The same night Woodstock 99 went up in flames, an icon of the original 1969 event kept the fire of peace and love burning a continent away. As fans literally raped and pillaged in New York, guitarist Carlos Santana joined hip-hop diva Lauryn Hill in California to play "To Zion," Hills song celebrating the birth of her first child and the Creators gift of life.
Fifty-two-year-old Santana and 24-year-old Hill bridge a generation of musicians who perform music with the conscious aim of transforming their listeners and creating positive change in the world. Despite how corny this idealism may seem by the bonfires of late 90s cynicism, it hasnt dissuaded artists like Santana and Hill from spreading the spirit that characterized the first Woodstock.
Supernatural, Santanas latest release, captures the artists spiritual collaborations with some of the biggest names in todays music industry. Dave Matthews, Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, Everlast, and Matchbox 20 singer Rob Thomas all make appearances on this album, blending their own styles and genres with the distinctive sound of Santanas guitar. Supernatural also features singer Eagle-Eye Cherry, Latin music producer K.C. Porter, Rock-en-Espa±ol superstars Mana, and a bluesy call-and-response duet with Eric Claptonwhere at least Carlos picks with someone his own age!
The magic of Supernatural cant be contained within the classic formula of Santana hits such as "Black Magic Woman," "Evil Ways," or "Oye Como Va." Rather it blends a diversity of musical genres, from Latin to hip hop, without losing its focus. Many of the songs make clear the deep synergy between Latin and African music. "(Da le) Yaleo" opens Supernatural with a powerful Afro-Latino groove and some seriously distorted guitar soloing that carries the tune higher and higher. "Africa Bamba," based on a song by Senegalese group TourT Kunda, starts as a sweet, rural-sounding melody and wraps up with a strong salsa-vamp from Santanas timbales player, Karl Perazzo.
For Santana, these are organic growths springing from the same root. "This whole wave of Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, and Gloria Estefan is not Spanish or Latin," he told an interviewer. "Its really African music, whether its a bolero, cha-cha, rhumba, or samba. Whatever you call it, its still African music. Thats what I play, and thats what Ive played from the beginning. I combined it with blues, but its always been African music."
WHILE THE FINANCIAL potential of this new release may have caused industry executives to drool with anticipation, Santana approached this album with different intentions. "This album is going to spread a spiritual virus," he told Latin Style magazine. "No matter who you are, all are going to be affected. You are going to remember you are a multidimensional spirit with enormous opportunities which are your choice and yours alone."
Working with so many popular artists gives Santana the opportunity to reach out to young people, but hes not preaching about "living la vida loca." "Its important to present them more principles, more menus, more opportunities, more dimensions, more possibilities," Santana said.
The recent death of Santanas fathera musician who started Carlos out playing traditional Mexican songsmay have spurred his desire to share wisdom with a new generation. The instrumental "El Farol" (The Lighthouse), which Carlos played at his fathers funeral, is as soft, sensual, and oceanic as the purple-hued mermaid that artist Michael Rios painted for the albums cover. The song is followed by a short offering of silence that then blooms into "Primavera" (Spring), an inspiring affirmation of new life filled with images of the resurrection found in scripture. But even if you cant understand the Spanish lyrics, Santanas passionate guitar solo on this song gets the message across.
Though there are guitarists with more technical flash than Santana, he is one of those rare artists able to convey spiritual experience through music. Even with the considerable talent and charisma of the albums other stars, it is Santanas spirituality that carries each song and distinguishes this music from most commercial recordings.
Like some of those at Woodstock 99, many fans and performers havent learned to respect the force music has to unleash either angels or demons. Supernatural shows that Santana is fully aware of this spiritual dynamic and has made a conscious decision to heal people through music. Yet perhaps the most beautiful thing is that he convinced a group of young superstars to make the same resolution. Aaron McCarroll Gallegos
AARON McCARROLL GALLEGOS, aSojourners contributing editor, is a writer living in Toronto.
Supernatural. Santana, Carlos. Arista Records, 1/1/99.