Q&A with Carlos Santana

The next time the government raises the national threat level to Orange,
Carlos Santana is the guy it should recruit to tell everyone that it's gonna be
all right. Soft-spoken and deeply spiritual, he seems more guru than rock
legend.

But rock legend he is, of course; his career has spanned a rare 40-plus
years, he's sold 90 million records and he's earned 10 Grammys and a place in
the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. With a greatest-hits record out October
16—Ultimate Santana, which also includes new collaborations with
Nickelback and Tina Turner—Mexican-born Carlos proves that at 60 he's as vital
today as when he took the stage at Woodstock almost four decades ago. Carlos
talked to Latina about the secret to longevity, listening to the women in his
life and hitting his G-spot—yes, you read that right.

Why did you decide to put out a greatest-hits album now?

It's almost like when you have children and they go to college, you collect
all the little clothes from when they were toddlers, put them neatly in boxes
and either give them to Goodwill or put them in the attic. It's a way of
completing a cycle and validating the memories. That's how I look at a
greatest-hits CD. Each of those songs touched a lot of people's hearts.

Of course, you've been validated for a long time now by your fans, the
millions of records you've sold and your boatload of Grammys.

People cry when they take a picture with me because they say, "You know, we
got married to "Samba Pa Ti.'" So I know I am part of many people's families,
and not just Latinos, but Palestinians, Japanese, Comanches, Apaches. By the
grace of God, I started the moment I saw my father being adored by people, and
that's all I wanted to be.

Your dad was a mariachi violinist, right?

When we lived in Autlán de Navarro, a small town between Puerto Vallarta and
Guadalajara, he played elegant music from Jorge Negrete and Agustin Lara, like
"Amapola" and "Quiéreme Mucho." Later, when we moved to Tijuana, he played
mariachi music. I played the songs he taught me on the street and people would
give me 50 cents, and I could buy some tacos.

Was Tijuana where you first heard rock music?

Oh yes. I wasn't much of an Elvis guy, but I immediately gravitated to
African American music: Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Little Richard, Chuck Berry. I
heard very little of it on the radio because they wouldn't play black people's
music much, but my friends had the records.

What was it about rock that moved you?

For me, there are only two forces that are extremely jolting—sensuality and
spirituality. And nothing hit me as more sensual than the blues. There's
something about it that hits you right in your G-spot...Oh my God!

Do you remember the first time you held a guitar?

Oh yes. It was delicious, glorious, awkward; it still is all those
things.

Really? Still awkward?

Yeah. I'm blessed that God gave me celestial amnesia so I don't remember
anything from five seconds ago. Every time I grab the guitar, it feels like I
don't know how to play and it's totally new—like it's my first French kiss.

You recently said in an interview: "I have the courage to say that I have
transcended and graduated being American or Mexican...My only alliance is with
the heart of humanity." What did you mean?

I'm a beam of light that comes from the mind of God, and while I'll always
remember being born in Mexico, the sabor and all the music that is in my
DNA—that's not all that I am. I would rather be like water and like the wind and
be of service to everybody. I don't like the conflict that I see between brother
and brother because they invest so much in a flag or in patriotism, which to me
is an illusion. God doesn't see flags or patriotism—only compassion, mercy,
forgiveness, unity and harmony.

But of course, your music has always been full of Latin percussion and
rhythms and Spanish lyrics. Tell us about how that happened.

I went to a picnic in San Jose—this must have been around '62—and I noticed
that there were three kinds of music playing in three different locations: One
was mariachi, one was Latin, which was coming from Cuba and Puerto Rico, and the
other one was rock and roll. So I just decided to integrate them. For me it was
very easy, very natural and very normal.

How did you survive the '60s when other music legends didn't?

Well, first, with God's grace. And I do listen to my inner voice. At the same
time, I also listened to the voices of my mother, my four sisters, my wife
[Deborah] and my two daughters. You know, for not being gay I'm seriously
connected to the other gender.

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