Carlos Santana is a Chicano rock artist primarily known for the work he did with his band, Santana, in the 1960s and 1970s. One of his most notable hit songs, “Oye Como Va,” is legendary as one of the pioneer Latin songs in the world of rock and roll. Like many artists of his era, he managed to achieve a new and inventive sound by finding new ways of mashing up extant genres that were popular during his time. In Santana’s case, this mostly included Latin jazz and mainstream rock and roll of the 1960s.
The music of Carlos Santana was something of a love letter to his cultural heritage. While musical elements of both American and Mexican culture were prevalent in his songs, he also paid homage to his mixed heritage by simply including both English and Spanish in his song lyrics. While his music inevitably related with other Chicanos, it became highly popular on a more mainstream level as well.
Santana’s cultural approach to music and lyricism would have ultimately proved meaningless if the music itself were not solidly organized. For instance, the song “Black Magic Woman” contains solid vocals as well as quality parts for drums and keyboard, not to mention the inclusion of congas. More notable than anything, however, is the guitar. In fact, this could be said of just about all of Carlos Santana’s greatest hits. Not only did most of his early songs maintain something of a signature style, but that style was by its very nature nearly indescribable. While one song might make use of highly complex guitar parts, another song (or even part of the same song) will utilize one or two notes to deliver its message with succinct simplicity.
Some of the best early work by Carlos Santana is found on the first three albums he released: Santana, Abraxas, and Santana III. Some of these songs venture slightly outside the realm of traditional rock music and foray into the blues genre, yet the signature style remains. Santana’s music is known for being highly rhythmic, one of the primary elements he has taken from Latin musical culture. Santana was known to experiment at times, changing his rhythms up to try and mimic the styles of jazz and other genres, but the manner in which he used rhythm to drive the songs was always a defining feature of every work he performed.
After a few years of touring without releasing any records, Santana released Supernatural in 1999. This was a return to the style that some felt had been dropping off in previous albums such as Milagro and Spirits Dancing in the Flesh. Supernatural included the song “Smooth,” which had elements of cha-cha that complemented the rhythmic and energetic guitar stylings of Santana himself. The song also featured vocals by Rob Thomas, the lead singer of Matchbox Twenty. Several other notable artists appeared on the album as well, such as Lauryn Hill, Cee Lo Green, Dave Matthews, Wyclef Jean and Eric Clapton.
As notable as Santana’s music may be, the message behind it is just as long-lasting. Santana used to say that musicians should be “emissaries of light,” that it was their job to lift people’s spirits rather than to bring people down. He has stood by this ideal throughout his career, and it has lent a hand in making him one of the most notable musicians of his era, and possibly of all time.
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