Decades before the term "world music" had been coined, Carlos Santana broke down cultural, musical and stylistic barriers while forging his own impassioned and vibrant hybrid of rock, Latin, blues and jazz. Many rock fans owe their introduction to Latin music to Santana's groundbreaking work in the late '60s and early '70s, and hits such as "Oye Como Va," "Evil Ways" and "Samba Pa Ti." He has continued to innovate and reinvent himself through the subsequent decades, garnering 10 GRAMMYs, three Latin GRAMMYs and a slew of other accolades, including receiving Kennedy Center Honors in 2013 and two Santana recordings earning induction into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame.
Scheduled for release on May 6, Santana's new album, Corazón, is a joyous celebration of the guitarist's deep roots in Latin music. Across 12 tracks, the album boasts a pan-Latin/Caribbean cast of guest collaborators, including wife Cindy Blackman Santana, Gloria Estefan, Miguel, Juanes, Ziggy Marley, Pitbull, Romeo Santos, ChocQuibTown, Lila Downs, Niña Pastori, Soledad Pastorutti, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Samuel Rosa, Diego Torres, and Wayne Shorter. On Dec. 14, 2013, many of the album's guest artists joined Santana and his band for a jubilant album launch concert at the Vincente Fernandez Gomez Arena just outside Guadalajara, Mexico, not far from Santana's hometown of Autlán de Navarro in the state of Jalisco.
In an exclusive GRAMMY.com interview, Santana discussed the making of Corazón and working with artists such as Juanes and Estefan, plans to reunite the original Santana lineup for a forthcoming new album, and if Corazón will hold up to his 1999 GRAMMY-winning smash Supernatural, among other topics.
Why is now the time to bring forward an album of Latin music with songs primarily in Spanish and Portuguese?
Because I think in the United States we're finally realizing that Latinos, Spanish — whatever we want to call ourselves, or they want to call us — we're in! Now we're starting to see Latino men and women in movies not like Scarface anymore — [they're not being portrayed as] criminals or villains, but as role models. So I think there's a way for us to look at each other in different ways. And Latino music is really a combination of music from Africa, Spain and Germany — polkas, waltzes, flamenco, and a whole lot of African music. We didn't invent it, we integrated it.
How far do you go back with Gloria Estefan, and what was it like working with her on "Besos De Lejos" from Corazón?
As I remember, I first met Gloria around 1985 when Miami Sound Machine had a huge hit with "Conga." We've worked together a few times, for which I'm so grateful, starting with "No Llores" [along with José Feliciano and Sheila E. from Estefan's 2007 album 90 Millas]. So she and I go back for a while, because we love the same thing. We love Afro-Cuban music — rumbas and boleros. And especially the music of Cesária Évora, whose song, "Besos De Lejos," we did. Cesária Évora passed [in 2011], but she was like the Billie Holiday of Cape Verde. Gloria adapted the lyrics from the Cape Verde Portuguese dialect into Spanish.
Juanes, who sings "La Flaca" on Corazón, was originally in a metal band, Ekhymosis. Were you familiar with any of his prior work?
No, not at all! [laughs] I just knew that he was very popular. And he's very, very open-hearted. I hope we can do a whole album together in the future because I love his heart. And I didn't know the song "La Flaca" either until it was suggested for this album. As soon as I heard it I said, "Oh, I gotta bring some John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed and Lightnin' Hopkins into this." So when we got in the studio with my brother Juanes, I asked him, "Would you be into creating a whole new intro and a whole new ending to this song?" And he goes, "Uh, OK. ..." So I told him what to say in Spanish, which basically means, "Hey baby, get over here and bring me your bones." 'Cause "La Flaca" means "Skinny." "La Flaca" is my interpretation of how John Lee Hooker would do an intro. Very intimate. Very 2 o'clock in the morning. So I set the tone for Juanes. And we played this song and it went a whole other place. But it was really John Lee Hooker who I invited in the room to honor.
"Una Noche En Nápoles" is another really great track. What's the story behind that one?
It was suggested by a friend of mine, [Santana Management Administrative Assistant] Gary Rashid, who I first connected with when he used to work for Bill Graham. We were driving around one day and he said, "I want to play you a song by this band Pink Martini from Oregon." I said [incredulously], "Really?" He said, "Yeah, really. This is the kind of song Bill Graham would dance his a** off to." So he put it on. I loved the song and stored it away in the back of my head. Then we were in this office in Las Vegas with Fernando Cabral and Alex Gallardo [of Sony Music Latin America] and my manager Michael Vrionis. Fernando and Alex said, "We shouldn't disclose this, but we're doing an album with three women singers, Nina Pastori, Lila Downs and Soledad [Pastorutti], and we just want to know if you'd like to do a song with them. I said, "Yes and I've got just the song!" I played "Una Noche En Nápoles" for them and they said, "Perfect!"
I remember you telling me how you had to fight to get Spanish language songs like "Oye Como Va" on Abraxas — that some of the members of Santana at the time weren't in favor of the idea. Obviously we've come a long way since then.
That's because it was so new back then. Everyone was oriented in a different way of perception in 1968–72 when the original Santana lineup was together. We stopped in '72, but now Gregg Rolie, Neal Schon, Michael Shrieve, and Michael Carabello from the original lineup are going to get together with me again and we're going to embark on recording Santana IV, 'cause we stopped at Santana III. Everybody has grown so much now, and now that we're in our 60s, it's easier not to dismiss anything, you know? We're no longer in a place to dismiss "Oye Como Va" or "Samba Pa Ti," or for me to dismiss any of the great songs that Gregg Rolie brings to the band. So I think when you mature, you have a greater clarity of appreciation, instead of competing or anything like that. Thank God we're still healthy and alive and able to make music together again.
You always have a lot of projects going on. Are there any artists that you'd still like to work with one day?
We've had a few tour dates with our brother Rod Stewart. And I've seriously got a song I'd like to do with him — "Day Tripper" by the Beatles, but I want to do it Otis Redding-style.
Do you think Corazón will be as big as Supernatural?
We'll see how it resonates with women. 'Cause women made Supernatural what it is. And these new songs are assigned and designed to make women celebrate who they are and what they have. You know, I don't play for men. I play for women. Men just come along because they see what's happening to the women.
(Veteran music journalist Alan di Perna is a contributing editor for Guitar World and Guitar Aficionado. His liner notes credits include Santana Live At The Fillmore East, the deluxe reissue of AC/DC's The Razor's Edge and Rhino Records' Heavy Metal Hits Of The '80s [Vols. 1 and 3].)