Olympic-class athlete like Usain Bolt. She's like Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Lee and Usain Bolt all in one! She has this incredible consistency of playing drums where most men would probably pass out if they tried to play that long, with that intensity, on a set.
She has helped me get a trainer, and one of the trainers was Gabrielle Reece, the incredible volleyball champion. She suggested this other lady named Kiana, and Kiana focuses on breathing and stretching exercises. The three words that can give you stamina, longevity and vibrancy are "Balance, equilibrium, confidence."
How do they apply to these exercises you speak of?
For me, everything starts with the breath. You take a deep breath [Inhales sharply] and then sharpen your vision — what your trajectory is, what you are going toward with intense intentionality. Then, you receive [your aspirations] a lot sooner and faster.
Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale" is a beautiful song. I love your version of it on Blessings and Miracles. What do you appreciate about it, and what made you want to give it a go?
Well, we were in Hyde Park in London doing this concert with my brother Eric Clapton. I went on stage and Gary Clark [Jr.] was playing. I went really close to Steve Winwood because it wasn't the pandemic yet and we weren't afraid to get close.
I put myself next to his ear gently and said, "Hey, Stevie, I hear you singing 'A Whiter Shade of Pale' and playing the organ and me playing guitar, and doing it completely differently — more like an African, Cuban, Puerto Rican guajira style. Very sexy." But he wouldn't look at me. He just kept looking at Gary Clark. Within 10 seconds, I guess he heard what I was hearing. He turned to me and said, "Carlos! I hear it! I see what you're saying!"
So, I called my brother Narada Michael Walden and he put it all together with us. Like I was telling you: You submit your request and there it is!
It's great to see that Gayle Moran Corea is on this record. What's your background with her and/or Chick?
Oh my god — we go back to 1970 or '72. It seems like every year, right around Christmas, I would always get cards from them, back and forth. They were always inspired to do something with me, but for some reason, we never got around to doing it.
Then, all of a sudden, Gayle said they had a song for me and they wanted to finally collaborate. So, I said yes. And as soon as he sent me the song he finished, of course, he transcended and left for the next plane.
But he sent the song, so he [had] played all the keyboards. Everything was done in Zoom anyway, so we brought it to San Rafael and I put the band in it — bass, timbales, congas, vibes — with Dave Matthews, Cindy and myself. It sounded like Cal Tjader in 1958 with Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo — that era, you know?
Did you connect with Chick on a spiritual level over the years?
Oh, yes, of course.
What did you learn from him in that regard?
Discipline. Because we traveled so much, the both of us — separately, of course — to Japan and a lot of places in the East, we learned they believe in discipline and accountability. It seems like the mentality in the Western mind — a lot of people say, "The devil made me do it, but Jesus has got my back."
But in the East, they say: With all respect to that, we believe in karma. We will not steal or take anything that doesn't belong to us because we're accountable and responsible. We don't necessarily believe in sin the way that you look at sin. We look at it like an error or mistake that doesn't need to be made. Since we believe in karma, we believe we don't have to do stupid stuff and have Jesus clean it up for us.
The cover art for Blessings and Miracles is beautiful, with that oceanic color scheme. Who is that figure in the foreground?
That's Tlaloc — the god of rain from the Aztecs. The other parts I'm really grateful for are my daughter's song, "Breathing Underwater," and my son's song, "Rumbalero." I heard the [latter] song from afar and said, "This song is very haunting." It kept showing up somewhere. I Shazam-ed it and my son's face appeared. I went, "Oh my god! My son wrote this song!"
I called him and said, "Hey, man. I really love your song. Do you mind if Cindy and I and my band played on it and I put it on my album?" He went, "Are you kidding?" I said, "No, I'm not kidding!"
So, I did the same thing with my daughter. I said, "Hey, I love your song. I can't stop playing it. It's really incredible. It reminds me of being somewhere in Switzerland or something at five o'clock in the morning. Can I play guitar on it and put it on my album?" And she was like, "Are you kidding?" [Laughs.] I'm like "No!"
It's incredible that Cindy and Salvador and my daughter [Stella] are on the album as well.
Carlos Santana performing at Woodstock in 1969. Photo: Tucker Ransom/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Some listeners might primarily associate you with Woodstock and "Smooth," but your legacy spans six decades and is miles deep. What's your relationship with nostalgia? Do you feel compelled to portray yourself as a relevant artist in the now, or are you fine with however fans perceive you?
Words like "nostalgia" or "tired" or "predictable" or anything like that are not in my constitution. They're not in my orbit. I'm just in the now, you know?
I did an interview with Anderson Cooper and one thing that really shook him up was when I said "I pretty much live in a place with no gravity and no time." Here is what Michael Jordan calls 'in the zone.' When you get in the zone, you throw the ball and it goes in because it looks like the hoop is gi-mungous.
Athletes call it "the zone," but for me, it's called grace. By connecting with grace, as soon as I wake up in the morning, I'm able to stay in love. I don't fall in love. I ascend to love; I don't fall. Therefore, when you're taking the best solos you ever take, there's no time or gravity in there.
From Eric Clapton to myself to John McLaughlin to whoever, the best solos from anybody are when they're not thinking. They're out of their minds.
Another great teacher you collaborated with was Alice Coltrane. What are your memories of her?
Oh, there are so many. But the main one I remember is when she said — very gently but very stern — "Walk like a giant like us. You're one of us." I was like, [Taken aback] 'Oh, she's saying I'm like Coltrane and her and Wayne and Herbie and Miles.'" But the way she said it was unapologetic.
Carlos Santana. Photo: Jay Blakesberg
I'd like to close out with an industry question: From your perspective, what does the music industry circa 2021 look like? Have streaming and the pandemic rendered it unrecognizable?
Whether it's a phonograph, eight-track, cassette, record, or CD, to me, it's just another highway. It used to be Route 66, coast to coast. People are always going to be thirsty, so I want to say with clarity the same thing Beethoven said to a king.
One time, they invited Beethoven to this party and there was some king from some nation. He was a little weird and he said to Beethoven, [Harumphing voice.] "So, you're the great Beethoven!" Beethoven says, "Kings come and go. There's only one Beethoven."
What are you reading lately?
I'm reading books by Joseph Murphy. He's a positive writer — beyond religion or anything like that. It's a monetary thing. When I say "Miracles and blessings," I'm talking about an avalanche — an abundance.
Some people in the past say it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. Whoever wrote that utterly didn't know what they were talking about. They blame it on Jesus, but Jesus would never say such an ignorant thing. Because God said, "It gives me great joy to give you the kingdom."
The kingdom of heaven is an avalanche, an abundance, a multiplicity. So ask away. Don't worry about the zeroes to the right and don't worry about how. Just submit your request from the center of your heart and know that all the billionaires on this planet arrive in the same way — by visualizing, and intense intentionality.
You don't have to be a genius. You don't have to be this or that. You just have to utilize your heart's prayer. So, I'm reading about that because I'm intent on helping people financially with shelters [to improve their] self-worth. Shelters to feed people, like three squares.
There are so many ways to help humanity. Not just to inspire them through music, but financially — to create institutions that would help feed, clothe and educate people. Not through any religion, but through a spiritual code of conduct.