2019 marks the 20th anniversary of Carlos Santana’s groundbreaking album Supernatural and the 50th anniversary of his legendary performance at Woodstock. One June 7th he releases yet another vibrant new album, Africa Speaks featuring the vocal talents of Spanish singer Buika.
Latin rock guitar legend Carlos Santana’s music has always been about the sharing of ideas between musicians, with his band members on stage constantly listening and reacting, making the sum bigger than the individual elements. His first notable recorded collaboration with another artist was 1973’s Love Devotion Surrender album with John McLaughlin. Then in the late nineties Carlos broadened his jam mate base to enter the commercial pop music world, when he hooked up with mega star of the day Rob Thomas and together they created a huge global hit in’Smooth’. From then on, Carlos’ thirst to experiment with other genres and collaborate with other high profile artists increased, resulting in recordings or performances with Michelle Branch, Gloria Estefan, Steven Tyler, Lauryn Hill, Cee Lo Green, Michael Jackson, Seal, and many others.
When Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips asked Carlos about his interest in collaborations back in 2008, he became animated. “I’d like to work with Yo Yo Ma. I’d like to work with Andreas Bocelli. I’d like to work with this new band Ill Nino … they’re like the new Metallica. I just think god man, I don’t have to be stuck and say I will only deal with this window. It can work for some people but for me, it’s ba ba boring! I need to co-exist or compliment whatever it is in front of me.”
For Carlos, that spirit of sharing musical ideas has not diminished and on Friday June 7 there will be a new Santana album released. It’s titled Africa Speaks, featuring acclaimed Spanish singer Buika and as the title suggests, it pays homage to the mother country. Enlisting legendary producer Rick Rubin, Santana and his band convened at Rubin’s Shangri La Studios in Malibu, and recorded an astonishing number of tracks, many of them in one take.
Throughout his storied career, music legend Carlos Santana has amassed an iconic body of work by pioneering a unique fusion of rock, Latin and jazz. On his upcoming album, Africa Speaks, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitarist goes deeper and further than ever before. Inspired by the sounds and rhythms of Africa, the virtuoso musician has created a truly memorable and powerful experience that also promises to be one of his most groundbreaking albums yet.
To begin the album, African drums converse with Carlos’ exotic guitar licks and Buika’s captivating voice in a musical call to arms, signalling an invitation to join them in a joyous journey of irresistible rock, latin, and afro beats. It’s a dynamic album, shifting effortlessly from familiar Woodstock-era rock rhythms to sambas, ballads, funk and gospel flavours. Buika is a revelation, with her powerful and soulful voice highlighted on the nine minute-plus epic Blue Skies. All the while, Santana’s signature licks permeate proceedings. Breaking Down the Door is infectious. Bembele is simply beautiful. Africa Speaks is one of Santana’s strongest offerings for some time.
For Santana, the inspiration for Africa Speaks holds a special significance. “This is music that I hold so dearly, and it’s not a stranger to me,” he says. “The rhythms, grooves and melodies from Africa have always inspired me. It’s in my DNA. If you take your inspiration from many, it’s called research. I researched this beautiful music from the African continent. They have a frequency that’s all their own. It’s funny, because when I play in Africa, people say, ‘How do you know our music?’ And I say, ‘How can I not know what I love?’”
To fully realise the breadth of the music on Africa Speaks, Santana knew that he needed to work with another outside-the-box thinker, and he enlisted iconoclastic producer Rick Rubin. “Before I even shook hands with Rick, I said, ‘This is going to blow his mind,’” Santana recalls. “I knew he’d never done anything like this.” When Rubin listened to the demos, his reaction was immediate and effusive: “He called me and said, ‘These songs are like gateways to people’s consciousness,’” Santana says.
The master guitarist and his eight-piece band (which also includes Santana’s wife, Cindy Blackman Santana, on drums), convened at Rubin’s Shangri La Studios in Malibu, and in a joyous and stimulating 10-day period they recorded an astonishing number of tracks, many of them in one take. “I’m not bragging or boasting,” Santana says, “but we recorded 49 songs in 10 days – killer, vibrant, dynamic, exuberant African songs that moved and inspired me. If Miles Davis or John Coltrane were in the room and they watched this music go down, they would be like, ‘Damn! How did you do that?’”
On working with Rubin, Santana raves, “He was very gentle and unobtrusive. His spirit was never an imposition. He trusted the process and how I wanted people to dance and feel in a way that’s totally different.”
Another dramatic element in the creation of Africa Speaks came in the form of Spanish singer Buika, whose heavenly lead vocals cast a magical spell throughout the album. “People are going to be blown away when they hear her,” says Santana. “She’s got Nina Simone, Etta James, Tina Turner, Aretha and more rolled into one.” The guitarist was so taken with the Latin Grammy Award winner that he asked her to write lyrics to his new compositions. Santana recalls, “Buika told me, ‘I wrote lyrics and melodies I’ve never done before. I was crying and laughing. The music possessed me to create something outside of the realm that I know.’ I said, ‘Yeah! If that’s what it does to you, imagine what it’ll do to the listener.’”
When AM last spoke with Carlos, we asked about the guitars he was currently using. Rather than get into the technical aspects of his tools, he chose instead to discuss the magic his instruments create.
“Our tools are sound, resonance, vibration. They are our tools. And with those tools we get to give people chills and what I call… to rearrange the molecular structure of people. You know, you cry, you dance, you laugh. All the things about Bob Marley or Marvin Gaye or Coltrane or Miles (what they) do to us, we want to do to someone else. This guitar will allow us to do that unconsciously. We don’t have to think about it. If you are thinking about it, you missed it. It’s a holy thing man, to be able to be in the company of creation where the vision is allowed to be manifested.”
2019 marks the 20th anniversary of Carlos Santana’s groundbreaking album Supernatural and the 50th anniversary of his legendary performance at Woodstock. Santana will celebrate these milestones with an energy-infused tour highlighting hits from Supernatural as well as many others from his long list of greatest hits. Hopefully this tour will land in Australia soon.
Africa Speaks track listing:
1. Africa Speaks (4:47)
2. Batonga (5:43)
3. Oye Este Mi Canto (5:58)
4. Yo Me Lo Merezco (6:12)
5. Blue Skies (9:08)
6. Paraísos Quemados (5:59)
7. Breaking Down The Door (4:30)
8. Los Invisibles (5:54)
9. Luna Hechicera (4:47)
10. Bembele (5:51)
11. Candombe Cumbele (5:36)
Africa Speaks is released on June 7