Authors: Carlos Santana
Tags: #Biography & Autobiography / Entertainment & Performing Arts, #Biography & Autobiography / Composers & Musicians, #Biography & Autobiography / Rich & Famous
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This book is dedicated to my dearest mother, Josefina B. Santana, for her power, patience, tenacity, unshakable faith, and total conviction. She was a lover of truth, and I feel her energy now more than ever. Thank you, Mom—I love you eternally. Your prayers worked.
Mi historia comienza con un desfile
y story starts with a parade.
But really, we could start at any point in my life, and that would be cool. It’s like the set list for a Santana concert. You could just rip it up, throw it in the air, then put it back together. Anything you start or end with can work, really. It’s all the same circle, and it all connects.
There are a lot of chapters to my story. There are a lot in anyone’s life. But my life has three parts. There’s my musical journey; there’s my being a son, brother, husband, and father—what I call
domestic rhythm; and there’s the spiritual dimension, the invisible realm. They are woven together tightly—the physical and the spiritual, the seriousness and the humor, the sacred and the earthy. So is this book.
I know you want to hear about the Fillmore and Woodstock, and you will. And about the ’60s, the ’70s, and of course about
and the awards shows and everything that’s happened since then. I will give it all the correct, complete hug: my past teachers, my divorce, my new marriage, my being molested as a boy—all of it.
There is my childhood in Mexico and the trip we made from Autlán to Tijuana with my mom, sisters, and brothers. My dad teaching me violin and sending me my first electric guitar from San Francisco. My sisters sitting on top of me, forcing me to listen to Elvis. The family moving from Tijuana to San Francisco, where I learned English and began my life in a new country as a dishwasher.
This book is not a discography or a year-by-year chronicle of the rock group Santana’s every show. All that is for another time and another book. This book is not
-tory, it’s my story. In telling my story, I know that what I remember is a choice I have. There is such a thing as divine rationale: I call it celestial memory. In fact it’s anyone’s choice to look back and see the past as beauty and blessings. I think ice cream can taste sweeter when I look back on tasting it, and even the air can feel better in the lungs. I also celebrate honesty and the details that tell the stories of my life.
My goal was to make this book multisensory, to make it read the way my mother’s home cooking tasted. Interesting but also delicious. Not crass, and not boring.
The food I love from Mexico, the clothes and the colors and the music, it’s all still alive for me. I still smell the inside of the strip clubs in Tijuana and backstage at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. I see the people, I smell the weed. I feel the guitars I played in my hands and can hear the sounds each of them made. I’m so grateful for all these memories.
That parade I mentioned? That is
one of my memories. I
don’t remember it because I wasn’t there. The day of the parade was when my father and mother met for the first time as adults. That’s when it all began for me.
My mom would tell me that it was five in the afternoon—the sun was getting low, and everything looked golden, as it does at that time of day. All of a sudden she heard this commotion out on the street. This was in her hometown—Cihuatlán, in the Jalisco province in Mexico, on the Pacific coast. It was around 1938, when Mom was still living with her family. Her name was Josefina Barragán.
My grandfather—her dad—was complaining, “Oh, it’s that
Farol.” They called my dad El Farol. It literally means “lantern” and was a nickname they gave him because of a song he used to sing and play.
“What are you talking about?” she said. “It’s him—José Santana.” My mom had run into him once when she was a little kid and he was a teenager. Her ball landed between my dad’s feet, and she ran over to get it. “Boo!” he said. “Hey, little blond girl, your hair is straight, like corn silk.” And she ran away.
More than ten years later, my mom parted the window curtains and saw a group of people walking down the middle of the street with José in the lead—and all the town’s prostitutes following him. Everyone was laughing, making music, and singing. The man who would become my father was holding up his violin bow like it was a flagpole, and a pair of panties and a brassiere were hanging from it. The mayor was next to my dad, and there were other musicians, too. The town priest, who was really pissed off, was following them and trying to throw holy water on everyone. They’re all making this incredible
this racket. The way my mom told it, I got the feeling that these guys had been carrying on all night and through the day and were just so full of themselves, drunk and wasted, that they decided to take the party into town. It was such a small town, anyway. Everybody was looking at this spectacle and shaking their heads.
The mayor just adored my dad. He loved musicians and their
lifestyle, so who’s going to tell them they can’t sing and play in the streets? Most people liked my dad—he was charismatic. He was born in Cuautla, a small town around three hours inland, and, like his father, he had become a musician. He had moved to Cihuatlán for the work—playing in symphonies and in bands that played popular Mexican songs. Don José, they called him.
In 1983, after my son, Salvador, was born, I visited that part of Mexico with my dad. I met a lady there who told me, “Carlos, I grew up with Don José. We were from the same generation. I want you to know that you might be recognized around the world. But here Don José is the Santana that counts.” My dad just looked at me. I smiled and said, “Hey, that’s fine with me.”
Not everybody felt that way in Cihuatlán—not the priest, and definitely not my mom’s dad. He didn’t like José because he was a musician and especially because he was a real Mexican, a Mexican mestizo. You could see the Indian blood in him. He was dark in complexion and proud of it. But his name—Santana, or Santa Anna—came from Europe. Saint Anne was Mary’s mother, Joseph’s mother-in-law. Jesus’s grandma. Can’t get much more Catholic than that.
My mom’s family was lighter-skinned, European. I once saw my family tree, and there’s some Hebrew on that side of the family—there were many Jews who came over from Spain to the New World after 1492. We Santanas ate pork, but my mom had some strange rules about food—what we could and couldn’t eat and when; foods that couldn’t be eaten at the same time. Some of that could have been handed-down kosher stuff.
The Barragáns lived on a hacienda. They owned horses and stables and had people working for them. All my dad had was his violin.
That didn’t stop my mom. She used to tell me, “When I saw your father at the front of that crazy parade I knew that would be the man I would marry and leave this little town with. I had to leave. I didn’t like the smell of the ranch; I didn’t like men who
smelled like horses and leather. But your father did not smell like that.”
José and Josefina met up and fell in love. She did not get any blessings from her father. They eloped on a horse; Dad just stole her away. Her family came looking for them, and a friend helped hide them in Cihuatlán. Then they ran off to Autlán, where they started our family. Mom was eighteen, and Dad was twenty-six. I was born a few years later, the middle child of seven.
I never found out exactly what the parade was about, what unholy event they were celebrating. My father never spoke about his younger days. He never spoke much about anything, really. It doesn’t matter. I love all parts of their story: the sex and the religion and the humor. It shows Dad’s supreme sense of charisma and mom’s supreme conviction. It shows them coming together, and it shows what they gave to me.
From my mom I have this rage and fury to make things right. In all the pictures I’ve seen of my mom as a little girl, she has an intensity of focus about her, almost like she’s angry—between angry and committed. At a very young age she questioned everything. She even questioned the Bible. “I need to know: I don’t just accept something,” she used to say. Her character was definitely made out of steel.
My dad was strong, too, but he was romantic. He loved playing music. I can remember how he would put his chin on the violin, slowly, as if it were the shoulder of a woman. Then he would put the bow on the strings with his eyes closed. All women belonged to him at that moment. He played from the center of his heart.
Dad lived to play, and he played to live. That’s what musicians are meant to do. He played what was asked of him for work—polkas, boleros, mariachi music. But he was a pure melody guy at home. His favorites were the songs of Agustín Lara, who was the Cole Porter of Mexico—many of his songs were in the films of the time. He wrote the song “Farolito,” which my dad loved to sing and was how he got the nickname El Farol. Since he played Lara’s music
for himself at home, that’s the first music I heard. That and “Ave Maria.”
This book was written to honor my dad and all the other musical heroes who left their fingerprints on me—my “Who’s your daddy?” list. Lightnin’ Hopkins, Jimmy Reed, and John Lee Hooker. B. B. King, Albert King, and Otis Rush. Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Gábor Szabó, Bola Sete, and Wes Montgomery. Miles Davis, John and Alice Coltrane, and many, many more.
I’m proud to say that I met almost all of them and was able to shine in their light and feel a connection with them through the music they shared with the world. I looked straight into their souls and I saw me, and because I love them, I love me. A lot of people spend their lives in such a hurry that when they die, life’s going to seem like one big blur. But the times I spent with Stevie Ray or Otis or Miles Davis—I can just freeze that moment right now in my brain and get in it and tell you what they were wearing, what we said to each other. Every moment is still very clear—they’re some of the memories that you’ll find in this book.
When I started creating this book, it wasn’t easy. It was like looking in the mirror first thing in the morning before you get a chance to get yourself right. I told myself I’d have to give myself another mantra: “I’m not afraid to dance in my own light.” And I’m not.
I used to be a very intense, compulsive person. I was always angry because my ego had convinced me that I was hopeless and worthless. I was playing hide-and-seek with myself. I remember a long time ago in Mexico someone asked me, “What are you most afraid of?” I told him, “Disappointing God.” Now I realize there’s no way I could disappoint God because this isn’t an issue to him. It’s only an issue for my ego. What is an ego except something that thinks it’s separate from God?
When I could understand that, I was like a snake shedding its skin. The old skin was guilt, shame, judgment, condemnation,
fear. The new skin is beauty, elegance, excellence, grace, dignity. More and more I’m learning to bless my contradictions and my fears and transform them. More and more I want to use my guitar and my music to invite people to recognize the divinity and light that is in their DNA.
That’s the story behind the stories, the music inside the music. John Coltrane called it A Love Supreme. I call it the Universal Tone, and with it ego disappears and energy takes over. You realize that you are not one alone; you are connected to everyone. Everybody’s born with a way to receive the Universal Tone, but very few allow it to give birth to itself. Most people abort it with things that are more important to them, such as money or fame or power. The Universal Tone is outside of me, and it’s through me. I don’t create it. I just make sure I don’t get in its way.
Marvin Gaye was once asked, about his album
What’s Going On,
“How did you create such a masterpiece?” He said, “I just did my best to get out of the way and let it happen.” My wife, Cindy, tells me that Art Blakey used to talk to her about drumming and tell her that the music comes “straight from the Creator to you.” He used to say that a lot, and his music felt that way. Real musicians know that real music arrives like that. It doesn’t go to you—it goes through you.
It’s the same thing with John Coltrane, Mahalia Jackson, Bob Marley, Dr. Martin Luther King—all the message givers. I’m really grateful that I was able to hear so many of their sounds live. Some people are put on this planet to help elevate consciousness, and through them come the sound and words and vibrations and music. It has nothing to do with show business or entertainment. It’s not elevator music—it’s
That’s the Universal Tone doing what it does. Suddenly the music compels people to go against what they thought was aesthetically solid for themselves, and what used to fit so well then feels really uncomfortable, like shoes that have become too tight and can’t be worn anymore. It raises people’s consciousness and stops the static so they can hear the forgotten song within. Their molecules
are changed so they can stand outside the realm of themselves and outside of time. They can stand in a forever now.
I have been fortunate to see how universal the Universal Tone really is. It’s such an incredible thing to be known worldwide, to be a point of connection between so many people. I accept being a conduit. I accept that grace has chosen to work through me as it wants to, and I also accept the gifts and awards and accolades and royalties that come with it.