For Carlos Santana, a House has become a home, one in which even the walls truly have ears.
To celebrate the 100,000th ticket sold to “An Intimate Evening with Santana: Greatest Hits Live,” marking his four-year residency in the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay, Santana was presented with a commemorative guitar displayed in a ceremony outside of the venue, where it will be permanently installed in the House of Blues Las Vegas Music Hall. Since making Las Vegas his home, the artist, acclaimed as one of the greatest guitarists in rock history, has supported numerous local charities. In that vein, the drumline of the Agassi College Prepatory Academy, a previous recipient, heralded the event with the biggest and longest drumroll ever.
What is it about Santana and his music that has struck such a chord with the masses?
“We try to uphold, on one hand, what we’ve learned from artists such as Tito Puente, B.B. King, Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, Mahalia Jackson and, others and, on the other, we try to uphold those things we’ve learned from Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and those like them,” Santana told me in an interview following the ceremony. “It’s a combination for how to create on earth a lasting peace and harmony.
“There are a lot of walls in people’s minds,” he continues. “For me, music is about dismantling the illusion of separation and distance and to not to be afraid of our differences but rather to celebrate them and have fun celebrating and validation each other. Music is about creating heaven and earth in our time beyond politics and religion, which don’t work and never will. What works is accepting each other as part of me.”
To that avail, Santana notes that being ensconced in the intimate House of Blues venue is giving him the opportunity to reach out and touch people in a uniquely personal way.
“I call it a living laboratory; a mixture of my living room and a laboratory,” says Santana. “We bookend the beginning of the set and the end but, in the middle, you can witness a backward flip into the unknown. In other words, there’s no set list in the middle. Like Miles Davis, we try different configurations all the time with melody – woman – and rhythm – male. Being here is a win-win for me because I’ve lived in Las Vegas for almost 10 years.
“Intimacy to me is to be able to hold someone or something close to your heart, look them in the eye, and make a spiritual connection,” he adds. “What the House of Blues represents is a moment to take each listener by the hand, walk with them, and watch them shed their skin of whatever baggage they are carrying. Our hope is to make everyone feel that spiritual release and to carry that energy with them when they go home. It can be very powerful!”
Known for having pioneered the music form of rock, Latin music, and jazz fusion, Santana says that he was heavily influenced by B.B. King back in the 60’s as were other groups such as Cream and Led Zeppelin. (“They were playing the blues, only louder,” he notes.) The difference was that he began to listen more to the likes of Tito Puente, Miles Davis and John Coltrane and he began to integrate it with more latitude.
“Instead of being a one-trick dog, I learned the whole book,” Santana notes. “Ninety-nine percent of my music comes from Africa. Danzón, cha-cha-cha, mambo, bolero, cumbia - I can name 1,000 rhythms — they all come from Africa. People call it different names like World Music, Jazz, Blues, R&B, but it all comes from Africa.”
Although he reiterates that he was a child of BB King, Tito Puente, Miles Davis, John Lee Hooker, Otis Rush, and Buddy Guy, it was Santana’s father, José Santana, who was the biggest influence on his musical style. Jose was a beloved Mariachi Violinist in Autlan, Mexico, the place of Santana’s birth. He taught his son the violin and about melody and structure when Santana was 5, but the young boy could never get anything out of it. Instead, he applied the things his father taught him about melody to the guitar.
As for how he has sustained through so many decades of changing musical influences, Santana expresses that he is always looking for spiritual traction.
“I believe that every person on this planet knows change is inevitable and growth is optional,” he maintains, “Unless you have willingness to allow willingness, you’re going to be stuck in the mud and you’re going to be miserable. But if you have willingness to allow willingness, you can create miracles.
“I also feel it is vital to balance my time on the road and on the stage with the time I spend with my family and friends,” he adds. ”I know when to get off the stage. A lot of artists never get off the stage and they start carrying baggage that’s very heavy with illusion and false expectations. My energy level is very high and my band is very strong. We feel like lions. When we show up at concerts, we are ferocious.”
Another place where he is ferocious is in his charitable endeavors. Santana claims that Las Vegas is not a Disneyland for adults and that the world needs to know how many people here are invested in healing and taking care of each other outside of the Strip
“If I had my way, there would be a billboard in front of Las Vegas that says, ‘God doesn’t roll the dice with life,’” he enthuses. “That’s Albert Einstein. But there is too much fear on this planet. It’s Halloween every day but there is no candy. I like to offer love instead of fear. Love can create something on earth that we need – that is, collective consciousness and acceptance. That’s why we choose to take everything from the ones we love, not just music, but from women and men who have chosen to live with the highest integrity and conscience. That something they are you have inside yourself.”
Santana acknowledges that there have been many people and moments in his life that were turning points for him that have brought him to today. The first was when his mother, Joséfina Santana, moved him and all his sisters and brothers from Mexico to San Francisco. The second was meeting Bill Graham at the Fillmore and performing at Woodstock and the third was reconnecting with record mogul Clive Davis in 1997 and developing the blue print for Supernatural together. That album, containing the massive hit “Smooth,” won nine Grammys, eight of them for Santana personally.
Santana says that he and his band have new albums on the horizon, citing that they balance music that is written for world radio with music that is for his own personal living room. So, ultimately what does he consider his contribution to the music scene?
“I play music that always brings five things: Genuineness, Honesty, Sincerity, Truth and Realness on every song,” he sums up.
They’re true down-home values for sure.
Santana will be appearing at the House of Blues through November 15 and will return again in January.