He has one of the most instantly recognizable guitar tones in rock music, clean and soaring blues-rooted licks drawn out in soulfully sustained melodies against a Latin and Afro percussion-driven fusion of blues-rock, jazz, salsa and pop. He’s sold more than 100 million records worldwide in a career spanning nearly five decades, and he has 10 Grammys to his credit (nine for his 1999 crossover comeback, Supernatural). And even though he just celebrated his 65th birthday, Carlos Santana certainly isn’t ready to retire nor does he seem to be losing any creative steam, if this year’s Shape Shifter — the first release on his new Starfaith Records label and 22nd studio LP overall — is any indication. “I feel really, really grateful, and I count my blessings,” he said in our too-brief phone conversation last week. “I see a lot of people who are my age and they haven’t arrived at being clear about knowing that it’s your choice to be happy, healthy and with peace of mind.”
Despite accomplishments that have earned him a certain degree of self-importance, Carlos is sweet, soft-spoken, gracious and humble — a wise old sage brimming with empathy and spiritual serenity who manages not to come off as patronizing or preachy. “I really love having the passion to be of service to people,” he explained. “And it’s not like I wake up to be liked or to be popular, but I do wake up wondering how can I do something different. Better than yesterday, in a sense, to help people feel, keyword feel, that they are significant and meaningful.”
The 10-piece Santana was scheduled to hit the 1-800-Ask-Gary on Sunday, but canceled last minute due to illness. However, the message Carlos would have shared is still relevant and worthy of inclusion in this week's paper. “Without telling people what to do, who to be, or how to do it, or anything like that, I like to offer more of an invitation through the music and through my consciousness, to invite people to know that it is your choice alone to make every day the best day of your life without hurting anyone, including yourself.”
Our conversation touched on the RNC, love, fear and the issues that are most important to Carlos. Excerpts below.
The date you’re playing in Tampa falls right on the night of the RNC welcome party. Is this a coincidence?
Carlos Santana: I think that someone who is very in charge of this universe and life and everything put that date there for a reason. I just follow, and I follow my spirit. And I am grateful that people who do come to see us are both Democrats and Republicans. If you look across the board, they’re grandparents, parents, teenagers, little children, sometimes people with mohawks, and rings and tattoos, or a suit and a tie or tie-dyed shirts — it’s kind of a representation of what the United States is. Even though we’re not really that united, we are here, anyway.
Do you feel like your concert serves as an alternative to the convergence of conservatives onto Tampa Bay?
Well, by the grace of God, I guess we bring the alternative, which is unity, harmony, healing, seeing the aerial view of the situation rather than, you know, when someone says it’s either my way or the highway, you’re either for or against us. I don’t believe that Jesus would say that. I think that Godzilla would say that. And Godzilla is a very primitive reptile, a make-believe primitive reptile. I feel that a lot of people in the United States want, in their hearts – well, let me see if I can remember this. It goes like this: “Forgiving the past blesses the present and illuminates the future.” There it is!
It’ll be nice to have people enjoying some music and togetherness when you have such a big divide happening right here in town.
Well, there’s only two things happening that day in the same place, and it happens everywhere in the world, it’s just love and fear, that’s all there is. Love is all-inclusive, fear is not.
Are there any particular issues that concern you right now?
The only thing that really concerns me, immediately, is investing more in love than in fear. There’s a lot of pockets of hate, and people constantly shooting other people, especially innocent children, those people need to be addressed by the FBI. We need to seek them out, find a way to seclude them like a virus, and help them to see the light. Now I’m not talking about forcing anyone or doing the Hitler thing, but at the same time, I don’t want innocent people to keep getting shot. At some point or another, you arrest cancer or tuberculosis or syphilis, you arrest something that is going to harm the rest of the body.
I think that people who wake up every morning with such vile hate, they are cowards because you have to be cowards to shoot innocent people. …What is more simple than to understand that love is the only thing on this planet? It’s just love and fear. But fear is an illusion, love is for real. CNN’s not real, that’s a collective illusion.
If you turn off the TV, see the birds and clouds, that’s what’s real. We have this world convincing us of upside-down twisted values and twisted principles, so I am not interested in Democratic or Republican, even though I am going to vote for Barack Obama again this time. Stop the war completely and invest more money in education than incarceration. And legalize marijuana. Especially if we invest all that money into teachers, schools and students only. That’s what I believe and it keeps me healthy.