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In Conversation | Carlos Santana

Kartik posted on 30 October

By Kartik Mahajan

Carlos Santana played at Woodstock. Carlos Santana has won 10 Grammy awards. Carlos Santana is consistently listed as one of the greatest guitarists ever.

He has collaborated with every notable contemporary artist out there ranging from Jazz & Blues, Rock and Pop-Rock to Latin Rock. He has gone a step further and done an album of covers; covers of songs by contemporary artists; artists that have probably grown up listening to him and idolizing and mimicking him rather than the other way around. He is one of the true greats. What makes him more special is the fact that he still performs. You can still buy a ticket and go to a Santana concert. His music is still evolving and he creates songs and sounds across genres that rarely fail to make you stop and take notice- songs that are privy to an exclusive club of both critical and commercial success.

Santana was in India for the Vladivar F1 Rocks concert and his first ever performance in India and very graciously took out time to speak with us. Here’s what he had to say.

LBBD |  You have been playing the guitar and performing for close to 50 years now. Does it really seem like its been that long or has time flown by faster than you may have thought or even liked for that matter?

CS | It is the purity of innocence, the complexity of simplicity. It is important to remember that everything needs to be treated in a fresh manner. There has to be a virgin energy, which is what makes everything fresh. I stay a virgin through it all.

LBBD | Do you have a favourite period of music within the time frame of your career as a musician?

CS | Woodstock was important to make the government notice us. We wanted something different, to stop Vietnam. Woodstock was important because we questioned authority- rock n roll is about questioning authority.

LBBD | You have won 10 Grammy Awards, most of which came quite late in your career. Is that something that affected the way you play or who you collaborate with?

CS | It is important to be present with love and care. Somehow I am 65, and it is not impossible to create music with Lady gaga or Adele or any contemporary artiste as long as it is the right song. My mother taught me conviction- I still see my parents guiding me- be consistent/ punctual, and play with all my heart.

LBBD | You have been to India on low key trips many times before. What were your expectations or pre-conceived notions of the country before you came for the first time and what did you get when you actually got here?

CS | This is officially my first visit. From 1972 to 1981 I had a spiritual guru, as well. I like to see temples and I like to see textures. I am open to everything. It does not necessarily need to be temple; it doesn’t have to be rich or lavish. It can be simple and modest but really powerful. Stay in your heart and travel in the light.

LBBD | You have said in the past that A.R Rahman, Zakir Hussain and Ravi Shankar are Indian musicians you admire and enjoy listening to?

CS | I think Indian music is very profound, it also has humour, but I like the ragas, meditation music, Indian music, is like exercising. You have to surrender your mind to peacefulness.

LBBD | How do you decide what kind of set you are going to play when planning for a concert?

CS | I don’t have any fear, to impress or to show off, to listen, to feel your heart, make people feel good. I go into a trance… almost like its meditation- its very important that my band has focus. I am like a ring leader who likes to shape the symmetry of emotions. There has to be genuine honesty in what I do. I am more focused and energetic on stage- I don’t like to be a personality 24 hours a day.

LBBD | You have collaborated with a number of contemporary artists in the past. How do you choose who to collaborate and make music with?

CS | {With collaborations, I} come in with an open heart and an open mind- do not come in with fear- fear of whether or not they will want to work with me again, or share music with me again.  I am ready to collaborate- this is not a competition- it is important to learn how to dance with each other. I actually prepare to not have an agenda- just come in and have a fresh perspective.

I am open to collaborate with females or males from India too, as long as it is from the heart and the song is correct.

LBBD | Your wife is playing the drums for your tour and also performs with Lenny Kravitz often. Tell us a little bit about the relationship you share with her.

CS | Cindy is an amazing person who is very focused and independent, and yet is very soft and feminine, and that’s what I like about her. She brings to me joy. I don’t feel like I need to perform- it's natural and simple-just as natural as drinking water. We can still look each other’s eyes across the table and there is chemistry.

LBBD | Have you explored Delhi at all? What are the sights and sounds or even tastes that you have enjoyed since you have been here?

CS | Mango Lassi and spicy Indian food especially South Indian dishes were amazing.


The Santana concert in Greater Noida, at the unlikely venue of Galgotia's University, was quite simply one of the greatest concerts I have been to. Over the course of his performance, you realise that what he is playing is in fact a lot more complex than he makes it look. The electric guitar is a extension of him. He plays with soul, he plays with love. He plays for you when you're standing there and you can feel it. What struck me about him on stage was the fact that he doesn't insist on constantly being the focus or the centre of attention. The stage he had set up was made up of some of the most accomplished musicians out there – most notably so was the presence of drumming legend Dennis Chambers. Dennis Chambers has the sort of quality that makes you stop and wonder 'how does he do that… I wonder if I can do that too.' Many a person has probably watched him in the past, and tried and failed miserably regardless of how spirited an effort. Sunday evening was no different. Chambers' downtempo but energetic drum solo left the entire audience holding their breath till he was done.  I can't and mustn’t and won’t forget to mention the fact that an integral part of this whole show was also a fabulous band from Shillong called Soulmate. Soulmate sings the blues and they sing it well, and have been one of the best bands in the country for a while now. Guitarist Rudy Wallang comes from a family soaked in music and the history of rock n' roll in India and he plays the guitar with soul to show it. Tips, as she is most popularly known, was undoubtedly one of the stars of the evening. Their opening act really got the crowd in a groove, pleasantly interrupted by Santana himself, and she was also ushered onto stage a number of times during Santana's own performance to join in the vocals. It didn't matter that she didn't know a lot of the words. By then, concert was such a happy place that she sang what she could and we were swell with a sense of 'wow, what must be going through her head right now'.

{Soulmate takes the stage with Santana}

The concert was the closest any of the audience could have hoped to have to have gotten to Woodstock and take my word when I tell you that tons of them made the most of it. There were lots and lots of middle aged and elder ticket holders and it was heart warming to see all of them reliving their days of rebellion and dancing unabashedly to the Latin jazz sounds of Carlos Santana. A middle aged gentleman to my right, in the midst of one of the most fantastic extended versions of popular hit 'Smooth', decided to break out into a frenzied solo dance. A group of students around him could help but laugh for the first 20 minutes, but then couldn't help joining him when the trumpet section decided to step it up on stage. It is one of the happiest crowds that I have seen since NH7 a few weekends ago. It was magic in the making.

“Thank you. It is a blessing to come to New Delhi and feel connected with your heart. We are all one family. We want to invite all the governments of the world to invest in peace and not in brutality." - Carlos Santana, New Delhi 2012.