enero 29, 2023
Guitar legend Carlos Santana at 75 | Music | DW

Guitar legend Carlos Santana at 75 | Music | DW

The legendary guitarist and singer celebrated an unexpected comeback in 1999 at the age of 52, with his album «Supernatural,» which won eight Grammy awards, including Album of the Year. It is not only one of Carlos Santana’s most successful album, but also among the best-selling records worldwide.

Still, it is only one of the highlights of a long and eventful career of the pioneering musician who turns 75 on July 20.

He was still performing at the beginning of the month, but collapsed onstage during a gig in Michigan on July 5. The health scare turned out to be due to heat exhaustion and dehydration, his team said. Still Santana has postponed half a dozen tour stops — «out of an abundance of caution for the artist’s health,» his manager, Michael Vrionis, said in a statement posted the musician’s official website

Humble beginnings: Carlos Santana


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From Mexico to San Francisco 

Though Santana became famous for his blues-style solo electric guitar riffs, his first instrument was actually the violin.  

Born in Autlan de Navarro, Mexico, on July 20, 1947, Carlos Augusto Santana Alves’ father, a mariachi musician, began teaching the boy violin at age 5 and guitar from age 8. 

Santana listened to the music of the early American rocker Ritchie Valens, who is best known for combining his Mexican roots with a rock beat in the 1958 hit «La Bamba.» Little did Santana know that he, too — like Valens — would become a pioneering artist of Latin-influenced rock.  

His other musical idols included guitar legends such as B B King, T-Bone Walker, Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker, whose influence can be heard throughout Santana’s career in his blues-tinted guitar lines. 

Carlos Santana

Santana was inspired by Ritchie Valens

Santana’s family eventually moved to San Francisco, California, where he completed high school but chose not to attend college, instead working as a dishwasher, busking for change and playing in bands whenever he had the chance. 

San Francisco’s booming 1960’s counterculture movement highly influenced Santana, expanding his musical exposure and political perspectives. 

«Mahatma Gandhi, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Che Guevara, Mother Teresa — they led a revolution of conscience,» Santana once said of the era. «The Beatles, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix created revolution and evolution themes. The music was like Dali, with many colors and revolutionary ways.» 

The chance that made a lifetime of music 

Santana got his lucky break in 1966 when he was asked to step on stage as a last-minute replacement for an intoxicated fellow musician at the Fillmore West, a popular rock hall in San Francisco. His gripping performance caught the ears of both the audience and a key producer.  

David Brown (left) and Santana

With David Brown at Woodstock in 1969

Shortly thereafter, Santana created the Santana Blues Band, later shortened to just Santana, and was signed to Columbia Records. He was now set to rock the world with his band’s distinctive sound and his long and lilting solo guitar melodies. 

In August 1969, Santana and his band performed at the legendary Woodstock Festival and released their first self-titled album. The album single, «Evil Ways,» reached number four on the US album charts.  

He and the band continued to perform and record new albums throughout the ’60s and ’70s, producing such long-lasting hits such as «Oye Como Va» and «Black Magic Woman.» 

Plunging into spirituality 

However, the group was plagued by conflict of musical interests, musicians’ drug use and financial problems.  

In 1973, Santana turned to meditation and spirituality, taking on the name Devadip, which means «the lamp, light and eye of God.» 

At the same time, his musical style moved towards jazz fusion and included Eastern Indian musical influences, which — while critically praised — resulted in a loss of sales.  

Cindy Blackman Santana (left) with Carlos Santana

Cindy Black Santana (left) with Carlos Santana

Santana moved away from spirituality after a 1982 falling-out with his guru and set his sights on recharging his commercial appeal. 

Though he continued touring throughout the ’80s and early ’90s, it wasn’t until the late ’90s that he found himself back at the top of the music world. 

The winner of 10 Grammy Awards and three Latin Grammy Awards, Santana was honored with the Billboard Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009; he was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1997 and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a year later.  

Global musician, global activist 

Santana is not only a pan-cultural musician but also a global activist.

In 1998, the rocker and his family founded the Milagro («Miracle») Foundation dedicated to helping vulnerable and underserved children in the areas of arts, education and health. 

His 2014 memoir «The Universal Tone: Bringing my Story to Light» highlights his personal journey and his belief in the infinite potential of every individual. «Love is the light that is inside of all of us, everyone,» he wrote, in a nod to his spiritual influence. «I salute the light that you are and that is inside your heart.» 

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