Dubai: Any other time, a man in his 60s walking into a room in a maroon, knee-length snakeskin coat, a gold chain, aqua blue snakeskin shoes and a fedora might seem out of place.
But when it’s Carlos Santana walking into a press room at Al Bustan Rotana a day before his Emirates Airline Dubai Jazz Festival closing night performance, the outfit is perfectly expected, so much so that the journalists might have been disappointed if he had opted for something less outrageous.
“It’s trying to take my necklace,” the musician shrieked jokingly as he attempted to clip a microphone onto his collar so our camera could pick up his voice. The microphone had become tangled in his chain to the point of no return until one man from his entourage — a beefy young fellow carrying Santana’s comically small coffee mug for him — intervened to take care of it.
As we began to speak, the guitar legend proved to be just as quirky in conversation as he is in his style, occasionally talking in riddles. But one thing was clear: he had no plans to stop rocking out, and he wanted to bring the youth of the Middle East right into the centre of the storm.
“I heard that there are bands on this side of the world that love Santana and Metallica, and they have their own thing happening,” he told tabloid! “And I wanna hook up with them.”
In our 15 minutes together, he told me more about his plans to collaborate with musicians in this region, his vision for a female-dominated world and his “never worry” philosophy in life that has yet to fail him.
Q. This is your first performance here in years. What can people expect that’s different?
A. Anything that’s natural and normal, it’s not the same. For example, every morning, every night — or every morning’s dawn and dusk – they’re never the same. But what they can expect is a lot of energy. We made a few changes in the band, and our first priority is to make people’s hair stand up. Because we don’t lip sync, we wouldn’t even try that.
We love to rearrange molecule structure. Because sound, resonant vibration, makes humans feel the centre of their heart. And when you feel the centre of your heart, you remember your own forgotten song. Your forgotten song is that, you too — like Desmond Tutu, or the Dalai Lama, or the Pope, and especially women, women who’ve won the Nobel Peace Prize — you too can make a difference in life. Create blessings and miracles. It’s not just the Pope. Everyone has the capacity to create blessings and miracles. That’s what real music is supposed to do. Remind you of your own light. Showbusiness and entertainment, that’s something else. Real music, it’s a divine sound, and it makes humans own their own intentions, motives and purpose.
Q. Of course, your music crosses genres. But you’ve been outspoken about your passion to protect jazz musicians’ legacies and the genre as a whole…
A. This music that people call jazz is a very evolved language, from Miles [Davis] and [John] Coltrane. We just recorded with my favourite genius, which is Wayne Shorter, and of course, with Herbie [Hancock], but people need to know that jazz musicians are navigators that navigate in an ocean. I navigate in a big lake. Other people navigate in a swimming pool. Jazz, because of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane and Miles, is a very highly evolved form of improvisation. But it’s just the word. People like Buddy Guy, or Stevie Ray, or Jack Pastorius can also play jazz. It’s not just for certain people. There’s a lot of women, of course, Billie Holiday, who set a tone. It’s just an expression — it’s just an expression that is supremely evolved.
Q. What can you tell us about your upcoming album, Corazon? Do you have any sort of projected release date now?
A. It’s in May. Sometime in May. It’s definitely a female, woman-friendly CD like Supernatural and Abraxas. We love to make the women happy, you know? Because when women are happy, everything changes in the world immediately. Not only the economy. We’re due to have a woman pope — what would that be? Instead of pope, it would be…? Mama Chola? I really feel that [with] the new revolution in this planet — and we’re having two right now, one in Ukraine, and another one in Venezuela — things don’t change until the women take charge. So the new revolution will be conducted with women principles. Otherwise, it will be the same stupid people running the same stupid machine of war and ego — male ego. I really feel that, instead of hitting a brick wall, we’re going to change and we’re going to do something drastically encouraging.
Q. Corazon will be your first ever full-length Spanish-language release. Why now?
A. The universe has a way of making you an offer you can’t refuse. My brother-in-law, who now is my manager along with my sister, decided to connect with Spanish, Latin, whatever we call it ourselves now. I’d like to do one here. I’d like to work with musicians all the way from Istanbul to Kuala Lumpur, you know? We, from the ’60s, we created a different kind of music like The Doors, but we came from Johnny [Lee] Hooker, and John Coltrane. And The Rolling Stones came from Muddy Waters and like that. So now, young people are listening to Metallica and Santana. I wanna hook up with the younger people, because I want to always be connected with good energy and young energy today. There’s someone in a garage right now practising, and I wanna hook up with them.
Q. Do you ever think to yourself, “Alright, I deserve a break, I’m going to hang up my guitar and relax on a beach somewhere”, or is it all about never stopping?
A. To me, a break is having a guitar in my hands … I’m always taking a break. When I’m on stage, it’s a break, when I’m off stage, it’s a break. Because I don’t think the way I used to think. Anytime you worry, you’re not taking a break. I don’t worry anymore, because as long as I can do this with my eyes closed [he alternates touching his nose with each index finger], I can seriously kick some booty with some energy and music. To be in a place where I’m — how old am I? 66? 67? 66. If Stevie Ray was here, or Wayne Shorter, it’s not outside the realm of possibility anymore to do something with Justin Timberlake, or Lady Gaga, or Andrea Bocelli or Sting or Prince, you know?
You only become unnecessary when you’re ruled by fear and ego. If you function from the centre of your heart, you’re never going to go out of style. People need your newness, your sincerity. Genuine, honest, sincere, truthful, real, authentic. All those six words signify something, that when it goes inside a note, it’s gonna make you cry, it’s gonna make you dance, it’s gonna make you feel ten times more sexy. That’s what music’s supposed to do. Make you feel divine and sensual without guilt.
Don’t miss it
Carlos Santana performs at the closing night of the Emirates Airline Dubai Jazz Festival at Festival Park on Thursday, February 20. Tickets, Dh335 (standing), Dh550 (middle pit standing) and Dh750 (front pit standing) at ticketmaster.ae. On the same night, Nestor Torres and Billy Childs perform on the Jazz Garden Legends stage, tickets Dh225. Santana tickets get holders into the Legends show.