This all started with the thought . . . what, who, is, was Santana. And then it ran away with me.
Santana is more than a name. Santana is more than a band or even a man. Santana is a unique experience, being something different to everyone who shares the sensory delight that is Santana. I am of the view that one experiences Santana, for to me, Santana is not simply music to be listened to. It is a band of brethren manifesting the vision of the guitar player extraordinaire, Carlos Santana. His sound is unique, immediately recognisable and inestimably “Santana”. From “Evil Ways” featured on the 1969 debut album, Santana through all 30 odd albums recorded and released over the four decades since, there is; That Sound – That Guitar – That Man
The instantly recognisable “sound” is a meld of signature elements of Afro-Latin rhythms, soaring vocals, electrifying blues-psychedelic guitar solos, and irrepressibly jubilant percussion work. Combine this with widescreen hooks and melodies and you have the sounds that will lodge themselves in the thicket of listeners’ senses and stay there. Forever.
Santana is the brand of the 60s and 70s – one could say that Santana is a band which became a brand! All bands seek this musician’s Nirvana. The certainty of musical immortality, if you like, or even if you don’t! Very few achieve this elusive goal. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones are some of the bands that managed to be “different” but half of them are dead too early and the rest make up a pretty short list. Thank heavens for the technology of sound recording because without that even The Stones songbook would end up on the scrapheap of forgotten tunes.
But, thanks to that very recording technology not only does it survive but The Santana sound now forms the soundtrack to millions of lives across the world, mine included.
Commencing at their unforgettable performance at the seminal “Woodstock Music & Arts Fair” of August 1969 right through to 2016’s Santana IV the fan base has simply grown. Fans of Santana don’t defect to other artists or “different genres”. Rather they live on or pass on. Nothing in between. When Santana took to the stage in upstate New York on that muddy August day 48 years ago the band had not yet been signed by a record label! They had recorded precisely nothing as of that time, playing clubs and pubs to eke out a living. The symbiotic relationship with “Woodstock Festival” as the embodiment of the Youth (Hippy) Counterculture and the fledgling Santana as its theme song was formed.
It is to Santana’s sound that my generation swayed and shuffled on that rain-sodden field forever known as Woodstock.
We went on to military service. Vietnam, Angola, Rhodesia, Congo, Afghanistan and Iraq were all fought and died for to the sounds of Santana. Good Morning Vietnam! And, if we survived, most of us went on to love and to marriage, starting families of our own. Our generation were determined not to make the same mistakes that our parents had made. Resolutely teaching our children what our fathers and our mothers didn’t know how to teach us. Although most of us have failed to bring our children up differently to how our parents raised us we cannot blame the soundtrack of our lives. Genetics is a powerful influencer. All the while Santana was with us. To illustrate my point, in 1981 I tried playing Oye Como Va and Samba Pa Ti in the delivery room when my son was born. I was ejected for my troubles but my son was bitten and he’s now a fan of the Santana sound. And a disciple of the Carlos Santana style.
The music of that time is etched into my psyche but most of all, the sounds of Santana. And now, although I appreciate and listen to virtually everything that is categorised as music not a week goes by without me putting on a Santana album from my collection. As Carlos’ opening guitar licks wash over me I find myself in a transcendent state, all at once, in the Fillmore West, LA with Carlos Santana’s beautiful and beloved notes tingling in my ears, cleansing my troubled mind. That irrepressible sound uplifts my soul whilst allowing me a tear here and there in memory of comrades who didn’t make it this far.
Full circle is how everything in Nature works. From the unimaginably long periods that make up the precession of the equinoxes to the fleeting life cycle of some butterflies everything goes and eventually comes back in a ceaseless cycle that you can count on.
Santana is no exception to the rule of cycles. Hence the lineup for the latest offering being the brilliant Santana IV CD which sees original Santana Blues Band members; iconic guitar player, Carlos Santana together with Gregg Rolie (keyboards & lead vocals), Neal Schon (guitar, vocals), Michael Carabello (percussion) and Michael Shrieve (drums). The album signifies the first time in since 1971’s multi-platinum classic Santana III that the original five band members have recorded together. The lineup is rounded off by extant Santana band members; Karl Perazzo on percussion with Benny Rietveld on bass. Legendary vocalist Ronald Isley makes a guest appearance guesting on two cuts
One day when I too am dead and someone says, “What should we play at Pete’s memorial service?” I hope that they look no further than Samba Pa Ti. I’m listening to the second album, Abraxas as I write. I wish you happy listening and the experience of, the feeling that IS Santana.
Thanks for reading. Ciao
Peter Mark Wells-Garnett © 25 January 2017