Carlos Santana
Carlos Santana
Maryanne Bilham

Carlos Santana on Celebrating 'Supernatural' and Returning to Woodstock: 'We're Better Than the First Time'

Fifty years ago, Santana played a career-defining set at Woodstock. Thirty years later, the San Francisco rockers delivered their earth-shattering album Supernatural, which won nine Grammy Awards and has since garnered 193.4 million on-demand audio streams, according to Nielsen Music. On June 7, Concord Records will release Santana’s 26th studio album, Africa Speaks, which was produced by Rick Rubin and features Spanish singer Buika. On Aug. 17, the band will return to Bethel, N.Y., as part of a four-day celebration of Woodstock. The fate of a second festival, Woodstock 50 (which Santana is also billed on), remains unclear. Still, frontman Carlos Santana, 71, is eager to do it all again -- “because we’re better than the first time.”

What’s your favorite memory from the original Woodstock?

Watching so many people creating a collective effort to rejoice and celebrate. We were different -- and I mean this in a soulful, gentle way -- than the squares and curmudgeons. The real hippies, not the ones with the fake mustaches and fake hair and fake flowers, had ideals and principles about sharing. Songs like “All You Need Is Love,” “Imagine” or “One Love,” those are hippie songs, because they believe in unity and harmony for the whole planet. Jesus was the first hippie that I know. He had long hair, and I know he was really high. He was passing around gluten-free bread and mercury-free fish.

You recorded 49 songs in 10 days, but only 11 made it onto Africa Speaks. What will happen with the rest?

There were probably 20 songs that I would have settled on. But because of time, because we had to ask permission from the original musicians we took the templates from -- we came up with new lyrics and melodies -- these are the people who responded. [The other songs] we allow to be in incubation, and at the right time we will get the right artist to come in. I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag, but musicians like Sting or Lenny Kravitz can do justice to the energy.

Had you ever churned out that many songs in that short amount of time?

No, it’s the first time. But I’m sure I can do it over and over and over again under the right circumstances.

You and Rick Rubin are both intensely spiritual. How did that help you two connect?

Not to get so esoteric, but he aspires for the same thing that I aspire. We want impeccable integrity, we love excellence, and we love genuine authenticity. So it’s just natural, normal that we would collaborate. When you trust, there’s thrust -- velocity, speed. If you don’t trust, you’re crawling.

You found Buika online. Why was she the right fit for this album?

We went dating on the internet, spiritually. She’s a goddess, a shaman supreme like I am. When you listen to Africa Speaks, it has the ingredients and nutrients of shamanism: elements of healing, conjuring and mystical divine medicine. You know, I’m having a moment because I keep envisioning in a very vivid and tangible way a shaman’s convention in Las Vegas. I think that Buika and I can be there, playing this music. There are all kinds of conventions in Las Vegas for electronics or this and that, but I hadn’t seen one shaman convention where you bring women and men from Siberia or Hopi, Aché or Africans together -- and that’s what this music is about.

Is there one song on the album you think speaks to that the most?

The main one for me is, in a spiritual way, obviously, the last song [“Candombe Cumbele”]. It feels like you’re in the thick of this spiritual gumbo soup that you’re stirring up in a pot and every time you go around you’re saving more and more souls from themselves.

When you’re not recording or performing, how do you spend your time?

[My wife and Santana’s drummer] Cindy and I go for walks, listen to Miles Davis or Billie Holiday and read a lot -- books that help us crystalize our energy into being more productive human beings.

Is there a lesson you’ve learned recently that’s sticking with you right now?

I learned that having hope and courage encourages others. We show up with hope and courage, and we’re very consistent with that, Cindy and I, and I see people’s eyes when we walk into a room. I can see that they’re affected just by looking at us. They know that we are bees carrying pollen to pollinate this planet with peace and hope and courage.

When you think about your career, what emotion comes to mind?

Gratitude. My mom prayed for me -- a lot -- because I’ve always been a divine rascal. I’ve had a lot of energy since I was born, and this energy, because of my mom’s prayers, has been conducted consistently for positive vibrations. So at that moment when we matched Michael Jackson’s record eight Grammy wins in one day, I was grateful to Clive Davis, all the artists, the people who bought the CDs, but mainly to my mom.

Is there anything in your career that you haven’t done yet that’s still a goal for you?

I want to create a TV show that’s different from those nightly shows in New York and Los Angeles. I want to create a show from Las Vegas, and I want to call it Cosmic Cantina with George Lopez and have all kinds of guests that only provide brilliant excellence. There are people alive right now who have raised the bar so high that it will take maybe 50 years for others to catch up, like Serena Williams, Barry Bonds, Tiger Woods. There are women and men who have excelled so high that I want them to come to our show and share with the rest of the humans what’s it like at that moment when you break the record of records. We want to promote and highlight brilliant excellence, because we’re only seeing the opposite of that. We’re just seeing, excuse the expression, stupid, boring predictable shit everywhere, and it’s really pathetic. We want to see the brilliance of women and men who carry themselves in such an inspiring way that helps other humans believe that they can also create something magnificent in their lives, with their lives, for the planet.

Anything else to add?

Just an invitation. When you leave our concerts, the energy stays with you.

A version of this article originally appeared in the May 25 issue of Billboard.