Feature: Carlos Santana

By GARY GRAFF   |   June 26, 2003 at 1:00 AM   |   0 comments

DETROIT, June 26 (UPI) -- In the wake of war, terrorist threats, an unstable economy and other societal tribulations, Carlos Santana feels that music can be the cure for what ails us.

His music, in fact -- and particularly songs from last year's double platinum "Shaman," his latest album and the follow-up to 1999's 25 million-selling "Supernatural."

"With everything that's happened with the war and the state of the world, there's a lot of healing that needs to be done because there's a lot of fear and anger at this particular time on this planet," says the 55-year-old guitar virtuoso, Grammy winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee.

"In every show we play, I say `You and I, we are the new architects of the millennium. And our tools are basically beauty, elegance, excellence, grace and dignity. The old tools are guilt, shame, judgment, contempt and fear. So to me, `Shaman' is really powerful because it has elements of music and tones, resonance and vibrations that can give you a jolt.

"To me, when I see people laughing, dancing and crying, then I know it's hitting them. And it's not an act, man."

It's not an act in Santana's case, either. The Mexican-born musician, who relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area when he was a teenager, has been conveying a heartfelt message of peace, love and understanding from the time he formed the band that carries his name in 1968. His music, instrumentally and lyrically, has conveyed the search for a higher purpose and state of being -- periodically lighting up the pop charts with hits such as "Evil Ways," "Oye Como Va," "Winning," "Smooth," "Maria, Maria" and "The Game of Love."

But Santana has also ensured his credibility with a lifetime's worth of charitable endeavors for a variety of causes. This summer he's donating his summer tour revenues to Artists For a New South Africa (ANSA), an organization that's helping to fight the AIDS epidemic in Africa. The fund will be administered by Nobel Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu.

"I had no other recourse but to look my wife (Deborah) in the eye and say, `You know, I want to do this. I think we're in a position to do this. Let's give all this money, and not a portion or a percentage -- all of it,' " Santana explains.

"People do things for different reasons. For me, I feel really passionate of being of service and giving back. In this world, what's really sacred and holy is not places like Jerusalem or Stonehenge or the Vatican, but how we treat each other."

Of course, Santana knows that his most potent tool is his music, which over the years has encompassed everything from the Latin-flavored rock of his earliest recordings to ethereal experiments with Mahavishnu John McLaughlin and jazz saxophone hero Wayne Shorter to the recent pop triumphs of "Supernatural" and "Shaman."

Music, in Santana's view, "is assigned and designed to give people hope and clarity about the bigger picture." And that's why he says listeners have to look beyond the all-star collaborations of his last two albums, which have paired him with younger artists such as Everclear, Michelle Branch, matchbox twenty's Rob Thomas, Lauryn Hill and Nickelback's Chad Kroeger, as well as fellow guitar hero Eric Clapton and opera legend Placido Domingo. Santana acknowledges that their participation has given the albums commercial juice, but he argues that more attention needs to be paid to the songs themselves.

"It's about the songs, man, being patient and crafting good songs," he explains. "If anybody was tripping about what was the formula, the gimmick, the gadget, the gizmo or all that stuff. ... There's no magic stick. It's not `Shazam!' It's songs."

Santana is hatching plans with for another album of collaborations with "Supernatural" mastermind Clive Davis and Arista Records chief Antonio "L.A." Reid; this time he envisions a project featuring seven men and seven women.

But before that Santana plans to release an album of "instrumental hymns" recorded with a quartet comprised of three members from his band -- something of antithesis, he says, to the mainstream-friendly orientation of "Supernatural" and "Shaman."

"I love accommodating a lot of people, and I don't mind being a maitre d', if you will," says Santana, who's also working on a DVD compiled from a series of concerts he did with Shorter in 1988. "But I miss Carlos playing long and deep. This is a chance to hear me do that again."

"Man, I'm just grateful that I can still do all these things. I don't look back; the best is still ahead for me -- I truly believe that. Most people, once they go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it's over. But I feel like we're just starting."

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