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Santana – Africa Speaks

February 16, 2020

I am a minor fan of Santana. Specifically, I am a fan of the first four albums from 1969 – 1972 when Carlos Santana and his band helped create jazz-rock fusion. I did not follow his career after that and his Supernatural phase was a bit too much of a pop sellout for my taste. Long and short, Santana fell off my radar.

I like to look at year-end album “best of” lists for two reasons: to validate my taste and to find out if I have missed something. Those lists end up reminding me that my music taste is pretty pedestrian and I always seem to miss something.  Africa Speaks is an example of a 2019 release I totally missed. The New York Times’ Jon Pareles had Santana’s Africa Speaks as number three on his 2019 list. This was the only legacy artist on his list and so I gave it a listen. Turns out, it is as good as those first four albums. Santana still has it.

So how is it that Carlos Santana still “has it” fifty years into his career? First Rick Rubin (who produced), second Buika (who composed most of the songs and sings) and most importantly Carlos Santana’s adventurous musical soul. Per Rolling Stone this is how it went down, Santana said to Rubin:

‘”I know you’ve worked with everybody like Johnny Cash and the Chili Peppers and Metallica,’ And he goes, ‘Well, what are you interested in doing?’ I said, ‘Nothing but African music.’ So can you believe it? We record 49 songs in 10 days. He was very gracious, because it was like a hurricane to record six, seven songs in a day. Rick said, ‘With Clive Davis, you had a bunch of guest stars and singers. Who do you want in here?’ I said, ‘I only want two women: Laura Mvula and Buika.’ And he said, ‘OK.’ So we called them and they said yes.”

The two main features on the album are Santana’s red hot guitar playing and Buika’s compositions and vocals. If you liked Santana’s early work you are going to like this. In addition to great songs and performances, the album is exquisitely recorded and mixed.



From → Music Reviews

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