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Why Santana is so special

All ye Amigos. We’re sure guitar god Carlos Santana met a Black Magic Woman early in his career. Maybe her name was Maria Maria. Maybe she was The Sensitive Kind. Now, 47 years after he erupted on the scene, his Marathon career still seems as Smooth as ever.

Santana fans will find resonance with these few lines. Yet, while the punning will continue here and there, the aim of this column is to talk about his latest album, and analyse why Santana remains so special.

Released last month, Santana IV features 16 new tracks. The obvious question is why he chose this title for his 23rd studio recording, when Santana III was released in 1970.

And yet the reason is simple. Santana reunites with many members of the early line-up: guitarist Neal Schon, keyboardist Gregg Rolie, percussionist Michael Carabello and drummer Michael Shrieve. So do newcomers bassist Benny Rietveld and percussionist Karl Perazzo, part of the Bengaluru and Delhi tour in October 2012. The only one missing is ace timbale player Jose ‘Chepito’ Areas, best remembered for his role in ‘Soul Sacrifice’ in the 1969 Woodstock Festival.

But the surprise comes from the guest appearance of Ronald Isley, lead singer of the legendary Isley Brothers.

Despite the line-up, is Santana IV any different?

No and yes.

No because Carlos Santana uses the same ‘Winning’ formula. On initial listening, many songs give you a heard-it-before feeling, and it doesn’t seem like the legendary rock star is ‘Searching’ for new sounds. The mix is essentially the same: Latin, blues and psychedelic guitar solos, Afro-Latin rhythms, and the trademark vocal style that has dominated the band’s style for years. In fact, for years, his detractors have accused him of rehashing old tunes.

After a few hearings, however, the master’s ‘Inner Secrets’ get revealed. There are many gems in Santana IV , and special mention must be made of ‘Fillmore East’, ‘Suenos’, ‘Caminando’ and ‘Forgiveness’. They are all brilliantly arranged and executed, and have traces of the old magic.

In his career, Santana has had various phases. The debut record and ‘Abraxas’ were noted for their distinct sound, but when critics felt he repeated the formula in ‘ Santana III ’, he added more jazz passages on the follow-up ‘Caravanserai’. A new sound emerged when he collaborated with jazz guitarist John McLaughlin and associated with Indian spiritual guru Sri Chinmoy, who named him ‘Devadip’ Carlos Santana.

From the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, the Santana band released great albums like Zebop , Marathon , Freedom and Milagro , besides the solo albums Oneness and Havana Moon . But there was a lot of repetition in the others. So in the mid-1990s, he released Supernatural with younger artistes Rob Thomas, Dave Matthews, Lauryn Hill and others.

The collection was all the rage among youngsters, but he repeated the formula twice again with lesser success. The Trinity , an instrumental tribute to Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, went largely unnoticed. A forgettable covers album Guitar Heaven and the likeable instrumental effort Shape Shifter followed.

In the past two decades, Santana IV comes closest to the band’s earlier glory. There’s a certain ‘Oneness’ about the playing, and as a guitarist, Santana proves he has a ‘Swing of Delight’. He releases new music regularly, and not once in a ‘Havana Moon’. Maybe he has some ‘Supernatural’ powers or some ‘Gypsy Queen’ inspires him.

The author is a freelance music writer

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 7:57:17 PM |

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